Mel Cooke on Jamaica's annual Stage Shows

Reggaetourist summary - Mel Cooke is one of Jamaica's finest music journalists. In this Gleaner article, he muses about the different characteristics of several of Jamaica's biggest and oldest annual concerts. 


It's Sting, Salute, Startime, Sumfest and Extravaganza

Jamaica Gleaner

Thursday, January 14, 2016

I cannot remember missing more than maybe three Startime concerts since 2001. Ironically, two of them were 'return' events after an extended break, the first at the Liguanea Club, New Kingston, in 2013. The second was last Saturday at Mas Camp, National Stadium, which by all accounts, was a cracker in terms of performances and a bumper crowd.

The turnout was so encouraging that although it was billed as One Night Only, with any future Startime stagings doubtful, that original organiser Michael Barnett and new partner Charles Simms have already decided to stage another concert, this one in Clarendon on July 9. However, as The Gleaner reported yesterday, we should not expect multiple stagings of Startime in the future, as Barnett said going forward it will be staged annually.

This rare vintage - once a year - almost guarantees that Startime will have a bumper audience every time. For not only will the audiences value something that they have access to relatively rarely, but they will have also revived their appetite for the presentations of the repeat performers. For there is no doubt that the standout performers will be singing the same songs over and over again - which is what the audiences expect and want.

However, with the reported magnitude of last Saturday's Startime and the promise of an annual staging, the concert seems set to join a calendar of long-standing events in Jamaica. Also on the list are Reggae Sumfest (held in late July in Montego Bay, St James), Sting (Boxing Day, Jamworld, Portmore), Rebel Salute (January, Grizzly's Plantation Cove, St Ann) and GT Taylor Extravaganza (Christmas Day, Independence Park, Black River, St Elizabeth). The last, which had its 15th staging in 2015, is the newest of the events and Sting, which was held for the 32nd time last year, is the oldest.

distinctive characteristics

Each has its distinctive and defining characteristics, much of which is rooted in its origins. Startime focuses on vintage music, pulling performers from the Studio One/Treasure Isle period onwards. Unlike the others, it does not have a fixed date and home where other events are rarely held, Mas Camp (at different locations) standing in as the most frequently used venue for well over a decade. Sting goes for dancehall, as does GT Taylor Extravaganza, held a day apart about 70 or so miles from each other.

Salute, staged within three weeks of Sting and Extravaganza, is distinguished by its Rastafarian origins and no meat and alcohol policy (although, of course, there are those people who insist in carrying in both, but they are not sold at the festival's official booths). Now it also has a marijuana exemption for this weekend's staging, further setting it apart from the rest.

Sumfest, which replaced Reggae Sunsplash in Montego Bay, was unusual from the get go. It debuted as a full-fledged festival, not growing from smaller beginnings in sound-system culture like Extravaganza and Sting, or developing from a one-day format as Rebel Salute has. In addition, Sumfest has placed a lot of emphasis on its overseas performers (normally from the USA) over its life, in addition to the Jamaican performers. Plus, Sumfest is run by a group of businessmen who, unlike Barnett who is a music collector and radio announcer (as is GT Taylor, who also runs a sound system) or Sting organisers Supreme Promotions' which organises other events, generally have limited to no other day-to-day involvement in music business.

Of course, Tony Rebel is a performer and producer.

As a group of events, they are sufficiently distinct in character or physically far apart (although some spacing out of Sting, Extravaganza and Salute could mean larger audiences to go around) to keep going in the long-term. While a number of shows have come and gone, maybe this remaining number of long-standing events is the result of natural attrition. Maybe this is what the market can sustain and these are the events which are organised well enough to have longevity. While there are events like West Kingston Jamboree and Ghetto Splash, they are specific to a particular audience.

I have not been to a Galliday Bounce, which is also on the December calendar, but from what I have read, it is growing from its sound system roots and may be heading to the long-term. It has a home community in Ewarton, so we will see how that goes as time progresses.

Salute line-up

The marijuana exemption has dominated the conversation about Rebel Salute 2015, which is to be expected. However, it s the music which makes the festival and let is not forget the roster of performers. From a personal standpoint, among those I am especially looking forward to tomorrow night are Michael Rose (Black Uhuru tracks like General Penitentiary are sure gems), Sanchez (who I saw at Club Famous in December and his voice is superb), Pluto and Ernie in combination and Kabaka Pyramid (lyrics galore). The following night, performances by Pablo Moses, Pinchers and Macka B (that 45 tune is a big one) are among my highly anticipated moments.

It should be good.