There's just under five weeks to go until Jamaica's annual 'Sting' stage show takes place. Whilst many argue that Gully Bop, Tarrus Riley and Capleton (left) stole last year's show with lively sets and energetic performances, it came to an abrupt end when the clash segment didn’t go to plan. Specifically, trouble ignited between the entourages of Demarco and Masicka. Shortly after this, a physical altercation ensued between Kiprich and Blak Ryno who appeared onstage for a rematch of their clash which took place the previous year (see review here). Bottles were hurled, gunshots fired, stampedes occurred and many had to run for cover.
Sting's increasingly amplified unrest has garnered a barrage of criticism. The views of online users 'JA4LIFE' and 'simojo' demonstrate this opposed school of thought (below):
Fast forward to October 2015; Sting season ought to have been in full swing and the streets ablaze with speculation surrounding this year’s line-up. Instead, promotion surrounding Jamaica’s longest running entertainment event had been remarkably dormant prompting many to question if it was even taking place.
Suddenly - as if Sting’s producers felt their ears burning - news filtered through local media outlets of a new concept for the event ‘From Then Til Now’. Their social media channels have since picked up pace, generating some response from their market audience.
The theme will focus on honouring the show’s major musical contributors. Over fifty acts will grace the stage and the producers will introduce shorter sets, replacing lengthy performance slots. Creative Director Dimario McDowell (left) expanded: "it's not we alone who do this, so we want to take some time to highlight the ones that help us make Sting what it is today". The word is that two internationally successful artists are to headline this year and further details will be released in due course. Although the full line-up is yet to be released which is unusual; in times gone by, literature would've been distributed by now, outlining who patrons can expect to see perform. Has Sting lost it's swing?
Well, Sting has changed drastically since its earlier days. However, dancehall has also changed, the priorities and creative (or not so creative) approach of artists have changed, much like that of the patrons who propel them to stardom. As the world’s foremost platform for dancehall, Sting was always bound to follow suit; it mirrors dancehall trends and culture, warts and all, which can be a little uncomfortable for some to behold.
Moreover, Sting is one of the few entertainment platforms in Jamaica that has managed to sustain over the years without Government funding, against the odds. In lieu of this backative, it is the people (both artist and patron alike) who have really made the stage-show what it is in the past. If this support is somehow lost then everything changes and currently this is what is happening for various reasons.
No back up!
As it stands, media sponsorship for the Boxing Day event remains unsure and, of course, this isn't helping with Sting's 'swing'. CEO and Founder Isaiah Laing recently complained: “Everybody neglect dancehall. The hardcore dancehall gets neglected all the time”. Still, by the same token, it has been argued that Sting's producers have neglected some of its own artists through alleged issues with payment and the imposition of sanctions on those who are perceived to be too lewd or outspoken. For instance, in 2013 Sizzla was banned from performing at future shows for five years for asserting his stance on homosexuality and insulting the event’s major sponsors; D’Angel was banned from even entering the premises henceforth for repeatedly exposing her underwear during an impromptu clash with Ninjaman.
Supreme Promotions gave the following justification in a statement released days after, which read: “Sizzla was warned repeatedly…We are going international and we warned every artiste before they went on to the stage (…). What kind of image is D'Angel portraying as a mother? She's saying she came to clash but that's not how the clash went. It was not about Ninja Man, she embarrassed herself".
Unfortunately, Sizzla’s onslaught yielded severe repercussions for the show. First time sponsors of Sting Jamaica Tourist Board (JTB) and long-standing affiliates Magnum both withdrew their sponsorship. Of the stage-show, UWI Professor Dennis Howard argued that “in order for the events of such nature to justify receiving support from taxpayers and the private sector, they have to deliver a professional and tasteful production. It’s unfortunate that with good intentions, the results are disappointing”.
Hardcore dancehall has been the pinnacle of Sting productions since it first started in 1984. In a country where the Government and corporate companies are not so keen to invest in dancehall culture, unity amongst the creatives and local businesses must be retained.
Laing's aforementioned comment about ‘going global’ indicates that their perceived negligence of their own artists, their "dancing abroad before dancing a yard" as it were, equates to the furtherance of the show’s brand. Through “cleaning up” Sting’s image and imposing a level of censorship, the obvious thought is that Supreme Promotions may be able to secure stable media sponsorship. But at what cost?
Artists such as Ninja Man have said that they will not perform at the show. In fact, during a recent Onstage interview he asserted that Laing, specifically, “disrespects artists” indicating that fellow deejays Beenie Man and Bounty Killer are of the same conviction. There have been public fall-outs with Alkaline and Gully Bop. Bounty has certainly been very vocal about his disdain for Supreme Promotions and its alleged treatment of artists. A few days ago, he made a satirical post (below) on Instagram which indicated that money may have something to do with their differences.
Romain Virgo has also implied that he would not perform at Sting again, moving forward, as has Chronixx. There appears to be differences between Alkaline and Supreme Promotions. Whilst the content of Sizzla's 2013 set could've legitimately earned him that ban (he went deep in his fire burning, still!), Supreme Promotion's treatment of D'Angel seems over the top and their assessment of the example that she's setting as a mother strikes more personal than professional. Though they were probably embarassed at her behaviour because the show was being aired via Pay Per View (PPV) for the world to see, there was no need to ban her from the premises altogether, telling her to "stay home". Over the years, we've been exposed to far more at a Sting concert than just someone's knickers!
Chief Editor of Reggae Vibe Magazine Ras Mahddy wrote a very detailed review of last year’s Sting here. He reflected: “To the management, yes you need to hire professional artists if you want to redeem your credibility for the years to come”. It is partly the absence of many of Jamaica’s heavyweight artists that has seen the buzz around the show dwindle.
I close with a very apt post made by an online user ‘CRYSIS63’ (below). Sting has become a staple within the international dancehall community, through the good and bad times, and the call for it has always been there. In fact, in terms of a consistent, live dancehall event, it's all that we've got! It is hoped that Supreme Promotions and the wider dancehall fraternity can heal their rifts. If they can come to the mutual understanding that Jamaica's entertainment business as a whole requires more unity and business acumen with less ego and enforcement of personal agendas, a certain magic can be re-injected into the stage-show. Right now, Sting has not lost it's swing altogether but it has hit a snag of sorts. Albeit temporary...hopefully.