A Year Of Losses And Gains – Dancehall Struggles But Jamaican Music Flourishes
Last year was a year when Jamaica lost much. The country bled when Christopher ‘Dudus’ Coke went against the security forces, which had been ordered to carry out an extradition request for the Tivoli Gardens strongman.
During that time, there was little or no activity in entertainment, but truth be told, entertainment had been suffering before May.
Truth be told, the country also bled as dancehall artistes had their visas revoked. The earning power of dancehall was hampered severely. Not only were the artistes unable to travel to promote the local industry and their albums, they also found it difficult to get playing gigs in Jamaica.
Stage-show productions are expensive and the effect of a crippling economic downturn meant promoters could no longer afford to pay big-name artistes.
But music still limped on.
While it did, with artistes like Duane Stephenson doing well with Black Gold, and VP producing remakes of old favourites, not excluding tributes to the late Peter Tosh and Bob Marley, Jamaica again bled.
There was the loss of Norma Dodd, Sugar Minott, and the quake from the death of ‘The Cool Ruler’ Gregory Isaacs. Buju Banton, the brightest light of his generation, was in trouble with the law (though his album was nominated for a 2011 Grammy). It seemed there wasn’t much hope for a revival.
The people who led the way in making Jamaican music what it is today were passing, and popular dancehall had been relegated to clubs and parties to remain relevant.
Other artistes like Vybes Kartel and Mavado began to expand. Both made the sojourn into events promotions with Mavado hosting Stulla Wednesdays at The New Quad, and Kartel enjoying Inclusive Saturdays around the corner in The Building.
Then there was the gain of having two of dancehall’s greatest soldiers in Bounty Killer and Beenie Man deciding to bury the hatchet.
But there were to be other gains.
Fill the void
Corporate Jamaica now had the opportunity to fill the void left by promoters who were forced to keep dances rather than stage shows. The all-inclusive party flourished.
That void was filled – but only in the latter parts of the year.
Kevin ‘Babyface’ Edmonds headlined a massive event at the National Indoor Sports Centre, while Beres Hammond and GT Taylor also had big names on their shows.
However, it was corporate Jamaica which really plugged the gap, with Lime, Digicel, and Red Stripe, through its Guinness brand, hosting mega events.
The sponsors also took artistes as ambassadors, giving them the opportunity to earn as long as they kept their image clean – a step in the right direction.
According to some, the events, because they were free, had a negative impact on similar events which persons had to patronise.
The argument is shaky at best, because the only ordinarily popular stage show to suffer after corporate Jamaica had reaped the benefits of advertising through association was Sting.
The hardcore dancehall stage show seems to be waning in popularity, but that might not have anything to do with other events being put on for free.
No clashes at Sting
Sting is an event where people go to see the best and brightest of the dancehall match wits. Last year, that was clearly not going to happen. Vybes Kartel and Mavado said they weren’t going to be there. The other great rivalry in dancehall (Beenie Man and Bounty Killer) has been reduced to stage-sharing and hand-holding. There would be no clashes. And so, the hardcore dancehall fans stayed away.
There will bring more of the same in 2011. In January, there will be a few events that will keep the interest in dancehall until it comes time for Jamaicans to be engrossed in carnival.
Then the all-inclusives will come to the fore and again keep patrons happy, until the dwindling number of stage shows are again held when people want to remember just how good the artistes they love are.
But 2011 will carry with it trends from 2010 that are more than positive as well. Jamaican entertainment isn’t about dancehall. The Jamaica Jazz and Blues will be using Maroon 5 to headline its event.
Younger audiences will go and be given the opportunity to hear other genres of music. Then there is the film industry that seemed to grow in leaps and bounds last year with Better Mus’Come and RiseUp being the standout productions.
According to Storm Saulter, director of Better Mus’ Come, the film industry is becoming so consistent that there is every hope that the country will begin producing at least one production per year.
Plays have also been doing well and fans have been turning out in larger and larger numbers to them.
And finally, one of the biggest gains of 2010 has been in the area of live music.
Manifesto Jamaica, a non-profit organisation which seeks to raise funds for needy causes, has put on a number of live events that have grown in popularity, the latest being Trench Town Rock. That event aims at improving the attitudes towards Trench Town and rebuilding its rich musical history.
For music’s sake, the group No-Maddz also started a series, named after the album they launched this year. The Trod has earned mixed reviews, some stagings more popular than others. But the movement is growing and it is being joined by a number of artistes who dare to be different. There is Protoje, Lyve Wyya Band, Janine ‘Jah9′ Cunningham, Crimson Heart Replica, and counting.