2009 may have begun with worries about daggering at dances like Passa Passa, Dutty Fridaze and Bembe, the Jamaican Broadcasting Commission banning “daggering tunes” from the airwaves, but by the end of the year, the whole issue had been eclipsed. It was the Gaza/Gully feud between Vybz Kartel and Mavado’s camps that became international news, the story picked up by Associated Press and meriting acknowledgement by the Prime Minister of Jamaica. Though both parties claimed the clashing was all entertainment (underlined by the five-star general himself, Bounty Killer while on stage with Mavado at Stone Love’s 37th anniversary), by the morning of December 6, it all became moot as Gaza and Gully came together, smiling from ear to ear at the West Kingston Jamboree in Tivoli Gardens. But though the Prime Minister met with Adidja Palmer and David Brooks post-Jamboree, it was the President who took responsibility for the new-found amity. This President, Christopher “Dudus” Coke, mistaken for the democratically elected Bruce Golding by Miss Info of New York’s Hot 97, has been wanted for extradition by the US since the end of August. This wee problem has been a bit of a bee in Bruce’s bonnet and has elicited numerous songs (check Twins of Twins) and support from the reggae community (including Bunny Wailer). Perhaps connected, the Toronto edition of the Presidential Click’s famed Champions in Action stageshow was cancelled not just once (reportedly as a result of the proposed performance by controversial Elephant Man), but twice (apparently due to security concerns). At present, there doesn’t seem to be any movement on the extradition request…what might 2010 bring?
Though the Mavado/Vybz feud kept the tunes cranking out, dancehall continued to live up to its name and be all about dancing. It looks like it’ll remain a struggle for dancers to feel the glow of the video light in 2010. Ding Dong’s huge tune “Holiday”, alongside Chevaughn, started when the summer was “hot, hot, hot” and continued through to Christmas and beyond. We also have Ding Dong and QQ to thank for the tremendously fun “Skip To Ma Lu”—one of two songs with the same title, both stemming from yet another crowd-pleasing Ravers Clavers dance. A drop from famed dancer du jour Chi Ching Ching seems like a must for any soundman, and Sample Six is singing too. Sure, pay these dancer/artistes their do, but watch out for a fellow named Zombi and his Spanish Town-based Well Rich dance crew. Taking his cue from Jonkonnu (with a little touch of Kumina), Zombi’s uniqueness is undeniable. Watch this space for more Well Rich in 2010.
Last year I wrote of the rise of what I called “cinematic dancehall”. This kept up through 2009 as the soundtrack to the ongoing narrative that was Mavado and Vybz Kartel’s beef. “Like a Movie” indeed. Some of the best riddims and tunes of the year keep the eerie, gangsta vibe—even when Kartel’s talking about his multiple conquests in “Love Dem” (“Gallis Anthem” is an understatement) or when Mavado’s putting a new badman commandment on the books in “House Cleaning”. Thing is, it would seem that there’s a new sound in the dance. I’ve been tossing around a number of different labeling possibilities—Jamaican bubblegum, raggapop—all of which sound silly and don’t seem to fit the R&B/pop tunes that have been showing up, often replacing segments of what, a few years ago, would have been filled with one drop reggae. These tracks, all piles of fun, exemplified by tunes like Chino’s “Never Change”, Ding Dong’s “Holiday”, G Whizz’s “Life” (Mood Swing riddim) or Voicemail and Busy Signal’s “Dance the Night Away” bring a dancehall feel to the vocals, with production that wouldn’t sound out of place next to Miley Cyrus. If not for the slackness of the lyrics, the hugely popular “Ramping Shop”, which ran the dance for many a month (almost 2.5 million views on YouTube and Pat McKay on Sirius XM’s the Joint named it as song of the year—thanks to @juceam for this tidbit) while making NeYo very displeased, would fall under this category.
Though I Octane has proved himself over and over—“Lose a Friend” and “Momma You Alone” are two of the most memorable songs of both this year and the last few years, demonstrating that consciousness never goes out of style—but the pop sound of these two tunes are evidence of the fact that reggae just didn’t get the attention dancehall received in 2009. Tarrus Riley (facing poor sales for his recent album with consistently amazing concert performances alongside Duane Stephenson and Dean Frazer) still represents just how spectacular roots reggae can be, and I have to big up Sheba Sahlemariam here too. “Love this Lifetime” is a terrific lovers tune, with or without Bounty Killer—and the girl’s got style for days.
As a fan of soundclash, I was glad that Irish and Chin, who threatened the end of the World Clash circuit, staged World Clash at Pier One, MoBay, this past Easter weekend. The Westmoreland upstart sound Black Blunt took the crown from Mighty Crown in a contentious competition that left Black Kat and Bodyguard wondering what hit them. The UK World Sound Cup Clash was also resurrected, and Nairobi, Kenya’s Shashamane International took home the title, beating out Japan’s Barrier Free, the UK’s Luv Injection, Americans Blunt Posse, One Love Hi Powa of Italy, and Jamaica’s Bodyguard and Bass Odyssey.
In Jamaica, where the whole clash scene (at least between soundsystems) has popped down in recent years, the Guinness Sounds of Greatness takes its traveling roadshow competition from country to town, showcasing new talent (Westmoreland’s Bredda Hype and Portmore’s Flava Unit, for example) as well as reminding clash fans just why some selectors stay on top. Ricky Trooper’s triumphant win against a crowd initially in full support of Blacc Widdo has to be seen to be believed—and it’s a lucky thing that you can, as the Sounds of Greatness was also broadcast in Jamaica and can be seen online. Though Kartel and Mavado make for spontaneous forwards, this year’s contest has been all about clever, made to order dubs (see Trooper’s cut of “My Money Ha Ha” by Merital Family during the Portmore quarterfinal). Finals happen at Mas Camp in Kingston on January 9: Trooper takes on Bass Odyssey. My money’s on Trooper.
The year has begun with some vitriolic tunes from Spice and Ikaya stemming from Lisa Hype’s blowjob blunder and an eagerly awaited but uninspiring Sting performance (not unlike the rest of Sting). Not only does it look like the widely-circulated photo of a bowed Ms. Hype got her kicked out of the Portmore Empire, Sting just provided additional fuel for the diss-tune fire. One thing this whole situation underlines for sure: women can war alongside the boys. The to-do about fellatio may be a little annoying and archaic from where I sit, but it’s not surprising. After all, Mavado’s resistance to mopping the floor is nearing the top of the charts.
But I spent one of the last days of the year at a dance where Gunz n’ Rosez, one of the only female sounds out there, made it clear that a woman’s perspective is welcome in the dance. Thanks to Toronto and the terrific Tasha Rosez for providing a great way to end 2009 and think about 2010. If you don’t like what you hear, don’t worry, someone’s always ready and waiting to toss in another point of view and spin it in a different direction. As always, bigga tings fi come!
Tomorrow: Toppa top tunes an’ ting.