Of course, when running down the year in Jamaican music, it’s important to get out in the street. After the tragic incursion into Tivoli Gardens of May 2010, the great Passa Passa popped down. It still takes place, though in a smaller incarnation. Uptown Mondaze has taken a bit of a backseat to Mojito Mondays. Whereas Mojito Mondays, which is located in the parking lot for Suzy’s Bakery, across the street from Savannah Plaza, home to Uptown Mondaze, used to end at around 1am, it now seems to stretch to 2 or 2:30am. A shame, really, as the venue for Uptown Mondaze is much more conducive to dancehall. The reduction in time has meant a reduction in patrons, which means less sound (and less speakers) for your $300. Sure, the punters still show up and it’s been able to stay in business, but it’s too bad folks prefer to hang around a parking lot with a small sound system (a few Mackie 450s) instead of crossing the street to experience significantly more bass from Soul Tone, who bring in the truck and construct walls of sound every week.
Mutabaruka will still probably bemoan the huge number of parties held in Jamaica, as one off events dotted the social calender each weekday in 2011, Swagg Tuesdays had a moment, and Wet Sundaze seemed to be back on the radar alongside events like Hammer Fridays and Container Saturdayz. Weddy Weddy remains a standby, along with the numerous events at the former Asylum and the Quad nightclubs, but the infamous Dutty Fridaze has yet to be resurrected–maybe it’ll come back in 2012. The longest running regular street dance, however, is still the venerable Rae Town Old Hits dance. Having been taken off the road in 2009, it’s been steadily bubbling back on the street over 2010 and 2011. Now stronger than ever, Rae Town attracts heaps of people, all more ready to dance than profile. Large up to Klassique (Senor Daley, DJ Troy, DJ Snow and guests) for holding it down, as well as to founders Sister Norma and Brother Bunny at the Capricorn Inn for their commitment and staying power.
Here’s hoping that 2012 brings more dancing to the dance. Sure, the experts get out in front of the video light, but everyone else stands back and out of the way. If people can let loose on Rae Road every Sunday (and in the UK too!), why not on Burlington Avenue at Weddy Weddy?
Another place where folks were letting loose this fall, for the second time around, was at the televised Guinness Sounds of Greatness soundclash competition, which kicked off in September for another season. Unlike 2009’s version, which travelled around the island, this year’s edition was held at the Chinese Benevolent Association in Kingston. Big up Jay Will and Carleene Samuels for their combined direction and production prowess. The venue held a few hundred people, but those few hundred people could certainly made a heck of a lot of noise. Outdoors, soundclash is characterized by aerosol cans turned flamethrowers, but inside, the vuvuzela won the day. Quite literally. Certain evenings it was nearly impossible to hear the tunes for the squealing of so many horns. However, on television, the competition looked and sounded great, and it exposed not only younger “hotshot” sounds like Black Blunt and Bredda Hype, but also “veteran” sounds like Bodyguard, Sound Troopa, Black Kat and Silverhawk.
Of course, comparing GSOG with hours-long oldtime clashes or even the recent (and due to be relaunched) Irish and Chin-promoted World Clash series is like comparing apples and oranges. GSOG is a made-for-tv event. That said, it’s a very exciting made-for-tv event. By outlawing all profanity, the sounds tend towards more creativity in their dubs, and the Serato-sponsored challenges kept things interesting. The showdowns leading up to the finale between Rich Squad and Trooper were all entertaining, if sometimes controversial (such as when Bredda Hype lost against Rich Squad in the semifinals). Little Richie proved to be a masterful juggler throughout the competition, but Ricky Trooper made up for his poor performance against Bass Odyssey in 2009, killing Rich Squad and coming out on top.
Unfortunately, Jamaican music had to say goodbye to a number of luminaries this year. In February, pioneering soundman Cyril “Count C” Brathwaite passed. A man whose influence on sound system culture was impressive though under reported, Count C was given a fitting tribute by Joshua “Soul of the Lion” Chaberlain, who wrote a piece about the man for Wax Poetics and produced a short documentary fit for a Count. UK fast chat star Smiley Culture was killed by police in and both his family and the reagge community are still left asking questions regarding the circumstances of the singer’s death. It won’t be until well into 2012 that inquest results will be released. Though not a strictly reggae or dancehall voice, but most certainly one who brought his Jamaican roots to the fore in his hip hop, the sudden death of Heavy D at age 44 came as a great shock. In conversation with Jamaican-Canadian hip hop star Michie Mee this November, she spoke of how significant Heavy D was as someone who maintained the link between Jamaican music and American hip hop. Another fellow who exemplified the connection between genres, specifically ska and rocksteady, Barry Llewellyn, of the great Heptones, died in November. Unfortunately, the year ended with the loss of of producer Fattis Burrell, famous for his work as Xterminator productions–arguably responsible for Luciano and Sizzla’s very best work.
There’s lots to look forward to in 2012–from the growing UK scene (you know things are good when a guy like Marvin Sparks says “I don’t remember bashment having this impact on over here, as in British artists having so much dancehall material in it’s rawest form in my lifetime”) to the fact that Celine Dion–yes, THAT Celine Dion–will be performing in Jamaica at the end of January. For me, my top moment of 2011 was seeing my folks dancing to disco at Rae Town Old Hits and realizing that some tunes I thought were total crap become life-affirmingly amazing when played on a sound system. I don’t really have a list of favourite tunes or riddims, but I do know that I like music played loud. Big up all sound men and women. Bigga sound fi 2012.