Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Garrison Names Reflect Global Conflicts

View Larger Map

This past Boxing Day (December 26) was the 25th annual Sting concert in Jamaica. The show was held just west of Kingston at the Jamworld Entertainment Complex in Portmore. Although Sting 2008 came and went with little coverage by mainstream media outlets, some of the show’s participants mirrored a more prominent conflict in the news.

Sting is Jamaica’s biggest yearly dancehall event, organized by an infamous former policeman, Isaiah Laing. This year’s event was highly anticipated by both pundits, including dancehall historians Dr. Carolyn Cooper and author Donna P. Hope, as well as fans for it’s much hyped “clash” or verbal showdown between dancehall music’s two most popular figures Mavado and Vybz Kartel.

The clash segment – a kind of lyrical boxing match -- takes place on stage around sunrise after dozens of singers, DJs and groups have performed at the all-night concert. During previous Sting clash segments reputations have been made or destroyed as artists are judged by the positive or negative public reaction (known as getting a “rae” or a “boo”) to their performances. Don Gorgon DJ Ninja Man famously slew both Supercat and Shabba at Sting events.

This year's Sting clash featured two of Jamaica’s chart-topping dancehall artists, Mavado and Vybz Kartel who've engaged in sporadic verbal, audio and physical spats. Since both artists are known for their large and sometimes unwieldy “gangsta” followers and entourages, the threat of real violence loomed over Sting. As such, Renato Adams, a Jamaican police superintendent known for heavy-handed tactics was marshaled to handle security for the event.

David Constantine “Mavado” Brooks is a protégé of “Di Warlord” -- DJ Bounty Killer, leader of the Alliance crew. ‘Vado proudly hails from "the gullyside" -- the North Kingston Cassava Piece neighborhood, which abuts a drainage channel. His rival, one-time Alliance member Adidja “Vybz Kartel” Palmer represents Portmore a neighborhood west of Kingston, and it's opposing crew, Portmore Empire.

Portmore dancehall fans have recently begun referring to the location as "Gaza". Although the exact origin of the nickname is unconfirmed, another housing project, Tel Aviv, in downtown Kingston also has adopted a Middle Eastern handle. When I asked a friend in Kingston about the distinction he replied, “[Gaza Strip] consists of a few blocks in Waterford, a Portmore subdivision. Historically rough areas in Kingston have been given nicknames of places in conflict, i.e.; Jungle, Angola, Vietnam, Cuban. Gaza is relatively new.”

In the past Jamaica took cues from American gangsters and cowboy movies for its outlaw DJ and neighborhood names. Now it appears that the Middle East's long history of defiance and conflict is striking a chord with the often violence-plagued and embattled poorer neighborhoods. Could this signal a strategic shift for ghetto sufferers away from America’s tainted might toward a new “badman” image – that of the Middle East’s anti-Western stance?

Whatever the case, it’s clear that Jamaica is still entrenched in an internal conflict as violent and persistent as the rift between Israel and Palestine. Historically, Jamaica’s conflict is tied to it’s two-party (PNP and JLP) political system, with street gangs fighting for control of political fiefdoms. In many ways, artists like Mavado and Kartel are mouthpieces for the garrisons, and by extension the warring political factions in JA. In order for their to be any serious reduction in the crime rate in Yard, artists will have to cease escalating tensions between their neighborhoods via dis-recordings (see example in player below) and forge a real “oneness” among danchall patrons.

For more on the outcome at Sting check the blow-by-blow accounts on One876, YardFlex or YouTube. We’re sure to see more rounds in the Vado/Kartel duel play out in their music and media throughout 2009.

Note: In future column, I’ll attempt to parse the historical transition of top-dog DJs from the mid-80s through the present. From Supercat and Ninja Man, to Shabba and Bounty Killer, to Mavado and Kartel etc…

Vybz Kartel’s reaction tune to Sting 2008, recorded immediately following the event and leaked to the internet.