Salute or Sting – or both?
On the face of it, Sting, dubbed The Greatest One Night Reggae and Dancehall Show on Earth, and Rebel Salute are opposites - even opposing - events. In any given calendar year, they are held 12 months apart. Rebel Salute is staged on the weekend closest to founder Tony Rebel's January 15 birthday, while Supreme Productions boss Isaiah Laing often points out that Sting has been held on its Boxing Day date for three decades.
Rebel Salute marked 21 years in January 2014.
However, if we look at Sting and Rebel Salute in consecutive years as being less than a month apart - as in Sting 2013 was on December 26 at Jamworld, Portmore, and Rebel Salute 2014 on January 17 and 18 in Priory, St Ann - then the dates are very close. And, with the attempted sanitisation of Sting 2013 due to pay-per-view broadcast and Rebel Salute presenting Bounty Killer as Rodney Price this year, the events have obviously moved much closer in their respective personalities.
Even more than that, I suggest that Sting and Rebel Salute were not that different in the first place; that the two large-scale concerts reflect differing, even contradictory, but not opposing sides of the same Jamaican personality. And that is perfectly natural for a country which has produced the image of a black God in Haile Selassie, yet where skin bleaching is prevalent at all socio-economic levels of the society.
We contrary bad bad.
Among the obvious differences between Sting and Rebel Salute are location and line-up. Since its inception at Cinema 2, New Kingston, in 1983, Sting has been an urban event. Its
various locations - the National Stadium and now Jamworld in Portmore - have all been in urban areas, fitting the 'walk foot' nature of much of its committed clientele.
On the other hand, Rebel Salute is a rural event. Started in Mandeville (which qualifies as 'country', even though it is the Manchester capital), it moved to Port Kaiser, St Elizabeth, (about as remote a venue as one can get), and now is at Grizzly's Plantation Cove, Priory, St Ann.
Another prime difference is the format of the events. Sting is renowned for deejay clashes, among the more prominent being Lady Saw's exquisite evisceration of Macka Diamond last year; KipRich's shellacking of Matterhorn and Merciless (the latter on his own in 2011 and teaming up with the former in 2012); Kartel's loss to Mavado in 2008 (let those who want to debate who won do so); the on-stage punch-up of Ninja Man by Kartel's pals in 2003; Merciless taking on Bounty, Beenie and Ninja in 2000; Beenie vs Bounty in 1993; Ninja against Supercat in 1991; and Ninja's destruction of Shabba Ranks in 1990.
Compared to that is Rebel Salute's track record of presenting outstanding Jamaican performers who had not been on stage in the country for some time. There was Jimmy Cliff in 2005; there was Burning Spear, Inner Circle; and The Congos in 2006; Johnny Osbourne in 2012; Shinehead and Aswad in 2013.
Their reputations are not to be left out. Both pulling large audiences, Rebel Salute is known to be incident free. However, while there has not been a major on-stage (Popcaan bouncing Ryno off the stage in 2012 does not count) or crowd incident in some time, Sting's 'fling' reputation is hard to shake.
Of course, with Salute having gone to a two-day format since 2013, coinciding with its move to St Ann, while Sting remains a one-day event, there is a big
difference in running time. Put it this way: Sting does not offer a camping option.
But there are similarities other than the two events being survivors of a stage show landscape, where almost all have faded. One is that they have both come from the ground up to become mammoth events. Unlike Reggae Sunsplash or Sumfest, for example, they did not begin as large-scale enterprises. And this has everything to do with who started them - a police detective for Sting and a Rastafarian singjay for Rebel Salute. They would not have had the wherewithal and connections to start big in an era before large-scale sponsorship.
Another similarity between Sting and Rebel Salute (maybe connected to the origins of their originators) is the difficulty in obtaining and retaining sponsorship - and the dramatic change in situation over December 2013 and January 2014. Sting went through LIME, Rum Fire, and Guinness all in the first decade of the 2000s. Over the same period, Salute had its time with LIME, D&G Malta, and Pepsi.
Sting's sponsorship difficulties are related to the hardcore nature of the event, Rebel Salute's to its no meat, no alcohol (not even 'onecohol' Tony Rebel is fond of saying) mantra. However, they both had major input from the Jamaica Tourist Board (JTB) at their most recent stagings. And, starting with Sting 2012 and Rebel Salute 2013, they were sponsored heavily from within the business of Jamaican popular music, Sting by Downsound Records (this may have changed, one can never tell which way the penny will land at the end of the day) and Rebel Salute, by its own umbrella Organic Heart Group of Companies.
And they have had performers in common - and not just the same people, but entertainers presenting different sides of their personalities. So there is one side that is suitable for Sting and another that is apt for Rebel Salute. Continuing a trend that I first saw implemented by Worrell King of King of Kings Promotions (organiser of Western Consciousness), Rebel Salute has presented Lady Saw as Marion Hall in 2010 - and her gutting of Macka Diamond was one of the high (or, for some, low) points on Sting 2013. Beenie Man, a staple on Sting, appeared on Rebel Salute 2009 as Ras Moses.
Then this year, there was Rodney Price, who performs mostly as Bounty Killer. And it is he, in his inimitable style, who located a common ground between Sting and Rebel Salute, which resonated with the audience. In the last third of his performance, Bounty Killer said: "An mi no want no man feel like when mi deh a Rebel Salute a sing bout girl a no culture. Woman a de bigges part a my culture, mi no know bout dem. An any man no involve woman inna him culture, he's a vulture. An a Rasta have de mos gal bout ya. A whe some bway feel like?"
It is a statement that would have gone down equally well with a Sting audience.
So we do not have to choose between Rebel Salute and Sting. I certainly have not. Since 2000, I have attended most stagings of both, and, in the main, enjoyed them thoroughly. They appeal to different sides of my appreciation of Jamaican popular culture, much as they both pull in large audiences from the same population each year.
And they are here to stay, I would hope.