Fri | Oct 19, 2018

Music and More: Getting stuck in one era of an artiste’s career

Published:Saturday | April 7, 2018 | 12:00 AMMel Cooke/Gleaner Writer
Burning Spear
Jimmy Cliff performing at Rebel Salute, in St Elizabeth, on January 15, 2005.
Shaggy
Sizzla Kalonji
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There is a music producer who has said to me more then once that nobody can make a hit song. All the people involved in creating a song - composer, lyricist, vocalists, engineers, producer, graphic artist, video director, manager, and more, can do is to put their best efforts into the project, put it out and hope for the best outcome. Note that he did not say you cannot make a good song - you can and should every time you embark on the creative process. But the inherent wisdom is that not every good song becomes a hit - and, conversely, not every hit is a good song.

One of the effects of this is that it is very easy for audiences to get stuck in one era of an entertainer's career and not pay much attention to their output after or even before. The longer an artiste is active for, the more danger there is of that happening. A classic example is - the release of the Praise Ye Jah and Black Women and Child albums in the same year was like putting out a double disc of superb material. His output has been prolific, with Da Real Thing in 2003 another high point. This is, however, 15 years later and last year Sizzla hit the Billboard Reggae Charts with I'm Yours, which peaked at number two in October, according to www.billboard.com. Not much has been heard of that set in Jamaica and, when Sizzla performs at Reggae Sumfest 2018 later this year, it will be mostly material from the late 1990s to early 2000s. We know and love those songs, from Words of Divine to Rise to The Occasion, but he has done so much more.

Looking at it the other way, artistes who have done very strong songs that did not score as they should have with the public, and then did a song that made us conclude that 'them buss', I again go back to Sumfest. In 2000, during the band changes, I heard Jah Creation playing a song with "troddin' the valley" in the refrain. I asked who it was and was told Jah Cure. It was a name I knew from the calls to "free Jah Cure" and the combination with Sizzla, Kings in This Jungle, was in the mix. When the release of a recording done in prison True Reflections took off, there were a lot more people listening to him. One of the terms that we use for songs for an entertainer which are popular among the more dedicated music followers is 'underground hit'. It is a shame that the 'underground' is not counted for much in their career span.

 

AT ALL LEVELS

 

Artistes hit a creative peak, when the circumstances in their lives - at all levels, personal to professional - are just right. However, that creative peak and widespread popularity may not coincide. I really appreciated Jimmy Cliff's Black Magic album of 2004, especially the song Terror (September 11th). However, it is the songs from very early in his career - Many Rivers to Cross, Wonderful World, Beautiful People among them - that we tend to gravitate to. Burning Spear's mid-1970s album Marcus Garvey is a constant reference point for him, but the Grammy-winning Calling Rastafari at the turn of the millennium is a favourite of mine, from the autobiographical opening As It Is to the closing farewell to dead friends, Holy Man.

Shaggy has had a superb run over the past two years or so, including the Bailando collab. He is not stuck in Boombastic mode and neither should we.

As members of a larger audience we may not be able to make the critical mass that creates a hut. However. it is up to us to follow the creative minds which make an impression on us in song, regardless of trends.

Melville.cooke@gleanerjm.com