A puss, a proverb, PR, payola, passa passa, pride and prizes
Editor's note: This is the first publication of Music and More with Mel on a Thursday. The weekly column, which was started in December 2014, was formerly published on Saturdays. Its primary focus is Jamaican popular music, with an occasional venture into other areas of entertainment. On Saturdays, The Gleaner will focus on international developments in Jamaican popular music.
There is a certain pleasure in coming upon something which existed that fulfils your needs perfectly. I have ranted and railed, fretted and fulminated publicly and privately about the pervasive mediocrity in Jamaican popular music for a long time. Then I was reading a number of Jamaican proverbs and came across this pithy beauty.
Kitchen claat tun table claat.
The meaning I saw attributed to this gem is an undeserved promotion. The image of a grungy, tattered cloth, normally reserved for kitchen duty, being laid out in the dining room for the cutlery to be laid out and people to eat is striking and relevant to every home where there is a certain level of pride.
There is many a kitchen claat being presented as a table claat to the public in this business of Jamaican popular music, where the public chooses only from the options forced upon it, where what is given repeated publicity is assumed to be the best - and, even if it is terribly substandard, becomes the best.
These claats exist in all spheres of the music product, from deejays and singers to journalists in the print (yeah yeah, call me kitchen material if you want, maybe this column is a classic example of another Jamaican proverb - pot a cuss kekkle say him bottom black) and electronic media. From producers and music video directors to designers and dancers, there is a dazzling display of the second and third rate.
In all of this, the journalist on television, radio and print is key. Kitchen claat cannot become table claat unless someone spreads it out for the public to dine on and, unfortunately, there seems to be no shortage of those who find themselves with the responsibility of maintaining standards, who are willing to do just that.
Some of it is sheer ignorance of the rich vein of cultural capital which they, generally young people, have stumbled into. I do not know of anyone who planned to be an entertainment journalist (including myself; thank or curse a combination of Claire Clarke-Grant and Adrian Frater for that) and, unfortunately, there have been times when it appears that entertainment is a dumping ground for those the authorities seem unsure what to do with.
However, while I can cope with ignorance, I despise 'dunceness'. They are distinct, yet interrelated, both often coming with a healthy dose of arrogance. Ignorance is not knowing, 'dunceness' is having the opportunity to know more and refusing to do so.
I abhor determined stupidity. I loathe dunceness.
In all of this kitchen to table claat misfit, those who pay over money to entertainment writers and disc jocks, as well as those who collect, are very impressed with themselves. There is no shame in it. It is the opposite, actually. It is like a scammer or druggist who flaunts wealth they cannot account for, or a woman or man who assumes a position with the boss to get a position in the workplace.
Those who pay for publicity and those who take the finances and favours generally have this incessant, insatiable desire for publicity. And how they love prizes. How they treasure awards, symbols of achievements they have not achieved, awards which validate their non-achievement. These awards are This of the Year and That of the Year, souped up versions of purchased number one positions on various fraudulent music charts (in a previous 'Music and More', I said there are no charts in Jamaica).
The prizes complete the cycle of mediocrity presented as excellence; the kitchen claat has not only become table claat, but is now the claat of choice to serve all. For those involved in this cycle invariably spout the same fecal matter, that they are giving the people what they want. Which is a perverse way of saying that they know what people want, even if they don't and they are going to shove it down their collective throat, whether they like it or not.
Much of it is passa passa - not the once famous Tivoli Gardens event, but suss and infantile clashes and quarrelling, which is a substitute for analysis and historical context. It is about the clothing, the size of the eyeball, the shock 'value' (JPSCo mussi tun artiste) and who had a beef with who (a mussi cackle farm). Of course, today's shock is tomorrow's norm, so that approach gets very stale, very quickly.
Against all this ingrained culture, the Broadcasting Commission has deployed a puss, a cartoon character that stars in a television ad in which a disc jockey is hissed at for taking pay to play a song. There is also a billboard depicting an artiste being muzzled, with the message that talent deserves a chance. Plus, there is a radio advert in which a disc jockey refuses a bribe.
It is a paltry arsenal to pit against a massive problem, but there is another factor at work. I call it the off-key instinct, where an audience cannot quite put their finger on what is wrong with a singer's performance, but they know something is not quite right. So with all the payola and the public relations, the prizes and the passa passa, the all-important live audiences are not taking to much of the artistic floor claat which is being shoved at it as kitchen claat. Like the go-go girls parading as artistes. Like the number one charting artistes who cannot attract or, if they do come, entertain an audience.
People losing interest
There is more than one reason why dancehall stage shows are in serious decline and the subject of this column is one of them. There are those people who are tuning out the artistes and media which purport to be giving them what they want. It is not only old fogeys like me, but youngsters who are smack in the target market - and with good reason.
Is nuff kitchen claat a tun table claat, careful whe yu a nyam offa. All this 'Music and More' thing too. But there is one thing I promise you, Broadcasting Commission puss need not meow against any claat that will be spread in this place on a Thursday. Never. Which is why I have the moral authority to vent as I have. I have not had the most lucrative offers I have heard of, but especially in my earlier years from cash to computers, to hotel stays, to on one especially memorable occasion, a headers, I have had a few.
And I have taken none. Nada. Zips. Zilch. As the current Digicel ad says, nutten. Which is why I have so much chat - up to now. Which does not make me an incorruptible saint, just maybe that I have not yet got an offer I could not refuse. My email address is at the end of this column (wink, wink). Make we see what nex' week bring, nuh?