Two stage shows some distance apart
Mel Cooke, Gleaner Writer
At the moment when this column is published physically or online today, all being well, I will either be at Sting 2014 or on my way home from Jamworld, Portmore, St Catherine, after yet another Boxing Day marathon, which I look forward to every year.
I have never been to that other holiday music night-until-daylight event which, like Sting, is one of the very few to have survived the ups and downs of major stage shows, which is GT Taylor's Christmas Extravaganza. That is not least of all because it starts on Christmas Day, which is not the ideal time to leave one's family behind and drive about 90 miles from Kingston to Independence Park, Black River, St Elizabeth.
However, it does have its following and, this year, there is an interesting interplay between Sting and GT's Extravaganza. In previous years, the top names on the line-up for each would be roughly similar, with the odd performer sticking out. Which is understandable - it is a limited pool to choose from and, as the two events are so far apart physically, they cater to different markets.
But this is not so in 2014, when Sting is relying heavily on a number of clashes between younger deejays (although there is the one between Major Mackerel and Wickerman) and Extravaganza is banking on the tried and proven headliners. So, on top of the heap in Black River are the Legendary duo of Bounty Killer and Beenie Man, along with Sizzla (who was banned from Sting after his performance last year) and Ninja Man (whose presence at Sting was up in the air after a reported studio encounter).
Added to those are Busy Signal and Aidonia, from the newer school, with Professor Nuts and Peter Metro from the significantly older generation. Like Sting, this year, Extravaganza is not all about deejay power, as Cocoa Tea, George Nooks, Bushman, Nature, Anthony Cruz, Paul Elliot and Hezron are also booked for the show.
However, among the younger set of deejays - Gage, Ryme Minista and Masicka, who are three of those Sting is banking on for the clashing at Sting, they were only able to make the fine print on the Extravaganza poster. As does Ishawna. This does not mean that they are small, but certainly indicates a different focus.
With Sting, things have a way of changing very rapidly. For example, Ninja Man has now said that he will not be on this year's show, as things get heated with Gully Bop. There were brewings of a clash there, while the encounters between Ryno and Kiprich (a rematch worth going to see), Gage and Tommy Lee, Ryme Minista in the mix, Masicka and whoever, and lots of other little tussles, should make for a morning run that is like how Fully Loaded used to be on the sound-system side.
There are about eight clashes planned, unlike other years when there has been a major one with maybe a smaller encounter or two.
But while there has been a lot of press around Gage's Sting performance, for example, he is not that large a factor for Extravaganza.
Of course, in the early going leading up to Capleton, Sting will be reggae, Etana and Tarrus Riley among those who will be onstage.
Different dancehall days
The difference in line-ups goes further than the focus of the two shows, to a gap in dancehall generations. Ninja Man is coming from the 1980s while other Extravaganza headliners, Beenie and Bounty, with Sizzla well after them chronologically, had their start in the 1990s. Aidonia and Busy Signal arose in the following decade, but are linked with Bounty Killer, musically.
Each of those decades represents a significant change in dancehall. Ninja and Capleton are from the era of live performance on sound systems, when each champion sound had its own crew (he was mainly associated with Killamanjaro). Super Cat, Stitchie, Papa San, Shabba Ranks and Admiral Bailey, were part of that fine batch. Bounty and Beenie were part of an outstanding crop of 1990s deejays that also included Terror Fabulous, Buju Banton and Spragga Benz. Aidonia and Busy Signal came to prominence when a number of younger producers, among them DASECA and The Genius, were pushing the boundaries of the beats into territory that was often criticised as not being dancehall.
However, there is not much that defines Gage, Tommy Lee, Ryme Minista, and so on. This cannot be attributed totally to them, as there simply has not been any significant change in the underlying structure of dancehall that they are representative of. The beats have largely gone back to the 1990s style (Aidonia even has an '80s dancehall style track) and with Vybz Kartel in prison (despite his continued output), and Mavado happily abroad, there are no active big names which continue to keep the mid-2000s beats in the forefront of public consciousness.
And, speaking of public consciousness, while the clashes at Sting this year will be interesting to those who attend, they are not attracting attention from the wider public like Ninja/Shabba, Beenie/Bounty and Kartel/Mavado. The combatants are not deeply engraved in the public psyche, as the Extravaganza headliners are.
Unless there are dramatic changes, they will not be in the future either. For many of the musical battles of present days do not feel like authentic disagreements between artistes of a sufficiently significant stature to warrant public attention, but more like petty squabbles, fabricated to get media attention and fleeting hype, with no substance.