As I watch Chef Irie teaching Maxi Priest how to “cook” on Taste the Islands, my eyes are less on the pea salad in which Priest is carefully stirring ingredients and more on the man.
Ladies, Maxi Priest is one, fine-looking brother, wouldn’t you agree?
Mr. Priest, sir, sorry to be drooling over yuh like a juicy quarter of jerk chicken with a side of roast breadfruit, but yuh easy on the eyes, plain and straight.
In the late 1980s, during the closing years of high school, was when I first took note of Maxi Priest. His smooth, reggae/R&B vibe in several solos plus collaborations with the great Roberta Flack and Shabba Ranks was hard to miss.
But then, over the years, the frequency of new recordings seemed to slow and I forgot about him. Sorry!
The 2014 release of his Easy to Love album revived old memories and reminded me that he’s still a talent to be reckoned with. . . and is as fine-looking as ever (did I mention this already?).
Anyway, you know who is looking fresh and like he hasn’t aged a day since the 1990s?
Tell mi, nuh!
General Degree! Yup, the “Granny” deejay himself. I saw him perform live at a cultural show about three years ago, and his vocals were still very recognizable and on point. These days, he’s “Feeling Irie” and incorporating more reggae into his music.
Really and truly, although I didn’t mind listening to a little dancehall plus bogling, butterflying and getting flat back in the day, I wasn’t a true fan. My cautious affinity for the music barely lasted a decade. I’m more a roots-reggae chick.
The dancehall genre, which began around the late 1970s, is rife with violent, sexually explicit, suggestive and quarrelsome lyrics and is characterized by never-ending battles among deejays for market dominance.
But there were gems, which stood out for me in the 1980s and especially the 1990s, like Chaka Demus and Pliers’ “Murder She Wrote” and “She Don’t Let Nobody”; General Trees’ “Mini Bus” and “Gone a Negril”; Professor Nuts’ “Ina di Bus” and “Woman De Yah”; Papa San’s “Dancehall Good to We” and “Strange”; Sanchez’s “Missing You” and “I Can’t Wait (You Say You Love Me)”; and Super Cat’s “Under Pressure” and “Dem No Worry We”.
Then, of course, there was Tony Rebel’s “Fresh Vegetable” and “Jah By My Side”; Bloodfire Posse’s “Get Flat” and “Can’t Stop Rocking Tonight”; Lt. Stitchie’s “Wear Yu Size” and “Natty Dread”; and others with relatively clean content.
Parents, before playing any of the above for your household, please preview and decide whether the content is suitable. After all, this is dancehall, and although it is a part of Jamaican culture, it isn’t for everybody.
You know who else going on with things these days? Mr. Shooddly-Waddly-Diddly-Woodly-Diddly-Woe-Oh-Oh-Seen, Barrington Levy. Those of you who are familiar with Levy’s music, know he has very distinct, melodic vocals.
After mucho years, he has released a new work, AcousticaLevy. Whisper when you say the name, please. Say it like you’re introducing a piece of art at a stoosh gallery. The work (notice my word choice) is infused with amped-up, soulful energy. Talk about stepping outside of the box.
When you hear the album for the first time, you’re likely to dress-back and say,
“Whaaa! Whey yuh ah seh!”
Take a listen to AcousticaLevy if you haven’t yet. It features acoustic versions of old favourites like “Black Roses” and “Here I Come (Broader than Broadway)”.
Other old-school artistes like Wayne Wonder, Stitchie and Lady G have also become more visible on Jamaica’s music scene over the last two or three years and are putting out fresh material.
In these times, when many deejays/singjays, especially the young ‘uns, appear to be creatively challenged, this injection of talent from the old school offers much needed life support to a genre, which is suffocating from over-digitization and ride-a-riddim-and-sing-bout-di-same-ting-over-and-over-til-it-very-very-stale-itis.
To be fair to the young ‘uns, the ride-di-riddim disease appears to have been contracted during the genre’s fledgling years. But then it was allowed to spread like an epidemic. Ten and twenty persons deejaying on the same rhythm can tire yuh ears real quick. It’s not for the faint of ear.
Okay, so you’re probably wondering how come I didn’t mention any songs from Shabba, aka Shabba Ranks, aka Shabba Rankin, aka Mr. Loverman in my above list.
Well, many of his popular songs from the past are too risque for this blog. With that said, I must say, there’s just something about Shabba’s screw-up face, reserved smile and thought-provoking expressions that haven’t ceased to grab my attention. You know, like Ninjaman.
Shabba Ranks is a consummate performer with a larger-than-life personality to match. His place in dancehall history is already sealed and draped with nuff “cargo”, whether you’re drawn to his music or not.
Like Shabba, dancehall has it’s place in Jamaica’s culture. Right now, it just needs whole heap of tweaking. Hopefully though, my fellow Jamaicans and Jamaican aspirants, I’ve given you a pleasant reminder or introduction to the genre.
If you’re inclined to swing by a “session” during a visit to the island, be warned. Your ears may be assaulted by language which is extremely foreign to your vocabulary and not likely permitted in a Jamaican court of law, and your eyes may be witnesses to a dress code which may have you on your knees at the church altar, bright and early Sunday morning.
Now, if, per chance, any free-to-air-radio disc jockeys and sound system selectas are reading this post, please, a beg yuh do, cherry pick oonu playlist. Give old schoolers with current material more airtime, especially those whose brands have repeatedly demonstrated extensive local and international appeal. Show the true breadth of dancehall’s offerings.
That way, when I’m walking through Ochi town, the dread wid di acoustic guitar and American accent on Main Street will be more informed and can comfortably expand his repertoire from “One Love” to maybe singing, a “Feeling Irie” and a shooddly, waddly, diddly, widdly “Here I Come”. Seen?
What say you?
Remember to stay in touch with your comments, emails, tweets and Facebook messages.
Catch yuh next time!
Peace and love,
Notes for you:
1. Hugh “Chef Irie ” Sinclair is a Jamaican-born chef and caterer living in the USA. He hosts Tastes the Islands, which now airs on PBS, where sumptuous, Caribbean cookery is demonstrated.
2. Deejays are similar to rappers, and singjays are like rappers who also sing.
3. Get flat, bogle and butterfly were popular dance moves of the 1980s and 1990s.
4. “Cargo” refers to gaudy, oversize, gold-plated jewellery worn by dancehall artistes and patrons in the 1980s.
5. A session is a dance party, usually held in an open area flanked by giant speaker boxes.
1. Maxi Priest performs at Raggamuffin Music Festival 2011 by Eva Rinaldi Celebrity and Live Music Photographer, used under cc-by-sa-2.0.
2. Lt. Stitchie & Band by kat_geb, used under cc-by-2.0.
3. Image, Headphones, Mixer, Decks, is courtesy of James Barker at FreeDigitalPhotos.Net
4. Image, Playing Guitar, is courtesy of jiggoja at FreeDigitalPhotos.Net