Mon | Jan 22, 2018

Learning from dedicated sessions

Published:Thursday | September 1, 2016 | 12:00 AMMel Cooke
Vybz Kartel

There was a time when the sound systems played the Jamaican popular music which radio ignored, before ska became a respected classic Jamaican music genre and some of those who were are now honoured by the state, with capital letters behind their names, were dismissed as dirty maniacs.

Technology has wrought significant change on the sound system, as it is no longer standard that operators own their equipment and are responsible for getting it to venues where they are scheduled to play. While those still exist, there are also the independent operators, who carry around hard drives and laptops (hence the name 'pouchies'), plug into equipment that is already set up and play.

However, what has not changed is the sound system's function of playing music that does not get onto radio, even if it is mainly the raw versions of songs that breach broadcast regulations. With the now well- established criss-crossing of selectors between dancehall and radio, sound system performance and radio presentation are blurred in Jamaica already. Put it all together and you have a session like Strictly Addi (where only music by Vybz Kartel should be on the playlist and which went larger and louder on the beach this year)) and the upcoming Alka-Vybz session next weekend, where the selections will be from Alkaline and Vybz Kartel music catalogue.


Not the preferred performers


With their physical presentation and lyrical content, Alkaline and Vybz Kartel (add murder conviction for him) are not the preferred performers for radio - at least, not in the entirety of their catalogues to the satisfaction of their dedicated supporters. So what does some entrepreneur do? See a need and fill it.

There have been many criticisms about dancehall, but in this case the latest genre of Jamaican popular music has something to teach the elders (and not inherently betters). The tail can and should wag the dog. Complaints about not valuing outstanding performers from previous stages of Jamaican popular music are rife. So why not do what dancehall is doing and have sound system sessions dedicated to their music?

For example, it has proven difficult to maintain a Dennis Brown tribute concert, so why not have a D Brown tribute session, where only (or mostly) his music is played? The same for Jacob Miller, Freddie McGregor, Buju Banton, Luciano, Garnet Silk - add to the list, mix and match, and put on a dance.

The closest to this I have experienced is strictly Burning Spear's music after a staging of the Asante Adonai literary event in St Ann, which I enjoyed tremendously. I was not the only one.

Dancehall has something to teach the older folk, who would do well to learn and preserve the music which is important to them.