The In-Between Blues: Freewheeling down to 2013

It’s an odd time of year. I often feel confused, but the predominant feeling is sheer, unadulterated laziness. I ought to be doing something constructive, I don’t know what. But I don’t feel like doing it. I want to continue slumped on the sofa, watching DVDs and finishing off the amazing box of dark chocolates (Christmas presents). Preferably with husband (who is never as lazy as me).

The box of chocolates has taken a bashing in the past day or two...
The box of chocolates has taken a bashing in the past day or two…

I know I can’t go on like this. But I want to.

There are resolutions to ponder, plans to make. OK, I know. The heart is willing, but the mind is very weak. And the body…even weaker. Especially after a decadent Christmas Day Brunch at Kingston’s Terra Nova Hotel. I ate about six different kinds of meat (and not a chicken in sight), and haven’t quite recovered. Maybe not such a great idea, but too late now.

My dessert plate at the Terra Nova (I couldn't show you the first course - it would be just too much for you, dear reader).
My dessert plate at the Terra Nova (I couldn’t show you the first course – it would be just too much for you, dear reader).

Resolutions: Basically my resolutions all fall into one category: finish off all the projects I should have completed this year, but didn’t. This includes several short stories – more to be added; try to get my novel published (that was last year’s resolution by the way); get the front of the house painted a decent color (at the moment it is a hybrid  – an underlying pinkish color half-covered with white primer. Not very fetching). Promise to myself that I will remember all relatives’ birthdays and at least send them an e-card (thank God for the e-card). Call my sister in the UK once a week. Skype/email my brother in Australia at least once every two weeks (Skype is a struggle with Oz; for some reason my dearest brother and sister-in-law usually appear upside-down. Well, they are Down Under, after all). Most of all, be a more “engaged” mother to our son in London. Don’t know how to do this. Working on it. Try to laugh more at my husband’s simply dreadful jokes.

All of the above is pretty hard to achieve. Any one of these items is, in fact, much harder than it looks…Herculean. But, at least I am keeping them in mind. If I achieve even one of them, I will feel quite pleased with myself.

OK, that’s enough of resolutions. How to spend these doldrum times, as New Year crawls slowly up to the horizon? Well, Jamaicans know how to spend these days. Whether they have any money left or not, there is always partying, or some entertainment event to attend. And Jamaicans know how to have a good time, as Singapore’s prime minister Lee Kuan Yew wryly observed  after visiting Jamaica in 1975: “Theirs was a relaxed culture. The people were full of song and dance, spoke eloquently, danced vigorously, and drank copiously. Hard work they had left behind with slavery.”

Mr. Lee Kuan Yew, first Prime Minister of Singapore.
Mr. Lee Kuan Yew, first Prime Minister of Singapore.

For example, there is the annual celebration of dancehall culture known as Sting (no, not the middle-aged, pretentious British pop star-cum-folk-singer). Weird things tend to happen at this show, which is probably why many people go – to see what sparks will fly. It surely could not be for the “music,” ninety per cent of which is of very poor quality (I make exception for singers like Etana, who are actually trying to sing, write songs, play musical instruments etc). For dancehall is not about musicality; it is about “culture.”  As such, it is studied very seriously at the University of the West Indies.

The other Sting, banging his head against a tree.
The other Sting, banging his head against a tree. He’s an environmentalist, you know.
This nightmarish figure is the latest dancehall craze, Tommy Lee Sparta. Is that a flag on his face? Looks like some kind of rather unpleasant Michael Jackson meets Dracula figure. I wonder if he can sing?
This nightmarish figure is the latest dancehall craze, Tommy Lee Sparta. Is that a flag on his face? Looks like some kind of rather unpleasant Michael Jackson-meets-Dracula figure. I wonder if he can sing?

Anyway, Sting is all about “clashes.” There used to be sound system clashes; now it is deejays etc. The idea is to “diss” your opponent musically (or with lyrics) until he/she runs for cover. The audience, of course, have their favorites. If there is no clash, it is most disappointing. One female deejay turned up (with a donkey in tow) all ready to dish out some unpleasantness; but her rival did not turn up. Such a let-down, when the aggressor was all steamed up and ready for it…

A clash in progress at Sting 2012. Not sure who this cast of characters is, but the serious dude in the white trilby looks like Ninja Man. Note that it is broad daylight.
A clash in progress at Sting 2012. Note that it takes place in a fake boxing ring. Not sure who this cast of characters is, but the serious dude in the white trilby looks like Ninja Man. Note also that it is broad daylight.

