It began as a recipe for disaster, but Salute to Dancehall, held on February 24 at Mas Camp in St Andrew, turned into musical magic as a late start compressed the performances into a non-stop flow for the show’s programme.
MC Richie B hit the stage around 10:00 pm with an apology for the delay, just in time as Stone Love’s valiant effort of near two hours of early juggling was starting to wear out its welcome with the patiently waiting attendees at the free-to-enter event.
Singing Melody was first up, bringing with him the softer side of dancehall music, a rarity these days. As one of the members of L.U.S.T., his appeal has always been to the ladies and it was still the case at Salute to Dancehall. Singing Melody’s blend of reggae and R&B went over well, as the singer complained about the diminished quality of modern dancehall, and how there were few actual singers currently around.
“If you naw sing ’bout chop now, nothing,” he commented to the crowd.
A STEP BACK IN TIME WITH PETER METRO
Singing Melody’s set mixed his own work with that of his time with L.U.S.T., and even a few throwbacks to the reggae artistes he admired and emulated, like Leroy Sibbles. This was the perfect transition to the next act, a step back in time in the form of Peter Metro.
With a career that defined much of 1980s dancehall culture, alongside compatriots such as Yellowman, Peter Metro would be considered one of the bookends to the event. His years of experience shone through as he sounded as fresh as the day he first performed hits like Police Inna England with energy and vigour. However, it was his intellectual and patriotic freestyle that touched on topics such as the over US$12 million taken from Olympian Usain Bolt in the Stocks and Securities Limited fraud scandal, that didn’t make him feel ancient and out of place for the audience.
He turned in another strong performance before relieving the stage to the only female act on the bill, Macka Diamond. Representing the 2000s, from her ‘Money-O’ yell, she grabbed attention entering the stage dressed in black, under a green overcoat with yellow shoulder accents. With the female side of the audience already primed from Singing Melody, she carried them along through her own hits like Bun Him, and Cow Foot while having everyone dancing up a storm with Hoola Hoop. Staying tasteful for her set, she left to strong applause.
Mr Lexx was next to grace everyone with another top set. The 90s dancehall star hit the stage with plenty of humorous energy. He had no problem reeling off hit after hit. Like his song, he gave it his full hundred. From Cook, to Ring Mi Celli, to Bounce a Gal, to Monkeys Out, he only stopped between his songs to further voice what he felt was the poor state of modern dancehall. He asked Olivia Grange, minister of culture, gender, entertainment and sport, who was in attendance, for the Noise Abatement Act to be adjusted to allow outdoor entertainment beyond 2:00 am, and that the Government develop more entertainment spaces. Like Singing Melody, he criticised the current generation of dancehall stars and encouraged them to work on longevity rather than instant social media fame.
The next three could have headlined themselves.
No salute to dancehall would be complete without the king himself, Beenie Man. Just a hint of his voice from off stage was enough to put fans into a frenzy. Proclaiming a return to health, he danced non-stop, delivering like the consummate professional he is. With a string of iconic songs that have ruled for decades in the genre, there was no stopping Beenie Man. Having a canyon deep musical back catalogue, he switched from being the ‘girls dem sugar’, to bringing back ‘memories’ of his ‘bad man style’.
Slewing them, figuratively, after Beenie Man was Capleton. As another veteran in the dancehall space, he possesses a healthy roster of known favourites. Despite coming on stage after 1:00 am, the slowly swelling crowd was still engaged, mostly because the time constraint meant no artiste overstayed their welcome, even when they tried. Capleton got a bit contentious when he was given a two-minute warning, making it clear verbally that he would not be rushed. He still managed to end his set with a graceful exit and much applause from patrons.
Sizzla simply sizzled. Even as the last act of the night, his infectiously active style kept the audience going to the very end. Not that he had to do much work as so familiar were his songs it only took the first few musical bars to send patrons singing along.