Wed | Jun 3, 2020

Juggling for carnival - Music mix at events raises concerns

Published:Friday | December 8, 2017 | 12:00 AMStephanie Lyew
DJ Richie Ras
Kurt Riley
ZJ Sparks
Part of the 2015 Bacchanal Jamaica Road Parade.
Revellers at the Jamaica Carnival Road March on Sunday April 23, 2017.
Beenie Man and Allison Hinds performing at the Jamaica Carnival road march earlier this year.

Unlike other Caribbean countries such as St Vincent and the Grenadines, Barbados, Grenada and Trinidad and Tobago, where soca music is deeply rooted in their culture, carnival in Jamaica portrays only a fraction of what the celebration represents.

This has contributed to a fascination with carnival as sort of a party season, nonetheless still showing support for the talent that comes from Eastern Caribbean islands. However, how much support for and the way selectors play in Jamaica during carnival is still debatable.

Trinidadian deejay Mr Slaughter (formerly Dawg E. Slaughter), who made an impact on the soca arena with Millennium Wine in 2001 and Tic Toc in 2002, told The Gleaner, "Jamaicans should learn about the true meaning of J'Ouvert and other elements that are missing - like steelpan, calypso, even limbo - because they all go hand in hand. Most only focus on 'pretty mas', or a costume carnival."

The last time Mr Slaughter travelled to Jamaica to be a part of our carnival was two years ago for Bacchanal Jamaica. But he believes that the music played for the carnival season is lacking, as "locally; disc jockeys are only focused on stars (music) of the moment instead of familiarising with old and new music."


More about partying


Speaking about the input of Jamaican music in carnival, disc jockey and producer ZJ Sparks said "carnival is more about partying vis-a-vis wining, shining bright, lightheartedness, imbibing alcohol; so hardcore, violent dancehall wouldn't fit it. But Jamaica is the home of reggae and dancehall, so one can expect some - however, the appropriate type."

There have been mixed reactions to the music selection of some of local disc jockeys at carnival events, especially after the series of band launches in November. Although many patrons enjoyed the dancehall tunes selected, there were those heading towards the exit the moment 2017 Vybz Kartel or Aidonia singles were teased.

A few college students, mostly soca lovers, from islands around the Caribbean agreed that the issue is the 'bad man' tunes that a small percentage of Jamaican selectors play at carnival events. It was also mentioned that new soca songs are not always a part of the selections, unless relatively popular among the masses.

"People enjoy it, but get peeved when too much hardcore dancehall and hip hop music are played. Dancehall that would be played in the raving, or 'gyal' segments mixed in seamlessly, works better," ZJ Sparks said.


Maintaining authenticity


Addressing if dancehall contributes to or detracts from the authenticity of a carnival event, Mr Slaughter said, "I don't think so, as you never see a soca artiste or hear soca music at Reggae Sumfest. By hosting workshops with DJs throughout the season, implementing the correct fundamentals such as the proper showcasing, carnival in Jamaica can come to true form and splendour.

"Persons have said also, the selections of music are a little old or don't feature more names in the genre. It's always the same old, with one or two new additions."

Nonetheless, many of the disc jockeys who play on the Jamaican soca circuit, like Kurt Riley, Richie Ras and DJ Private Ryan, have carnival experience and do research for their carnival playlists.

ZJ Sparks said that to make it an authentic Jamaican carnival while simultaneously catering to tourists, without changing the international concept of carnival, the focus should be "Jamaican gastronomy, minimise harassment and, of course, find the appropriate fusion of music".

The disc jockey also said that most of the elements exist already.