Go-go, go away please!
Clashing for breakthrough also ineffective
Mel Cooke, Gleaner Writer
I fell asleep at Sting 2014. It was during the segment with the supposedly fabulous dancehall women and one of the early ones put me to sleep as surely and as swiftly as an experienced mother sending her young off at nap time.
Then, when I woke up, it was still the ladies' time and the person who was on stage made me wish that I had kept snoozing.
Judging by the audience's marked lack of enthusiasm, at least for the little time I was awake to see the little lasses wriggle and writhe, I was not the only one who was not impressed by what was being passed off as performances. This was even when there were preset 'forwards', firecrackers and all, with people planted in the crowd setting off squibs when particular artistes came on stage at Jamworld, Portmore, St Catherine.
It was much the same experience as Sting 2013, when at a particular point there was a series of young women wearing variations of the same skimpy attire, grinning with inane self-satisfaction as they wiggled their backsides around and mouthed trite ditties into the microphone, as if to say "I am young, I am hot, I must be a great artiste as well, duh."
How I wish the go-gos parading as female artistes would just go away, far away, and not come back to a dancehall stage. Or, failing their permanent exit stage left or right as they choose, then placement at a point in a show's running order, which indicates their true standing as aspiring artistes. Then, maybe, expectations would be different and I would not feel cheated and be so caustic.
I just feel that I am being taken for an idiot, even though I am not a paying patron of the show. I feel as if I am watching overpriced go-go girls (or exotic dancers, if you will). For it is all visual - the peekaboo costumes that expose a lot more than they conceal, the displays of gyrating prowess, the references to their sexual proficiency and some man's deficiency, the call-up of some 'strong man' from the audience for an exhibitionist rub-up.
Yawn, yawn, yawn. If people were paying for a go-go performance, they would go to Shades or the Palais Royale, or some other place where there are far better dancers, closer to the audience and in less clothes. Even at Sting, the female dancers who came out with various artistes provided a far more striking spectacle than the artistes passing off wanna-be go-go presentations as performances. And even those dancers got boring very quickly, spreading out and jiggling butt cheeks and showing their flexibility again and again with remarkable - and brain numbing - predictability,
However, when the still or video images from the events are circulated in the traditional press or social media, it is the scantily clad ladies who get a lot of space, and it is assumed - and many times said - how great their performances were. Not so.
Still, even as I rant about the situation, I understand somewhat. These are youngsters who have grown up in an age where music is seen as much as heard, watched as much as listened to. So what they are giving the audience at Sting or wherever they perform is really a video show, where the visual is privileged over the aural.
However, in the live presentation, dancehall is not like that. We do not have elaborate shows where the audience is awed into applause by the sheer spectacle of it all and where lip-syncing is not only allowed, but expected. It may be a matter of money and technical facilities (remember that we still have to make a performance space every single time, transforming an open field), it may be a matter of audience tastes having long been shaped by a level of presentation which grew from a cluster of people around a sound system's control tower.
Whatever the cause, the result is the same. The Katy Perry and Madonna, Rihanna and Nicki Minaj style of heavily technical shows surrounding their wiggling and jiggling, which I consider many a Jamaican female deejay's performances poor imitation of, is just not working.
The result is that there is a huge gap. There are no apparent heirs to Lady Saw, Tanya Stephens and Spice (who is a rare case of a woman mixing theatre and genuine deejaying/performance ability). I was very impressed by Sashae in her back-to-back clashes at Sting, but whether or not this will lead to her getting the chance to do good recordings is another matter.
Speaking of clashes and recordings, I believe many a younger artiste in the dancehall business is operating under the misconception that clashing can make a career. It cannot. It can enhance what is already there, but clashing cannot make a sustainable career.
Think about the famed Sting clashes. When Mavado and Kartel tangled in 2008, they both had large, loyal followings based on their non-clash recordings made before they started hurling insults at each other on record and then live. When Merciless, Ninja Man, Beenie and Bounty battled in 2000 and 2001 they, to varying extents, had a history of popular recordings. Beenie Man and Bounty Killer traded popular songs not made specifically for each other in their famed 1993 match-up.
And it goes on with Ninja and Cobra, Ninja and Shabba, Ninja with Super Cat, and so many other Sting battles (do not forget Stitchie against Papa San, before they were Christians). The winners, and to some extent the losers, became more famous and entrenched in the public psyche because of the clash, but they already had a strong presence through their recordings.
Any young deejay determined to make their name through clashing, without previously having recordings that are not combative and have found favour with the 'massive', would be well advised to rethink the strategy, To 'buss' as a clash artiste, live or on record, is a dead end - literally, not lyrically, as Sashae said when she tossed out the toilet tissue on stage at Sting 2014.
There are simply not sufficient shows to make it sustainable, unlike the situation where there are enough sound systems and selectors willing to do battle, even if sporadically, to make for interesting match-ups and rematches to look forward to. Also, while sound systems can tangle at various locations, a clash between two artistes is either a one-off event, or if there is a rematch, the encounters are normally spaced far apart.
To be a relevant dancehall artiste, one cannot rely on the clash only for the breakthrough and a career. Yu haffi fine chune.