Are clashes necessary in Dancehall and Reggae music?

by Cecelia Campbell-Livingston

Merciless and Kiprich

Merciless and Kiprich

THE December 26, 2011 staging of Sting — dubbed Rumours of War — saw promoter Isaiah Laing returning to the clash format. He alluded to the fact that clashes worked better in attracting patrons to the event. Therefore, for him to see any return on his investment, this was the route he would have to trod.

Lyrical and sound system clashes have been an integral part of Jamaica's music since its beginnings, but is it really necessary in today's world?

Stone Love Movement CEO Winston 'Wee Pow' Powell says clashes are definitely not good for the industry. "Clash does nothing to the industry but bring negative vibration," he said, pointing out that just because Sting did not attract the numbers when it stayed away from clashing, doesn't mean it couldn't have worked.

"Everything takes time, look at Tony Rebel's show; it is one of the biggest shows right now and it's embraced by the Jamaica Tourist Board. It's that way because it is clean. Everything takes time to come to perfection," Powell said.

For Powell, whether it's dancehall deejays or sound system selectors engaged in clashing, it is still not good. However, he says if it's a sound system against a system then that's different.

"If your system is more powerful, you will be more dominant. That competition never ends, it's from day one. A selector must know that he must at all times try to please his audience," Powell pointed out.

For ethno musicologist Dr Dennis Howard, clashing and competition is a part of our Caribbean culture and he sees nothing wrong with it.

"People love the excitement because tracing is a type of clashing and competition and that is part of rural and urban culture. Even at the intellectual level, a legal debate is good," said Howard.

According to Howard, like with any other competitions, there must be rules. "In boxing, you are not allowed to hit below the belt.

"At sound clash and concert, it has got personal because there are no established rules of the game," he said, highlighting the fact that some artistes engage in personal attacks on their opponent's sexuality, their mothers and make other negative comments. "That has generated in the kind of mayhem transpired over the years. It has caused people to lose earning, cost people's lives and reputations. Once you have rules of engagement in clashing, it is still a viable option," the musicologist asserted.

Music insider and Observer columnist Clyde McKenzie said there is a place for musical clashes but "in its purest form".

"In it's ideal form, clashing is something sublime, something beautiful. Clashing requires a certain level of sophistication in terms of a sense of humour, and an understanding of the issues and articulating it."

Clashing can be fun when you see two people who are witty standing up and competing against each other," shared McKenzie, while admitting that the music industry has suffered immensely from bad handling of stage clashes. "We don't take it as entertainment, we take it personal. How clashes have unfolded has been very bad for the business."

Going forward, McKenzie says clashing has its purpose and should not be done away with. "We need to refrain from personal and ad hominem attacks and use wit and humour," he advised.

Kool FM's disc jock and musicologist Michael Barnett is of the opinion that a clash is not needed as it incites fans and that he says is definitely not good for the industry.

"When I go back in the day with Prince Buster and Derrick Morgan, the music was friendly. It was never advertised as a clash. It was friendly rivalry through their music," he said, adding that this new clash culture is being promoted to "rev up the people" all with the desire put numbers in the venue.

"Fans take the clash outside of the venue on to their daily lives. It has caused harm to people in the past. I don't think it should be promoted."


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