Amid the hubbub of entertainer Spice’s embarrassing performance recently at the National Indoor Sports Centre, at a gala celebration for Jamaican athletes who participated in the 2016 Rio Olympic Games, Ibo Cooper has weighed in on the self-proclaimed Queen of the Stage’s gaffe.
Cooper suggests, following this debacle, that a discussion be had around the preservation of morality through developing a rating system for live performances. He told The Sunday Gleaner, that in this case, the performance of dancehall is such that it may be more appropriate for an 18-and-over crowd.
“One must remember that this was a family occasion,” he said. “This is not about slamming dancehall, but we must know where and when to draw the line.” Cooper elaborated by retelling his experience of dancehall as being decidedly crude, upended by a demonstration of its conversion into digestible entertainment, for a crowd that demanded conservatism.
“It was February 11, 1990, the day Mandela was freed.”
He recalled Mutabaruka being the deejay on the day who declared over his microphone, that where they stood in Half- Way- Tree should be called ‘Mandela Park’ “Yellow Man was the King of Dancehall at the time and Yellow was not known for conscious music,” Cooper said. Cooper’s anecdote presented the slack-jawed dancehall deejay as moving towards the stage, amid miffs and wary faces.
“We love Mandela, right?”, Cooper recalled Yellow Man asking the apprehensive crowd after taking the microphone. Yellow Man then launched into a performance of a modified song, written and performed before in celebration of the release of Gregory Isaacs from prison. The opening lyrics and hook of the song, ‘Gregory free! Gregory free!’ changed to ‘Mandela free! Mandela free!’, much to the crowd’s delight.
“I am hinting that I am sure that Spice’s material could have been modified to suit the athletics theme,” Cooper told The Sunday Gleaner. “In her favour, she was appropriately dressed, and she did look like a star,” he said, “and it is unfortunate that she didn’t modify her material for the occasion.”
In a TVJ interview, Spice said, “I always hear people saying they don’t accept dancehall, but I’ve never experienced it, and it’s my first time experiencing such humiliation.” And according to Spice, the producer of the gala, Lenford Salmon, said that he was uncomfortable with her performance.
“I definitely feel that they have an issue with dancehall culture, and it’s sad enough to say I was actually hired for the event,” Spice added.
For Cooper, he says, “I don’t have a problem with Spice 18-and-over. Movies have ratings, maybe shows should have ratings,” he surmised.
Cooper’s reference to Yellow Man’s demonstration almost two decades ago serves as an example which supports the notion shared by fellow educator Dr Sonjah Stanley Niaah, senior lecturer of Cultural Studies at the University of the West Indies, that dancehall is acceptable and effective on a national stage.
Highlighting Jamaica as an entertainment destination, Dr Niaah noted the recent declaration of Kingston as a Creative City of Music by UNESCO as one of the moves undertaken to systematically establish the city as an entertainment capital.
“Those ideas are already on the table,” she said when asked about the development of a discretionary rating system for live performances.
“It is part and parcel of establishing Kingston as an entertainment zone,” she continued.
Even with these considerations, tabled under the Ministry of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport, and the argument of the appropriateness of Spice’s recent performance for the Olympians, Niaah said, “National events won’t necessarily need ratings.”
“There’s no room for controversy. We must understand that national events might have on display things that are of our repertoire. Kumina, mento, revivalism cultural and religious practices,” she said.
“What constitutes Jamaica and Jamaican performance, can be on display. We have to know as people planning events what is appropriate for what event, and sometimes we get the lines crossed,” she said.
“The producers were clearly not uncomfortable with Spice being on the show. There was no anxiety, I’m assuming, about what her performance would have been. You can expect to be entertained by Jamaican pop culture at a national event,” she continued.
Niaah’s sentiment resounds with Yellow Man’s positive reception after adjusting his content to suite the occasion without compromising the style of his performance.
“I am asking the whole of the artiste community that we have to preserve our culture, but we also have to preserve our morality,” said Cooper. “I am encouraging all artistes, regardless of what genre they practice, to be aware of their audience.”