Mel Cooke, Gleaner Writer
At forty years old, which the sound system officially marks at the Red Stripe Oval, Spanish Town Road, on Saturday night, Stone Love Movements has been through huge changes in Jamaica's cultural, political and physical landscape. Yet business-savvy owner Winston 'Wee Pow' Powell, who defines it as the Stone Love brand, walks with a purposeful pep in his step, his lanky frame reminiscent of a basketball player or football striker's frame.
Powell is on the ball for the celebration, even as he acknowledges that he is a bit behind where he should be. "We a little bit late with our preparation, due to a change of venue situation. But I guess we are on track," he said.
The new venue, at Red Stripe's headquarters, provides what Powell hopes will be extra leeway for what can be one of dancehall's most elusive objectives - time.
At the originally intended venue on Constant Spring Road, Powell said "it was a little bit sceptical with the lock-off time (2 a.m. on weekends, according to the Noise Abatement Act). So we are hoping to go from dusk 'til dawn".
Red Stripe's headquarters is in the heart of the commercial district and The Gleaner asks Powell if this could be seen as part of a wider move to create a zoned area for entertainment events. Powell says that he is a part of the Jamaica Reggae Industry Association (JaRIA) and notes the organisation's efforts to have the current cut-off times (midnight during the week and 2 a.m. on weekends) extended. "Is a industry we have to keep alive and we are seeing where it is really hurting the industry," Powell said.
For Saturday, Powell is hoping to do it like "back in the days, y'know, House of Leo thing, or when you go to the parishes. You go dusk til dawn. It is a better feeling. Many of the fans who are attending these functions are probably even working the same night, so is after work they would get a little chance to release themselves and enjoy themselves".
The billboards for Stone Love's 40th anniversary do not announce a slate of artistes, but it is always expected that the cream of the dancehall crop will be on hand to celebrate a sound system that is a key gateway to Jamaican performers' success and stardom.
Powell said "it is a delicate situation that has to be handled carefully. When you check the generation gap with Stone Love, you realise almost everyone who is current, almost everyone who is here passed through Stone Love. You put on a man name and don't put on a next man name, it create some vibes; man a seh 'yu no rate me'. So we just leave it open and see how much we can really deal with. We prepare to deal with it if them come in".
While leeway is made for those who wish to honour Stone Love to turn up, there are confirmed performances by Sizzla, Bounty Killer, Busy Signal and Lady Saw, plus, Powell said, "I guess everybody will be there as long as them in the island."
The change of venue may be a bit late, but the new time for Stone Love's anniversary isn't. It is normally before Sting; this time the celebration is three days after the Boxing Day concert. "Normally, Stone Love anniversary used to be the preview for Sting, but we getting so many complaints, especially from our foreign-based fans, that they can't go so early and go back and come for Christmas. This time we say let's see how much we can really entertain them and give them a Christmas gift," he said. "Being that it is the 40th anniversary too, we want to make it special and, gladly, Ciroc and Guinness come on board and take it up. So it should be a good look."
It seems to be a good look all around for Stone Love. At a stage about which a middle-age hullabaloo is made about human beings, Stone Love is far from in the vintage niche. Using the example of Klassique, Powell points out that there are sounds which are younger than Stone Love but were created to play retro-format music.
Retro but current
"We play retro, but we try to stay current at all times," he said. "We employ younger selectors as time goes on to fill the gaps. I just have that young spirit too, where I want to stay that way. Not easing up."
And while the anniversary may be the biggest thing on its agenda now and the annual Black and White New Year's Eve Ball another prominent date on its December calendar, being very busy is a normal state of affairs for Stone Love Movements.
"You have to remember that Stone Love has grown to be a brand, which for us, there is really no hard times for Stone Love. Stone Love ever fully booked. So even in the festive season, is just that you will have a more outstanding event. But it's the same way we are busy right through the year," he said.
To fill the demand, as a physical sound system, Stone Love can play four dates on one night. However, with the selectors able to go out on their own and represent Stone Love, the organisation can handle up to eight or nine dates simultaneously.
When The Gleaner asks Powell if he believes Stone Love is the biggest brand sound system in the world, he replies "probably Stone Love is the only brand sound in the world. If it sounds a bit hard then you would ask who is second, who is third, who is fourth. Then you would realise it lead back to Stone Love copping all those positions".
"So Stone Love really stands alone," The Gleaner suggests, echoing a well-known endorsement of the sound system by Shabba Ranks.
And Powell replies "yes. There is no other brand sound, when you look at it".