Too strong for Sting
Please sing along with me to the tune of that children's teasing song:
"A bey, a bey, a bey a bey a bey
Oonu buil toilet clash tune
An Laing tell oonu gu wey
Neh neh neh neh neh
Neneh neneh neh ney
A bey, a bey, a bey a bey a bey
Gu wey wid oonu nastiness
(slow it down here) No instafame pon Boxing Day"
And the drums roll.
From the first sound-system clash cassettes I heard in the late 1980s, involving any combination of Kilamanjaro, Silverhawk, Stereo One, King Jammys, Black Scorpio and Creation, I have been an avid clash fan. Whether men at the turntables or deejays toe to toe on a stage, the back and forth of the clash, the sharp twists and turns of the unscripted drama, in which the crowd tends to be as fickle as a go-go dancer who calls everyone she sells a lap dance 'babes', fascinates me.
For those not into dancehall, the clash can seem like the most verbally violent, repulsive, unnecessary aspect of Jamaican popular music. For those of us who know the pre-clash stories, the relative status of the combatants, what is at stake and have a point of comparison with previous battles, there is nothing more intense. And it provides a talking point for days, weeks, months and even years - depending on what has taken place.
There is no clash stage like Sting at Jamworld, Portmore, St Catherine, on Boxing Day. Not in 2015, though, because Supreme Promotions has said that it will not be providing a stage for battle-hungry deejays this year. They said it from October and are sticking to their guns.
And I am so happy. I am ecstatic. I am grinning my 30 teeth (yeah, couple extractions) off. Sing that song at the start, one more time.
The Sting clash has met a generation of performers who lack the talent with words or finesse of timing to make a clash what it should be, and who are also from the instant era where not only gratification, but also achievement, must come now and via a shortcut. So instead of the Sting clash being an encounter between performers who have already made a mark with the public through their recordings and performances, who have differing styles and personalities and are duking it out for a chunk of the swing vote and the grudging respect of each other's fan base, it has become a route to instant success. You know, the instant type that has no substance or longevity.
When Kiprich took on Monster Empire, Merciless and Tony Matterhorn/Merciless, they were battles between generations. The encounter between Vybz Kartel and Mavado was not only a contrast in styles, but also a 'slug it out' between performers who had established fanatic fan bases. Going back earlier, Merciless against Ninja Man, Bounty Killer and Beenie Man, was an underdog taking on three big hounds. Merciless against Killer was a showdown between sound-alikes, Beenie Man against Bounty was the battle between leaders in a new generation, Ninja Man against Shabba was the locally dominant taking on the international superstar, and Ninja against Super Cat was real 'bad man something'.
moments of real wit
There are moments of real wit on those clashes, even the one between Macka Diamond and Lady Saw at Sting 2013, which caused so much problems for the winner, my dearly beloved Marion Hall. Yes, they went at it hard, but those of us who actually followed the clash would have heard the moment when Lady Saw responded on the spot to Macka Diamond's barb about her Hummer being seized by the tax authorities. Macka (a far, far, very far lesser talent than Saw; frankly, they did not belong on the same stage in the first place) deejayed:
"How yu fi rich an de Humma pon block?
A no my fault govament auction dat
Now a my time fe chat
De heels pop off dye dye replace dat"
To this seemingly pre-prepared lyric, which did not move the audience much, Lady Saw put her boot up on a monitor and shot back:
"Tax man neva take mi Humma a me gi it to dem
It did a go outta style, plus de chassis did ben
Anyting too ole..."
And the crowd roared.
Then there was the moment in 2008 when Vybz Kartel lost the clash to Mavado, when the Sting audience booed him and Mavado replied on the spot to have them railing. Many have assessed that match-up from videos or being backstage and in the VIP area. I watched from the perspective of the general admission audience, way roun' a back, which I believe is the best place to get a genuine feel of the proceedings at a stage show.
"Somebody please tell Mavada
A las' night me did a ... yu mada"
The boos were loud. Mavado, foot on a monitor, said "no, no, no bleacha bway. No ... modda. Level. Make me kill him now before me go way. Hear how him dead now, to ...." And he deejayed:
"Bout ... my modda
Kartel yu too freaky
Yu watch your modda when she a pee pee"
And the crowd roared. What did Kartel do? Run go studio quick go do tune 'bout Last Man Standing.
It nah go happen
Many of those doing the pre-Sting recordings this year, have not come anywhere close to making an impact or solidifying a sizable, stable following through songs that have nothing to do with the 'fling wud', they have been recording in the time leading up to the hoped-for Boxing Day showdown. They have been hitting the studios, disgorging the vilest filth into the microphone, serving what should have been applied delicately to perforated paper named Delicate and Classic and Softie and flushed on a platter for the public to consume, gleefully anticipating that call from Laing that will put them in the spotlight on Boxing Day.
Well, it nah go happen. As the late Squingy of Bass Odyssey sound system told his competitors at a clash in England some years ago, "Oonu go cut chune."
Without the Sting stage for the clash records to be played out before thousands at Jamworld (and the millions watching live, though not on Showtime) all the recordings and all the interviews and all the write-ups are for naught.
And I am sooooooo happy.
>> Next week: Trying to change the character of Sting.