Dancehall Geographies – 2013 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 3,300 times in 2013. If it were a cable car, it would take about 55 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Sting 30….Who Brought It And Why Did Lady Saw Get No Money? Pt. II

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Money Money Money!

Money O!? Really? If in name and name only there is something amiss about this Sting clash between Macka Diamond and Lady Saw. Where Lady Saw was clear from her tweets that the “first set” should not be missed (implying that there would be a second appearance to vie for the prized US$30,000), Ms. Money O did not live up to her name at all. She neither fought well nor for the money.  The real regret therefore is that Miss Money O did not ‘negotiate’ her lyrical death with impeccable timing. Instead she has apparently laid blame at everything from the backing band to various elements of the production for her lyrical failure. All the same, it is not easy to step up to Lady Saw, a veteran lyricist, performer and stage aficionado, and the Money Queen made history at Jamworld. Talk about haunting words of the bad omen type, Macka’s failure to bring it at Sting 30 was summed up in @PKisses4u’s tweet “RIP MACKA DIAMOND YOUR CAREER IS #DYEDYE”.

Let me get back to the politics of Saw not being paid. It is interesting that complete role reversal took place at Sting with the Macka / Saw clash. What is striking is that whereas in sex, transactional or not, the prize is usually left with the woman either in the form of cash paid for services rendered or a baby as the product for example, this time the females got no prize / money for their generally undervalued oratory and spice in a context where the males dominate and females provide the garnish to the enterprise in their dance and of course music. This must change, and I appeal to the Sting promoters to pay Lady Saw. She did much more for the event than the Kiprich / Black Rhyno clash.

D’Angel, D’Angel, D’Angel

I couldn’t complete a review on Sting 30 without saying anything about the recurring decimal of D’Angel, who much like L.A.Lewis, became insistent about her role and place in dancehall. She was not billed to appear at Sting 30 but obviously thought she needed to make her presence felt and forever archived.

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The commentary has ranged from the sublime to the ridiculous. Some have used the D’Angel interventions as cause to question the Jamaica Tourist Board’s long overdue sponsorship of entertainment events such as Sting.

“The JTB must take some responsibility for D’Angle (sic) or…whatever her name is’s (sic) conduct. Her conduct or lack of self control is the very reason why JTB should put some control, guidelines, screening etc. on who they allow to perform…for God’s sake….”

is how Heather Chisolm puts it in response to Silvera’s post on the disgrace of D’Angel entering unannounced, the sets of Ninja Man and husband Beenie Man from whom she has been allegedly separated. What was disgraceful is that she, like Macka Diamond and Lady Saw, were under the impression that they were eligible to contest the prize money at the times they were billed. D’Angel of course was not billed but announced she was there for a clash and wanted the money on offer to pay her son’s school fees due in January. Let’s not even think about whether she is getting child support from her husband, let’s think instead about how the females were taken for granted and not given the chance to rise to the occasion at a major clash. Why did Spice not return for example to finish the clash with Macka Diamond, perhaps in a ‘three the hard way’ scene with Lady Saw? Why did the females not get a significant place in the event and why were they not encouraged to enter the stage at the deadly 5:30am? Surely Lady Saw and Macka Diamond along with Spice and even the eager D’Angel could have handled the stage at 5:00am in a formidable clash. Why is it that the female artists are constantly having to battle that much harder for a space in this business? These answers are not clear to me and at the end of the day its all staged, but I will not be led into assuming that a solid show of the females was not deemed worthy of the pay per view bargain.

Kiprich and Black Rhyno

Could Kiprich retain the crown, and walk out with US$30,000? Ninja Man, the clash godfather brought the loot up for grabs on stage and Kiprich arrived in gear that at first seemed to be from a distant under-explored past. Kiprich’s gear was a sort of cross between desert seal / combat camouflage and Jonkonnu character pitchy patchy, linked to Egungun masquerades of West Africa. This was a highlight of the event, and perhaps within its very use, was a bit of irreverence. What came to mind is that understood or not, such symbols are critical and without performing important rituals of preparation, arrival and combat, maybe, just maybe, Kiprich took his role and mas a little too lightly and this may have led to his lyrical death. I thought the very same thing about using cocks in a fight spilling blood around Kingston without any reverence, a practice of Bogle’s prior to his death.

