Dancehall time, space, Spice and big dutty stinking Shabba (OD)
I cannot help punishing you with a pun, and I have one that is way too juicy (or corny) to leave out, despite the distinct possibility that it will detract from what I intend to be a very serious article. The compromise is a choice you can skip to the last couple of lines and read it now and laugh or kiss your teeth, keeping in mind that I mean Shabba (who I have listened to since the King Jammys days on record and session cassette) no harm. Or you can save it for last, after wading through an analysis of the Spice gala flare-up in the context of recurring issues of dancehall and media boundaries.
For we have been here before, where a dancehall performance has been deemed inappropriate for an occasion deemed official and respectable or it has been carried live on television. However, we treat it as something new and do not seek to take preventative measures to deal with the matter. The ones that I can remember are Beenie Man's "greendelero" lyrics at the National Stadium in July 1991 (which earned him a resounding boo) when Nelson and Winnie Mandela came to visit, then Beenie Man and Bounty Killer at the free-to-air televised Jamaica Carnival Last Hurrah in 2005 (which led to the short-lived Coalition of Corporate Sponsors and banning of performers who breached regulations).
Only three years ago, the controversy was about Queen Ifrica at the Independence Grand Gala, again carried live on free-to-air television (although she said absolutely nothing wrong in speaking about homosexuality and legalisation of marijuana). Then at the Sting 30th anniversary concert in 2013, Sizzla's performance moved the organisers to wrath, in a year when it was carried live via satellite to a potential audience of over 300 million people, as The STAR reported ahead of the event.
Peter Tosh's speech at the 1978 One Love Peace Concert, held at the National Stadium, in which he dropped some approximations of Jamaican fabric (like Rasta-castle), as well as the real thing before an audience that included Prime Minister Michael Manley and Opposition Leader Edward Seaga, was another stunner.
And now we have Spice's set on Saturday at the gala for the athletes, which has left some person's panties,( especially the prude) in a bunch and provided the media with some material for a couple of days (I did listen to the Beyond the Headlines interviews with Spice and event organiser Lenford Salmon on Tuesday, which thankfully went beyond the general regurgitation and opinions on propriety). It is not an isolated incident, and we should not treat it as something new and surprising.
The notions of dancehall impropriety, which Spice's performance have once again raised, have not escaped our academics. In Sound Clash: Jamaican Dancehall Culture at Large, Professor Carolyn Cooper says "... the dancehall trope of the 'border clash' ultimately speaks to ideological conflicts between competing value systems in Jamaica". In this case, value is also about what people prefer part of the process of selecting the gala performers was canvassing the athletes, and Spice was among their choices. I sincerely doubt that they are gung-ho over a version of Spice apart from the one with the striking talent of deejaying while balancing on the crown of her head with her backside grinding the air.
Has anyone asked them if they were offended by Spice's performance? I suspect that they knew what they wanted and they may have just got it. I dare say that Spice has not lost a single dancehall fan she had from before Saturday's gala performance; she may have lost the opportunity of gaining new admirers, but they would not have been attracted to her authentic musical persona, and, chances are, would not pay a single musical rate to go through a dancehall gate to see her. She was true to herself and the dancehall artiste who is not, who 'sells out', is trodding on treacherous ground.
More relevant to this spicy matter is Dr Sonjah Stanley Niaah's observation in DanceHall: From Slave Ship to Ghetto, about dancehall's self-imposed boundaries being ruptured by the media and tensions resulting from "dancehall's movement from private to public spaces". This media coverage especially television is consistent through several of the incidents that I have noted previously. So if dancehall remains its uncompromising itself no matter the circumstances, is there not something to be said about it being presented in real time on free-to-air television? How about a delayed broadcast, even by half-hour, like what is sometimes done for sold-out events like football matches? That leaves editing time.
However, there is an established, working model from dancehall that would sort out issues like these, if adopted by those who would include the culture in events which require a toned down approach. In 2006 and again 2011, Beenie Man was presented as Ras Moses at the Western Consciousness concert in Westmoreland, an event where Lady Saw (of erstwhile dancehall days) was hosted as Marion Hall. Rebel Salute had Mavado as David Brooks and Lady Saw as Marion Hall in the latter part of its Port Kaiser Sports Club, St Elizabeth, days, and Bounty Killer as Rodney Price at its current Priory, St Ann, home. Heck, even Jazz and Blues had Marion Hall on.
This makes the contract between audience and performer different from the accustomed circumstance. The performer can adjust without disappointing anyone, the audience can look forward to a 'toned-down' presentation, free-to-air television can expand dancehall's boundaries for the moment and everyone is happy.
Still, isn't it ironic that Spice is being criticised for her gala showing at a time when Shabba Ranks is being given national honours? C'mon, he did deejay that reality is on Shabba Ranking mind, but the title of his Grammy winning sets X-tra Naked and As Raw as Ever are true indicators of the direction his prodigious deejaying skill has been pointed in. How can we as a nation honour - in free-to-air TV broadcast, at that - the man whose Love P****** Bad and Needle Eye P** P** have given me many a glorious rub up near a big speaker box and then lambast Spice. By the way, she has a version of Needle Eye, so she may just be heading to an OD one day.