Thu | Jul 29, 2021

The value of a singular approach

Published:Wednesday | July 8, 2015 | 12:00 AMMel Cooke

Sometimes, it seems, the making of Jamaican popular music is a reverse of what obtains elsewhere. So, since the Sleng Teng established not only the digital sound but also the process of music mass production in 1985, our accustomed approach is to make a riddim before we have music and melody - not quite the way that it is done elsewhere.

Not only that, but for dancehall (as music, not space) especially, there was a time when an album would be largely a compilation of previously released singles. The inherent weaknesses to that approach are that not only are individual songs which are on what is called on an album already familiar to the consumer, but also because many songs share the same 'riddim' they do not have the stamp of authenticity which adds so much to a creative product.

OMI's Cheerleader, which is currently enjoying a good run on the United States marquee Billboard chart, goes against the Jamaican grain. First of all, it is a single song on a single music track, not sharing its beat with a slew of other songs. Further, by Jamaican standards it is 'stale' - as we deem anything that has lost its prime rotation space to the next hot batch of songs on the same riddim. Cheerleader first came to our ears about two years ago and OMI has not been performing all over Jamaica to cement it into our ears.

But hey presto, it has found favour abroad and, although Cheerleader did have a buzz in Jamaica, being accepted outside of yard has definitely added a new shine to the song.

It is not the first time that we have seen this combination of circumstances that have proven a single to be a very valuable thing, underscoring the power of a focused approach (like a sniper) rather than the blasting away like a shotgun, hoping to hit the target and everything around it. About 16 years ago Shaggy's It Wasn't Me also broke outside Jamaica, also without a number of songs on the same riddim, also with previous listenership in Jamaica, but far from being a runaway hit. To a lesser extent Gyptian's Hold You also followed this pattern.


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Note also that their images are vastly different from the standard Jamaican artiste, from Shabba and OMI's outstanding clothes to Gyptian taking off some of his for a muscle shot with ladies' hands over him.

Let us not forget Shabba's strong early 1990s run in the same 'one-off' vein - or that there is a common management and production factor between The Ranks and OMI.

With all that said, it takes cash and faith in spades, plus a good dose of luck to do anything even remotely close to what is being achieved with Cheerleader. In a generally poor people's game, it is nigh impossible to ask someone to fund a single recording, go through the astute image construction that shaped Shabba and OMI, largely bypass the Jamaican market and trust that it will all be financially viable in the end.

However, even operating on a much smaller scale, it is possible to apply some of the approaches to making music and artistes successfully - as long as the producer finds an artiste who is savvy enough to understand the process and not get impatient with the desire to 'buss up yard'. For as big as a Jamaican event may seem, we are still one little space in one little corner of the world.

Replying to replies: Many moons ago in newspaper business I wrote a column about the dynamic among homosexuality, the Church and dancehall. There was some disagreement after, with the attendant writing. The matter has largely fizzled and has lost momentum, but there is a lesson or two to be learnt, especially in the context of next week's column. Have a read of Kei Miller's blog entry,

Next week.