Losing live shows at Christmas and beyond
From left: Bounty Killer, Beenie Man and Cham sharing the stage to the delight of patrons at a past GT Christmas Extravaganza show.
IT IS that time of the year again, when Christmas carols are on the radio, coming from the choirs and the audio systems in the supermarkets, urging observance of the birth of Jesus Christ, spending and consumption of wine, sorrel, cake and song in whatever proportion the heart desires.
It is also the time when there was once a silly show season, with a series of large-scale concerts across the island. This has long faded, with events such as East Fest in St Thomas, Reggae Campfire in St Catherine, Original Dancehall Jam Jam in Clarendon, West Kingston Jamboree and Pepsi Teen Splash in St Ann, among those which are now treasured memories.
LACK OF SUPPORT
These were not in the first deluge of Christmas-season concerts, but were prominent closer to the end when, for whatever reason, the informal network of events staged by private, independent promoters collapsed. The primary cause bandied about is rising costs and lack of sponsorship. However, this does not take into account the barter system which once assisted the concerts tremendously – major artistes would operate on the basis of performing at each other’s events as well as those of long-standing promoters, in a round robin set-up of mutual support to generate income.
Now all that remains of the large-scale, established ‘stage shows’ at the end-of-year period is GT Taylor’s Christmas Extravaganza in St Elizabeth on Christmas Day and Sting at Jamworld on Boxing Day, with the latter set to undergo major format changes next year. Not to be counted out is Rebel Salute in St Ann which, although taking place in the middle of the first month of the new year, is actually about three weeks after Extravaganza and Sting.
Ironically, in a situation where the ease with which music is accessed and distributed without payment to the creators, making earnings from live performances of primary importance to artistes, Jamaica has fewer platforms for this to take place. Not only that, but the standard ‘young artistes’ segment in which those attempting to hone their craft and earn the audiences’ regard and support, is vastly reduced. This means that an artiste goes from having a song made popular by whatever radio, music video or social media avenue, to a prominent spot on the line up of a major concert without the apprenticeship performance period.
The results are haphazard, to put it mildly.
Now there is a Kingston Music Week at the start of December, with a series of concerts across the city. The fact that it is brought together by a media entity underscores just how much live performance in the Christmas period is no longer driven by the performers and independent promoters. Also, a look at the line-up for those concerts (including the Marley-driven Smile Jamaica at the Bob Marley Museum) and Extravaganza (where Sanchez, Sizzla and Bounty are among the headline performers), shows that it is the tried, proven and long established who are holding sway. Not to be left out is the event at Hope Gardens featuring Third World.
Note, also, how the live events that were held at Jamnesia and Wickie Wackie developed the performance skills and immensely enhanced the popularity of No-Maddz and Raging Fyah, among others in a resurgent reggae scene. Those concerts were the equivalent of the sound system circuit when Stereo One with Stitchie and Wolfman, Creation with Papa San, Kilimanjaro with Ninja Man, Black Scorpio with General Trees, among many others, provided a consistent performance space and community among dancehall enthusiasts.
Without some equivalent to this, we will continue to lose the live at Christmas and other times of the year, as those who we turn out to see the reaming stage shows get older and, without renewal, there is a possibility of the irreversible decline of something which was once so vibrant.