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Kanye and crew rock Emancipation Park

Published:Saturday | October 19, 2019 | 12:00 AMKimberley Small/Gleaner Writer

American rapper Kanye West struck a pastoral figure as he and his 120-strong choir transformed Emancipation Park into an open-air church brimming with thousands of spectators and a galaxy of cell-phone lights that lit up the venue.

The news-making chart topper staged his latest project, Sunday Service, at the seven-acre recreational park, the first international stop in a series of gospel concerts since announcing his conversion to Christianity earlier this yar.

Sporting T-shirts and sweaters emblazoned with the city of Kingston coat of arms, some of which were later tossed to the eager crowd, the reaction was rapturous when the bass kicked in with Jamaican reggae superstar’s Damion ‘Junior Gong’ Marley’s Welcome to Jamrock, with the choir remixing the popular lyrics with “The Prince of Peace, His name Jehovah!”

The groovy Toast bassline kicked in soon after then elevated further moments after laying down the locally beloved chorus I Am Blessed – complete with choreography.

The concert continued with more songs such as Higher, Higher. All the while, the muted maestro stood centre stage for the performance, encircled by his singers, with the band as their nucleus.

Faith-based as this latest project is, many turned out not because of shared religious values, but because they were pulled by the nostalgia of the old Kanye. One fan said she turned out because she was enchanted by his rebirth.

“I think it’s just a really interesting way to give back to his fans,” she remarked.

West didn’t disappoint those hoping for throwbacks as the choir retreated to allow their leader front and centre for an entrancing performance of Heaven Knows. He even treated those hoping to hear the rapper spit new bars.

Before showtime, Inspector Dustin Woolcock estimated a crowd of about 1,200 but within half-hour, thousands more crammed the seven-acre recreational park set in the heart of New Kingston.

Security sweep

Earlier, police canine teams swept the stage and artiste accomodation areas two hours before the start of the concert.

Ground commander in charge of police operations for the event, Senior Superintendent Terrence Bent, said law enforcers were being very vigilant and would go all out to ensure that patrons and working crews were well protected.

“We are taking no chances. We have secured the inner and outer perimeters and we have scores of uniformed and plainclothes officers here,” Bent said.

He told The Gleaner that the police were also monitoring designated parking to deter car thieves.

Fears of a mass crush of vehicles and bodies failed to materialise as appeals to avoid that sector of the city appeared to drive traffic to use alternative routes. Traffic flowed smoothly along Knutsford Boulevard and Oxford Road late afternoon.

This was not the first time the Jesus Walks singer was gracing a Jamaican stage – he performed at Reggae Sumfest in 2004, part-promoted by Robert Russell.

Russell believes that Jamaica’s global reputation as a cultural superpower and hub of reggae was the magnet that drew West to choose the island as the first international stop of his Sunday Service series.

“It has gone far and wide and conquered the world. In every country you go, there is someone playing reggae music. To say reggae has captured the world is selling it short. It’s just overwhelming, and we’re not even scratching the surface in terms of popularity – and what we’re capable of doing.”

Among the local celebrities who attended the show were dancehall star Spice, industry legend Tommy Cowan, Carlene Davis, Chevaughn, and Alaine. Entertainment Minister Olivia Grange was also there.

Karyl Walker contributed to this story.