Passa Passa meets Sumfest at Club S
Character and colour as new venue lights up MoBay’s Hip Strip
A Zion church stands to the left side of the street, while a traditional clothes line with boxers uses a vestige of a light post for crutch, as a go-go club beckons from across the street.
An imaginary line separates the two roads that leads into the new Club S at the S Hotel in Montego Bay, another Christopher Issa ingenuity.
Character, colour and originality have all been pulled together by the hotelier, displaying the flow of his creative juices, as he brings his own rendition of the now defunct weekly dance, Passa Passa, backed by various reggae festival scenes, including the ultimate Reggae Sumfest, all in one club, on a boulevard already named in honour of one of the island’s biggest names in the entertainment industry, Jimmy Cliff.
Club S opened officially in September, specifically to serve guests at the S Hotel and private sector coordinators seeking a venue for ‘off the wall’ events. The venue features a typical Jamaican inner-city bar, a jerk-chicken man, a corner shop and a bar, a ‘rude bwoy’ who looks ready for the dancehall, while uptown people watch from the wings of the VIP upstairs section.
There is absolutely nothing else like this in Jamaica, and Issa is renowned for bucking the status quo. It is an accepted fact that this businessman was bent on changing the face of the tourism capital, Montego Bay, when he opened the S five years ago.
“There was a need for an entertainment space, but we also knew that we wanted to continue on our path of the Jamaican culture, from dub club to where Passa Passa meets Sumfest, so we brought in Main Event to put together the sound and the lighting and the trussing and the stage and all of the audiovisual effect,” Issa, who also owns and operates the popular Spanish Court Hotel in St Andrew told The Sunday Gleaner.
With the different elements, he said he and his team characterised a Jamaican experience, which is a result of the dividing lines in the centre of the road. Club S is one of several ‘rootsy’ offerings the businessman has brought to the road also known as the Hip Strip, with recent addition of a Roots Rock restaurant at the hotel.
The building in which the Club S is located is 18 feet high, giving the effect of being out in the open, and Issa worked with a number of incredible artistes, namely Rohan Blair, who did a lot of the scenes and the rustication of the building, while the multi-talented sculptor Scheed Cole, did the go-go girls and the rude boy on the corner, which has an uncanny look of being alive. “Cole put a lot of work into the man, made his face seem semi-drunk, capturing the look and feel realistically,” shared Issa.
It is Cole’s light poles, with the olden days street lamp, the two dogs and some chickens lounging under the jerk-chicken man’s pan that greets guests on entering the club.
“The artists were given a free hand to recreate what they thought. There’s an element of Port Royal there too, with the Bob Marley mural on the right-hand side, and near to the stage. And then on the left-hand side, there is a Trench Town kind of scene with different artistes. So we tried to capture different aspects,” explained the man who has furnished the hallways of his award-winning boutique hotel with sculptures in honour of Louise Bennett Coverly, Alexander Bustamante, Jimmy Cliff, Norman Manley and Usain Bolt.
Club S, Issa says, will be available for rent for outside functions, and he is also looking at the concept of using it in the days to offer somewhat of a Jamaican street-experience, offering street-side food, such as boiled corn, gizzadas, jerk chicken, “almost like a stop at Faith’s Pen”.
But why does Issa feel the need to showcase the Jamaican culture in such a rich way?
“When I attended university in the United States, on my final day home on a train from Illinois Centre, my roommate and friend, an African American from Detroit last words to me were, ‘You should do a book on how Jamaicans speak.’ ”
Just before the doors of the train closed, he added, “You know the tourists are always imitating how you guys talk.”
Issa would go on to write and publish 10 books on How to Speak Jamaican, How to be Jamaican, plus a video called How to Enjoy Jamaica with Tony Hendricks. His first book sold 3,000 copies in round one.
“Part of the thing I think a lot of people are aware of more and more especially today is our culture, but a lot of times we don’t really know how to teach or package the culture,” he stated.
He said when he started Bob Marley had just began to cement himself as a world famous icon, and that’s what made him really begin to realise the potential of the Jamaican culture.