Among some of those who are into dancehall music as producers or consumers or both much has been made about deejay Alkaline not performing in Jamaica for some time. This is by choice, as there is no shortage of demand for his recorded material, to the extent that earlier this year, the themed event Alka-Vybz, was held in Kingston and tomorrow the Print Out Gaza Unruly vs Gully Vendetta event is at Pier One in Montego Bay. Both feature music by Alkaline and Vybz Kartel.
But despite the demand for Alkaline’s physical presence, which the popularity of his records has stimulated, there has been no sign of him on a Jamaican stage. In terms of a major performance, we would probably have to go back to Reggae Sumfest 2014 to assess what he has to offer to a concert audience in Jamaica.
And I wonder, does it really matter to Alkaline if he performs in Jamaica? If his popularity among dancehall fans remains undiminished by his absence from local stages and he is making money by performing outside the country, is it important to perform in Jamaica?
This goes past surface arguments of Alkaline ‘dissing’ dancehall in Jamaica or ‘hiding’ from an audience reputed to be very hard to please. The situation raises several issues, among them, how popularity is generated and maintained in dancehall and whether Jamaica is still the all-important measuring stick for Jamaican popular music.
I remember when a deejay was required to deliver new lyrics at a stage show to impress the audience, in addition to their recorded material. This was a subtext to the clash between Ninja Man and Shabba Ranks at Sting 1990 Shabba was the man with the records, Ninja the man with the spontaneous lyrics, and Ninja won. But by the time Mavado and Kartel clashed at Sting 2008, it was largely a matter of trading snatches of song.
So the significance of spontaneity to a deejay’s success has declined. And this helps sustain Alkaline’s popularity, as it is not required that he present ‘new chune’ to a live audience at regular intervals to retain his fans’ regard and attention.
Alkaline being able to do shows abroad and sustain himself (very well, it would appear), indicates that Jamaica is not the be all and end all of live performance. So dancehall has spread so far and wide from its point of origin, that there is a network of events that a deejay can perform at, making performing inside Jamaica optional.
In case we have forgotten, Mavado was outside of Jamaica for some time, last year’s Rebel Salute (as David Brooks) and, before that, the Arthur Guinness celebration marking his return to the Jamaican performance scene. Konshens is also among the deejays who have taken extended breaks from performing in Jamaica. They have remained popular and so has Alkaline.
One last thing. How often did Vybz Kartel perform on major shows in Jamaica, especially in his ‘lighter’ years? And he was in the country.