By the 3rd minute of the clash Kippo was stunned and had no lyrical foot to stand on. Quite frankly, though the clash lasted some 13 minutes, I was underwhelmed and moved right along to make my exit from the venue.

Overall Show Quality?

The clash-anticipating audience was now primed and prepared for lyrical battles of extraordinary proportion, but the shocking defeat by Black Rhyno left the crowd wondering why the Sting was so mild and no other artists of significance came forth to challenge Black Rhyno’s new found fortune. One could not help thinking that the pay per view imperatives of time, temperance and overall good decorum watered down the clash just a little, but even more, that the clash was way too staged and that the Supreme organizers knew the outcome. Most importantly the structure of the overall show once again did not achieve the orgasmic crescendo proportions I have been looking for since the Vybz Kartel / Mavado clash at Sting 2008. This crescendo can be achieved in a variety of ways and a show such as Sting needed to have mastered this by now at 30! As I wrote of Sting 2012, the year they got the release of Busy Signal from a brief incarceration, a serendipitous show cancellation for Konshens, and Jamaica 50 on a platter, the quality of different acts did not guarantee quality of the overall show. And, since quality acts do not a quality show make, more emphasis has to be placed on the running order of the show.

One tremendous positive of the show was that the veteran stage management by ‘Heavy D’ and the team was enough to control the likes of Macka and Lady Saw in the wee obituary-creating hours of Friday morning. Big tree or not, Lady Saw was the fired up small axe waiting to cut Macka down in fine style. As Ms. Money O ‘Dyed Dyed’, there was tremendous rage and tempers went through the roof making the clash completely volatile.

Additionally, emcees Richie B, Nikki Z, Nuffy and Miss Kitty for example were in top form as they ushered the show to the long awaited clashes. There were also no reported incidents of violence or physical damage.

Long live the Sting. I bet the promoters are proverbially laughing all the way to the bank, or let me say I hope so in these tough financial times. Afterall, it was a game changer for the dancehall promoters to utilize the available technology in promoting broad based viewership for a quintessential Jamaican product containing all the elements of dancehall culture from then till now.

As I tell my students continuously it is the lack of knowledge and respect for Jamaican culture which explains our angst over Jamaica’s entertainment product and culture. This is coupled with the overwhelming moralistic censorship stance we take in relation to cultural manifestations such as dancehall. There are definitely aspects of our culture which requires rethinking but that is a collective process which will not be advanced without respect. We must proceed on the basis of respect even as we critique ourselves. Productive engagement has to be on the basis also of understanding and knowledge. The people who create and perpetuate Jamaican popular cultural manifestations such as dancehall operate with an intrinsic understanding that they too want to achieve the universal imperative – bloom, bear fruit, be beautiful and be seen to be beautiful’.

Oh, while Dutty Paul was spotted at the Sting venue enjoying the show being given by some of his most admired dancehall acts, I’d love to see him next year on stage making a serious step in re-connecting with his Jamaican supporters. Selah.

Sting 30….Who Brought It And Why Did Lady Saw Get No Money? Pt. I

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There are Questions and There are Questions

So let me get this straight!!!!!! What did Lady Saw get paid for winning the well-executed clash against Macka Diamond who was compared to a Jackass last year by Spice? Is it only the men who get paid in dancehall for winning? Let me answer this question and say why it is a question that matters right now by way of a personal (not academic!) review.

Never mind that there are veteran artists keeping alive the longstanding debate about whether there is any such music as dancehall, versus reggae as the descriptor for the genre of music. Never mind that the theatrical and the ridiculous often go hand in hand in Jamaica where L.A. Lewis, a most delusional Jamaican, has been able to command undeserved attention way more than the government has invested in Jamaica’s entertainment industry over the last fifty years, with his latest being an intention to audition for the Voice in 2014.

Never mind that people are questioning the judgement of the Jamaica Tourist Board’s decision to allocate financial support for Sting, based on the character of the lyrical no-holds-barred blood-letting clash character of the event and what 2013 brought. Entertainment gurus such as Lloyd Standbury have even gotten in on the act asking alongside the picture of Ninja Man responding to a spread-eagled D’Angel stage right,  ‘is this what the Jamaican government ministers of Tourism, Entertainment and Culture endorsed and sponsored?” Never mind that Ministers such as Lisa Hanna or former ministers such as ‘Babsy’ Grange understand and thoroughly enjoyed the Sting product on show this year. I submit that such arguments / questions border on hypocrisy, moral grand standing and a lack of understanding of the role of governments in facilitating cultural development. However, they are not my focus in this post. Let me get back to the meat of the matter.

