Dancehall music is in a state of crisis. Violence and gun-talk rule the scene while peace and love is nowhere to be found. Most longtime admirers of the genre are fed up, but those who created the genre hate it even more. A man like King Jammy, who helped pioneer the digital evolution that's been a part of dancehall for the past 25 years, is tired of all the fuckery and isn't afraid to speak out about it. He's produced loads of hit songs during his career, and he's currently rereleasing them as a weapon to help win back reggae's soul. A massive compilation of his work, Selector's Choice Vol. 1-4, just hit the streets, and the eight discs of music here are serious. We decided to check in with King Jammy down in Jamaica to see what a-gwan.
Outtakes: What's motivated you to stay in the reggae business for so long?
King Jammy: Well, the more you make hit songs, it's like pouring gasoline in the tank. It's fuel. And it's all the encouragement I need to keep producing more and more records.
Where was your head when you decided to put together your newest compilation?
Well, Johnny Wonder and myself got together and decided we need to do something to bring back the whole reggae business, 'cause it was going astray. So we decided to take all the hits from the '80s and '90s, chose the tracks carefully. And here it is.
But what about the ultracompetitive nature of dancehall right now? Are things in Jamaica getting out of hand?
Well, some of it is good, but a lot of the artists are taking things too far. When they have a clash, they take it personal and take it out of hand. Their lyrical content is not even accepted internationally. The artists need to make some changes within themselves. They need to have fun and not take it so personal.
Speaking of reggae beefs, how do you feel about the never-ending war of words between Beenie Man and Bounty Killer? Have you had enough?
I'm fed up with it. You have other DJs, Mavado and all of them, that start that type of behavior as well. It's not good for the business. They're taking it too far.
What can be done to turn things around?
The culture is not being brought out the right way right now, and that's why I'm starting to produce new material with Ras Shiloh and Ninja Man to show the youths that you can still make good music. Plus, culturewise, you have some very good new artists, but they're not getting a chance.
Can you envision yourself retiring from reggae?
Retire? King Jammy will never stop producing. I'll always be on the scene. Jonathan Cunningham
When Natalie Dessay first began blowing the minds of the world's opera queens in 1992, she was a walking miracle, the incarnation of just about everybody's hopes for the next great prima donna. That she could act as well as she could sing was beside the point. Listening to her first records was to hear a human being hitting superhuman notes, and it seemed only natural that she should be a great actress as well. Hell, if you're prepared to accept one miracle at face value, why not two?
For that reason, watching the stunning new collection of Dessay's greatest stage moments, Le Miracle D'une Voix, is a must for anyone looking to witness the essence of a coloratura soprano. There are a few moments in Le Miracle that capture some of the what-the-fuck-did-I-just-see?-ness of Natalie's early career. But if you take the collected clips in chronological order from her 1993 Olympia in Les Contes d'Hoffman through her turns as Lucia and Ophelie a full decade later what emerges is a heartbreaking picture of a singular wonder disappearing from the face of the Earth. By 2000, Dessay had developed a bad habit of pushing her lovely, sparkly instrument into heavy roles it couldn't sustain. Though she sang well, her voice was damaged beyond repair. She's now undergone two rounds of vocal cord surgery, and in this DVD's most recent selections, you can hear a woman struggling mightily for notes and timbres she could have summoned in her sleep only a few years earlier. But even those arias especially the breathy, desperate Mad Scene from Hamlet are redeemed by Dessay's sensitivity to the music's drama.
If you can get past the tragedy of it all, this DVD yields many good things. For the laugh factor, you cannot beat Dessay's mid-cunnilingus cadenza in "Duo de la mouche" or the jewelry lust that consumes her in "Glitter and Be Gay." Dessay pushes herself like crazy in two different takes on Strauss' Zerbinetta, proving herself the only soprano in recent memory up to the emotional demands of Hofmannsthal's libretto. And the earliest of her three Olympias the one from 1993 puts to shame every other version of "The Doll Song" you've ever heard. The night that aria was recorded, Offenbach was smiling in his grave. It'll be a long time before he smiles like that again. Brandon K. Thorp
Dark Star Orchestra is as close to the Grateful Dead as you'll get these days, but don't think of the group as a tribute band. Its members don't try to look like the Dead, and there's no effort to talk like them either. Instead, DSO picks a different Dead show from the history books and brings it back to life onstage every night. In doing so for the past decade, it's built up its own legion of fans, called Starheads including the few members of the Grateful Dead who haven't croaked yet. It sounds a little creepy, so the band's guitarist/vocalist Rob Eaton explains it all.
Outtakes: You re-create a different Dead show during each of your performances, from different years and different cities. Do you ever get lost?
Rob Eaton: The term "re-creating a show" is a little misleading, because you really can't re-create someone else's show. For us, it's a set list of songs. We don't analyze how they played the show and copy it. We play the songs in the order they played it with the arrangements they used at the time. That's kind of our blueprint. We don't get lost because we're playing in the moment, improvising, because that's what the music really is.
Has playing entire Grateful Dead shows for ten years taught you about the Dead?
If it taught us anything, it's that there really are no rules. There's no one way to do this. There's no formula, no pattern. It's purely freedom and improvisation, and that's really what the Grateful Dead were all about.
What is it about the Dead that remains so enduring?
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I think the thing about the Dead is that it was a way of life, a community, a feeling that we all had as Deadheads. They enabled people to come together in this one-mindedness, regardless of anyone's politics or sexual orientation. I think there's still a desire for that.
You've performed with five alumni of the Dead. How surreal is that, playing side by side with artists you followed for so many years and now pay homage to most nights of the year?
It's basically a really powerful statement to us that what we're doing is good and positive. There are people in the Grateful Dead community who refuse to listen to what we do or even come see us because it's blasphemous in some people's eyes. But when we have the Grateful Dead themselves come play with us, it sort of justifies and legitimizes what we're doing. It's very satisfying and humbling to know they come and support us after we came and supported them for so many years. Cole Haddon
Dark Star Orchestra performs Saturday, February 17, at the Pompano Beach Amphitheatre, 1806 NE Sixth St., Pompano Beach. Concert starts at 7 p.m. Tickets cost $25 in advance, $27 at the door. Call 954-946-2402.