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According to Wikipedia, Sound Clashes in Jamaica began in the 1950s in the Tivoli Gardens area. Tom The Great Sebastian and Count Nick seem to be the first participants of this lasting tradition, with their clash recorded as taking place in 1952.
I’ve stated before that I’m not quite used to the Dancehall culture and way of life, even though I’ve grown up in the island during all my years on this earth. My connection to clashes and rivalries between entertaining acts pretty much only took on life when I saw the Vybz Kartel-Mavado clash at Sting 2008 (though I actually got around to watching it many years later, it always came up in conversations around me). Every other clash before or after that time either sounded too far away to matter, or if I was aware of it, so violent and lyrically abusive that I wish it never started in the first place.
On May 23, 2020, I stumbled across the advertisement for the Verzuz clash in question at about 9:00 pm. I was bored, the curfew orders set by the government were in full effect, and I needed something to pass the time. I had seen the flyers previously, but only just now considered that I could actually get in on something here. So, I headed over to @verzuztv.
Please note, I have no knowledge of the Beenie Man vs. Bounty Killer Feud. I’m definitely going to have to do my research, ask questions here and there, etc. But what I witnessed was amazing, refreshing, and probably the first time I realized that I could truly get to like dancehall. The veterans went tune for tune, drawing for big hits that decorated their musical portfolios. They were witty and had comeback remarks flowing all night. There was a joke everywhere to be had, from Beenie Man and his belly to Bounty’s Blazer jacket, to the infamous part of the event where a police officer had to think twice about whether or not he wanted to be “that guy”. There were moments everywhere.
The huge impact of this event can hardly be ignored. In this worldwide coronavirus crisis, art and creative expression have been blessing the souls and saving the lives of many individuals all over the globe. Watching the Verzuz event felt like a huge wave of therapy, and this is from the perspective of someone who really wasn’t familiar with a lot of what was taking place. Over 500,000 people logged in on the Instagram platform to watch a well-produced, flawlessly executed iconic event that re-established our title as a UNESCO Creative City, and the home of reggae and dancehall. As these are parent genres that garner massive respect for influencing a large number of genres and sub-genres worldwide, it was no surprise to see international stars tuning in to enjoy their piece of paradise. In fact, Senator and PNP Vice-President Damion Crawford stated: “I saw an article in Billboard, one in Essence, one on CNN. We couldn’t have paid for that. What these guys have done is put Jamaica in the forefront of the minds of many in our main market (the United States) from people who would have been very expensive to pay. I saw Dwyane Wade, Gabriel Union, Rihanna, Missy Elliot, Ashanti, Wyclef Jean, Puff Daddy. These are people who products pay millions of dollars for endorsement and we got that for free in prime time, with it being a holiday in the United States.”
He goes even further to break down the numbers: “Normally we get a big jump in an Olympic year. Coming out of the 2012 London Olympics, we had a 13 per cent increase in tourism from out of Britain. This year we have no Olympics, and so the natural global exposure that we would have got from the Games would have been removed and, to a large extent, a lot of that was regained by having just that performance. I think they’re underselling it by saying it was ‘for the culture’, because I think they did something great for the country.”
The last time I can remember this much excitement about a Jamaican event was when Buju Banton performed at his highly-anticipated “Long Walk To Freedom” Concert in March, 2019. It is these moments that make Jamaican history rich and diverse, with sweet memories stored away by those who were blessed enough to witness. As the clash ended with the warring King and Emperor dancing and singing together to the strains of “One Love” by Bob Marley, I signed off feeling more Jamaican than ever before. We may have our problems, but it’s times like this when we get it right, and write our history that can never die.
Blessings in abundance!