As I walked into the Sting venue around 12:25am at their 30th milestone, I was pregnant with excitement, anticipating the show of the year! Under no circumstances could I have missed Sting!  Not after my review last year and follow-up questions recently. I was keen to see what the Boxing Day staple event had to offer. Apart from seeing the dancehall insiders, people and fashion watching, I was keen to observe the way the show unfolded, see Mavado and Wyclef Jean, and of course one of my personal favourites – the real Don Dada and Wild Apache himself (the very first DJ I saw live at my high school way back in 1985). It was my last event of the evening having attended Ellis International’s 10th Christmas Comedy Cook-up and premiere of Dahlia Harris’ moving theatrical production To the Finish Line.

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Rap and The Refugee

The Sting bill was uncharacteristically inclusive because of the attempt to appeal to a wider audience. This year the show offered rappers and… Well Wyclef and rapper 2 Chainz didn’t bring it for many. Some contend Wyclef was really selecting and was more animated enjoying performances by Mavado at the front of the Sting stage. We are all still trying to figure out whether 2 Chainz’s appearance impacted either the Sting audience via pay per view or those present at Jamworld.

Top Performers

Let me begin with Super Cat. He was not on top form with a hoarse throat but the characteristically dapper dude delivered his hits many were looking forward to hearing. ‘Si Boops Deh’, ‘Dolly My Baby’ and ‘Tan So Back’ were among the litany of hits from the Apache-style liturgy. While it was nothing reminiscent of the Don Dada at his height in the Sting 1991 clash with Ninja Man, the performance along with those of Brigadier Jerry, Josey Wales, Burru Banton, and Major Mackerel sealed it for me as foundation dancehall music ultimately won at Sting. A taste of such stalwarts was well worth it.

Beenie Man, Aidonia and Mavado were definitely worth seeing, Beenie Man retaining his signature performance style and making clear that as the King of the Dancehall he can ‘Dweet Again’ anytime. Mavado who played with his own band connected with the audience through lyrics and the snazzy pair of designer shoes he threw into the crowd. He gave of his hits including ‘Give it all to me’ with Nicki Minaj, and ably reminding viewers that ‘at the top its just us’.  I was also looking forward to Harry Toddler, Sizzla, and I-Wayne but none of them really held the audience’s attention like Sizzla did. Elephant Man was absent with no explanation.

The Clash

Dancehall animates itself in performance modes such as the clash of which Sting remains the last bastion. Performance, props, timing, temper and temperance, skill and style are all uniquely critical to this enterprise and many still don’t understand that it is a fundamental part of our present and our past. The significance of this entrenched working class celebration is taken to various levels by characters such as Ninja, Samurai or Demon in what is now a commercial Christmas event in the tradition of Christmas dances that took place even on the slave plantations centuries ago. These characters can be seen as  effigies of traditions such as Burru drummers who walked neighbourhoods singing about community folk at year end with wit and often embarrassing wisdom. Dancehall is Jamaica’s premier street theatre and Sting is the heavily anticipated premier one night event.

Now, as Senior Journalist Janet Silvera has rightfully declared on her Facebook page in Bulletin #6, “Sting 2013 was much more than Saw, Macka and D’Angel…” Indeed it was much more than what eyes beheld at all, especially the innovative international reach to over 30 million via pay per view deals negotiated by newest of the Sting partners, Joe Bogdanovich of Downsound Records. My attempts to stay away from such comments have been largely successful but I must dwell a little on some.

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So let me get straight to it! With the preceding media hype, the longstanding feud and the stage set for clashing for a fee of US$30,000 Muma Saw, the dancehall lyrical queen, came hot, hyped and hyper-prepared.

