From Dancer to Artiste: Breaking Barriers with Ding Dong
Describing dancehall as a way of life, Kemar 'Ding Dong' Ottey created the group Ravers Clavers back in 2005, with a group of friends. Members have come and gone along the way, but they've kept a steady team of about 12-13 members. "We have other members that deal with the IT and promotional aspect of business, which put our team up to 16 members," he told Flair.
The group, he explains, is family-oriented. There are no auditions to join, you have to become a family member first. This, he reveals, takes time since being around and meshing well with the group is extremely important to your active participation. And of course, you have to be able to dance.
The transition from dancer to artiste for Ding Dong came naturally. "My passion is still dancing, but I got the opportunity to take dancing to the next level as an artiste. In 2004, I was introduced to DJ and dancehall artiste Tony Matterhorn, and he gave me the respect I needed, taking me to Passa Passa, which was the platform which brought me and others dancers to different levels internationally."
Then he was off to the studios, where he met the late, great music producer Danny Champagne, who presented him with the appropriate outlet to voice his own songs. Those who knew Champagne know that you can't leave his studio without recording something.
Doing the intro to Wacky Dip by Elephant Man and Ready to Party by Voicemail was the young artiste's start. But then he struck gold with his first major solo hit, Bad Man Forward. Dancing, he noted, was on a high at the time, and with Bogle's untimely passing, dancehall had an energetic void which he decided to fill. Dip Again was another of his hits. "I did Ravers a Gyalis before then, but it wasn't until I did the song Dip Again with Elephant Man that people began taking my music seriously."
His success didn't come without hardships. He shared that everyone tried to close the doors on him because he was a dancer. But he kept pushing, and by his summer hit, Holiday, everyone just stepped back and accepted his musical fate.
Ding Dong confesses that being an artiste and a dancer has been effortless. He notes that as an artiste, you have to perform with dancers, so they go well together. "I still dance, building the moves, having the team go out and promote the dance, and then do the song to go with the dance. And when I'm on stage it's a joy to do both. While it isn't easy to perform and dance at the same time because it takes a lot out of you, I make it work because I love what I do," he confessed.
Naming Badman Forward as his favourite dance to date - since it's still being played at every party to this day, he revealed that when it comes to coordination, the team doesn't rehearse. "We're street dancers, so our work is based in the streets. They are taught about spacing and how to work in unison by observing the family in action. We represent the culture in it's raw, authentic state so we don't choreograph - we party. And over time, we have an understanding of where to go and what to do as a team."
He also spoke about the connection with their fans, stating, "The crowd response is always great because we have fans from all over who don't choose sides when it comes to us. People are always waiting for us to bring the energy and the vibes, and we tend to incorporate everyone in the audience. I've learned from the smallest to the biggest of artistes, and do what will work and what won't work on stage. I don't care if I'm performing for 10 persons or 10 million people, a kiddies party or a stage show - I'm going to make sure everybody have fun same way."
With new tracks and dances on the horizon, Ding Dong and the Ravers Clavers have high hopes of elevating dancers to receive the recognition they deserve. "We already have the love and respect from Jamaica, so I want to take our talents internationally, and become the forerunner for dancing in dance hall I would love to see a collaboration with Dingo Dong and Chris Brown, with both representing their individual styles of dance."