Other highlights of this annual ritual (which begins around midnight and ends well past sun-up) included the latest dancehall fad, a man called Tommy Lee Sparta. If you have the stomach for it (I don’t) you can read some of his “lyrics” at the link below. Then there was the evergreen, turbaned Sizzla, who could not help but resort to spouting his usual offensive, homophobic lyrics (he also did not have anything nice to say about the police, or child molesters). And don’t forget Busy Signal, who spent some time in a U.S. jail but has bounced back!! Another regular at this event is a strange figure called Ninja Man, one of the original deejays, a tall skinny man with hollow eyes who has also done time in a Jamaican jail and is (I think?) now out on bail with his son, on a murder charge. Another dancehall fave, a bleached and tattoed man called Vybz Kartel, is currently behind bars awaiting trial for not one, but two murders, along with members of his gang… sorry, “crew.” So Vybz couldn’t make it this year… maybe next.

A charming and attractive bunch, you will agree. Then, at the other end of the spectrum, there are the uptown parties, where everyone who is anyone is seen, and hopefully photographed – to appear in the social pages of our revered national newspapers. The women wear skirts as short as possible, and unfortunately among older women, the one-shouldered look is still de rigueur. There was a party called “A-List,” another called… OK, you’re bored, I can tell. So am I…

Well, the fun season isn’t quite over until the Jamaica Jazz and Blues Festival 2013 is done. This annual event takes place in Montego Bay in mid-January every year. For Kingstonians, this normally necessitates taking at least one or two days off work, to get the full benefit. Although it is/was intended to attract foreign visitors to Jamaican shores with its all-star lineup, it has morphed over the years into yet another party opportunity for the well-heeled, who flock there in their hundreds in their SUVs, causing traffic jams for miles. Although the festival is named “jazz and blues,” any jazz or blues fan would be disappointed at the musical fare that is dished up – a mish-mash of local reggae acts and ageing pop/R&B singers looking to escape to a tropical island in mid-winter.

I don’t think Michael Bolton could be called a jazz or blues singer, could he? At a stretch? Errrrrr… No!

When I (and others) complain about this complete misnomer, I am told rather forcefully that the Festival (which, like Sting, has been around for many years) is a “brand” and therefore the name cannot be changed. All the local firms have booths there, where the uptowners imbibe local drinks and – again – make sure they get themselves photographed for the local papers. The resulting photos keep the social pages going for at least a couple of weeks, afterwards. And the local firms get their publicity in, while the true fans of the old pop singers get to swoon over their old hits.

Well, this year, at least they’ve got Mary J. Blige, too. She could sing jazz, if she tried.

So, you see, the time is usefully spent here on the island of Jamaica. By the end of January, perhaps, we will all be let gently down to earth as the crime rate starts to bite again, and the latest bad economic news starts to trickle in… I guess, after all, we will still be talking about the International Monetary Fund in 2013.

Dance till you drop... The young and the not-so-young of uptown Kingston (and Montego Bay) will party straight through to New Year's Eve. (Photo: Winston Sill/Freelance photographer)
Dance till you drop… The young and the not-so-young of uptown Kingston (and Montego Bay) will party straight through to New Year’s Eve. (Photo: Winston Sill/Freelance photographer)
The creepy-looking Ninja Man.
The creepy-looking Ninja Man.
An "artiste" named Spice turned up ready to put her opponent, Macka Diamond, firmly in her place - but as you can tell from the look on her face she was disappointed. She reportedly stormed off stage. Note the 1980s-Madonna-like epaulettes!
An “artiste” named Spice turned up ready to put her opponent, Macka Diamond, firmly in her place – but as you can tell from the look on her face she was disappointed. She reportedly stormed off stage. Note the 1980s-Madonna-esque epaulettes! But the non-Madonna-like figure!

And me? I think I will just do mentally what I used to do  when I was a kid: freewheel along, bike pedals spinning, legs stuck out on either side. At some point, I will take control again. But…not just yet.

Happy in-between times! And Happy 2013 when it finally heaves into view!

Related articles for your reading pleasure:

http://www.stingjamaica.com.jm (Sting website)

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121228/ent/ent2.html (Varied, successful Sting 2012: Gleaner)

http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/entertainment/Sting-2012–the-best-in-years_13281271 (Sting 2012: The best in years: Observer)

http://www.dancehallreggaeworld.com/tommy-lee-psycho-lyrics.html (Tommy Lee Psycho lyrics)

http://dancehallgeographies.wordpress.com (Dancehall Geographies: Jamaican blog)

http://jamaicajazzandblues.com (Jamaica Jazz and Blues 2013 website)


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