Tuesday, January 04, 2011

live from Kingston!

Just after Soundcloud dropped a bomb on the creative communities it had recruited to its site, I dropped a post in response which was re-linked, tweeted, and brilliantly engaged with by a lot of people (check the comments).. and then I headed to Jamaica.

I'm just here for 10 days, extending the research I did in 2009, and re-connecting with a few of the many hundreds of amazing people I met last time (you can have a look through the archive from Jan-July 2009 for some of the stories and pictures from then).

I tried, last night, to hit up a couple dances - but two out of the three were shut down by the police 10 minutes after me and my friends arrived. And I'm not the only one upset.. these "dancehall tourists" from Finland wrote a formal letter of complaint! with less ethnographic detail, but more outrage.. I guess I'm a slow burn kinda gyal.

So, my story: The first party was at an uptown bar/lounge in New Kingston. No dancehall, mostly live alternative and jazzy R&B. Packed crowd, very elegant, running on till the wee hours, with live guitars strumming behind vocalists who all seemed to know most of the crowd. A family vibe, glittering as they emerged from their cars (big SUVs crowd the lot which is guarded by security). I left as it was still hotting up, around 1am, for the next party.

Susie's Bakery hosts Mojito Mondays, in association with local uh "men's energy drink" Magnum. I associate this place with an uptown crowd, the place normally serves decadent pastries and meals that are quite pricey relative to local restaurants. On Qednesdays it has live music, not only reggae, many students from the local music school perform alongside a somewhat international crowd onstage and in the audience (or that's how it was when I was there in the past). The events take place outside and this one is free, with the sound system set up in front of the bakery and the crowd filling up the parking lot to bursting.  In terms of crowd and vibe, this night seemed a bit more downtown than the Wednesday night I remember - this night the music was played by a DJ, and was R&B/ Dancehall/Jamaican popular music whatever that hybrid is these days with a sound system I believe by Supahype... and the crowd was indeed super hype... in all their finery... which was at least in part quite a bit louder than at the previous party. The crowd wore brighter colors, more accessories, more over-the-top fashions: the latest trend appears to be wigs that are half-black and half-neon yellow or pink, there was a woman in a magnificent silver lame dress with big shoulders, men still going for heavily embroidered shirts, although I saw fewer chains, and I don't see so many neck scarves as before. Also the crowd was far less dominated by white, lightskinned and asian people than the previous event (and far more people).

Unfortunately, just as we pulled up and started checking out the scene a traffic snarl at the other side of the jampacked parking lot resolved itself into a police car. A bit later the sound cut out and people started milling around. Luckily Hot Mondays is around the corner, so we headed there. the crowd was similar or even more downtown in vibe - it's inside a shopping center, and used to be free but recently started charging. But about 10 minutes after we pulled in, so did the police.. we stood outside and watched the small sedan in blue and white drive through the crowd around the entrance right up to the front of the gate. My companion identified an inspector, not just regular police, so it seemed more serious, and then several people identified another man, in a bulletproof vest and helmet, as a local famous journalist. "that means them (the police) have to do someting" said someone seriously. With the eyes of the press on the police they have to make a show. Sure enough, the music cuts out 5 minutes later.

 People start streaming away. There's another party on, out in Bull Bay, but we are worn out chasing the nightlife and head home.

So the crackdowns on popular culture happen all over! And it might depend on your relationship to property, and power whether you get shut down or not. hmm what does that remind me of? and who gets hurt? the fans! who not coincidentally are the people who help make the ting profitable and expands its reach, as our Finnish friends point out, very sensibly.

But wait, on further research, perhaps the second party is Uptown Mondays? because the bossman was called Whitty, according to the people I was with, and that's apparently the name of the founder of uptown mondays, and we were on Constant Spring Road.  If so, there's new levels of irony - despite the name didn't have an uptown vibe to me, although Halfway Tree is uptown from a lot of other sound systems. But the real issue is that just last week there was an article in the Gleaner about this historic party. The article describes how this party played an important role in the music scene for breaking out new artists: " selectors, among them Hotta Ball, Foota Hype and Boom Boom, who have got a big break in the music business from playing at Uptown Mondays."

And yet it buss up by the cops the NEXT week after the article come out? what a gwan?

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