2013: The Year of ‘Saw’

After riding rough in heels on top of Shaggy in fine erotica style into 2013, Lady Saw sealed her longstanding place and resurgence in the dancehall business in true ‘chat to mi back’ form.  The ‘Heel’s On’ rough ride, and remix with Flo Rida, gave Saw a comeback which shocked fans because of her age and stage in a highly dynamic male-dominated business. She came, she saw and she conquered! The ritual of final transition for all ‘chatti mout’ gyal finally came. As she transitioned from the erotica of ‘Heels On’ into combat mode, guided ably by veteran band Ruff Kutt, she donned the requisite trappings of attitude, costume and champion lyrics to bury her opponent in the ‘6 ft. 6’ resting place she ably created. So masterful was the blow-free encounter that adrenaline levels of the crowd shot through the sky reaching planet Jupiter which could be seen thanks to Jerome Hamilton’s snazzy App I was introduced to on entering the venue.

Without lifting a leg, lying on the floor or begging school fee money in D’Angel style, Saw gave an enraged but lyrically sound

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perfomance. As Mel Cooke, senior entertainment writer at the Gleaner put it here, 

“…[the crowd] got enough musical guts and blood to last a while in the earlier going, as an enraged Lady Saw, who still kept her lyrical wits about her, gutted a hapless Macka Diamond.”

By the time Lady Saw said ‘line up mi money too….send out di mongrel’ it was really all over because Macka’s immediate retort was ‘A wha do some dutty gyal?’ with her only other interesting intervention being about Saw’s Hummer apparently auctioned because of tax evasion, and Saw’s ‘heel’ being broken. When she touched on John John with whom Saw, otherwise known as Marion Hall, has had a troubled relationship, Saw responded to Macka’s advice about ‘being a lover rather than a stalker’ with the fact that Macka has never been seen with a man.

All in all it was a tracing match in which Lady Saw tried her best to keep the lyrics as the focus instead of the tracing. Eventually, Macka said she died trying and proved she wasn’t a coward. Emphasis on Macka’s sexual orientation consumed the end of the clash but then again, this is a preoccupation for Lady Saw who along with Beenie Man are the only two decrying the pleasures of oral sex in 2013. It says a lot about sexual conservatism in Jamaica, sexual hypocrisy and the transitioning norms around sexuality and sexual orientation. But this is not my focus.

The long and short of it is that Lady Saw, who used to help Macka write for clashes, anticipated that the Money O queen was going to forget her lyrics, that fear would take over and she would buckle under the pressure of the onslaught. As Lady Saw said in her interview with Boomshots.com, ‘Macka Demon is a liar…a mix-up girl…who she stepped away from…someone who she was never friends with’. Its finished for now. Let’s see if Lady Saw will ever get her wish to properly use the lyrics she prepared in a full length clash with Macka.

Stay tuned for Sting 30 – Part II.

‘Dances are Changing’: Barrington Levy Tells It

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From the various ska moves to the jiggy dancehall varieties there is much to see, experience and learn of Jamaican dance moves. A fascinating encounter with Dr. Dennis Howard recently reminded me of the very powerful historical record that lies in the recordings of reggae and dancehall. We were discussing Johnny Osbourne and Barrington Levy recordings, both of which came as proof to counter various arguments regarding the emergence of music and dance varieties / genres.

‘Its strange how the dances are changing,

but its only bubbling that the young girls love plenty of,

Sharon mi waan yuh fi bubble wid me,

Carol mi waan yuh fi dance wid me

Audrey mi waan yuh fi skank wid me,

Shoulder Move, Body Move, Butterfly

nuh tell no lie…’

Barrington Levy says he wants ‘Carol fi chuku chuk chuk, and Sharon fi chaka chak chak.’ Mention today of such dances would be foreign words to the younger ‘daggering’ generation. For most familiar with dancehall, the butterfly would immediately bring images of the 1992 dancehall scene with Carlene ‘The Dancehall Queen’  at the centre of the aesthetic that was later immortalised in the film Dancehall Queen.

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What shouldn’t miss one in the song however is that the dance butterfly mentioned in this 1983 recording confirms that it existed before both Bogle’s and Carlene’s claims to have invented the dance. In fact, Carlene’s less believable story is that she was sitting in Central Park, NY, when observation of a butterfly in flight precipitated her creation in two phases.

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Barrington Levy – Dances Are Changing

Yes, according to Barrington Levy, dances are changing, but in reality they are within the body memory and collective dance repertoire waiting to emerge. Examples from limbo to butterfly are known, not to mention the classic and frequent ‘versions’ of many nameless moves.

As to the ‘lay the block’ and ‘lay the rim’ varieties we have witnessed in the last few months within events such as Famous Wednesdays, more on that later…. Stay tuned.

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