Reggae as the Sun Rises
There’s absolutely no reason to show up to a reggae show on time. You can almost guarantee that no matter when such a gig is supposed to start, it won’t get going until a couple of hours later. Maybe more. And such was the case at Wednesday’s band show featuring popular reggae crooners Fantan Mojah, Chuck Fenda, and Anthony B. It was billed as the Higher Meditation and the Living Fire tour, and all of the artists have a slant toward conscious lyrics in their recorded material. Or so they’d like to think.
But the homophobic lyrics that were shouted out during the event didn’t sound that positive to me.
Either way, the crowd at Congas nightclub was dead when I walked through the door at nearly 3 a.m. expecting to see excitement and dancing. Instead, patrons were standing around, some yawned, and they were clearly waiting on the show to start.
In fairness, DJs from Sweetness Sound, Blaxx International, and King Shilo played sets throughout the night to entertain the crowd and build up a vibration, but they couldn’t have been doing too good of a job, because the venue felt lifeless before the headliners took the stage.
Fantan Mojah came out first. It was his first performance in South Florida, and he made sure it was memorable. He’s revered throughout Jamaica as the leader of dancehall’s new generation, and he’s a character in his live performances. Unfortunately, the crowd was still weak for his first few songs, and it really showed. He sang a few hits off of his debut album, Hail the King, but the crowd didn’t get hype until he started singing “Nuh Build Great Man,” his popular duet with currently incarcerated singer Jah Cure.
Lighters hit the air and Rasta flags were waving as Mojah sang the powerful lyrics, “Dem nuh build great man they only kill great man/Babylon be still ah nuh undarate man. Some a ball Satan an a work fi Pope John/can't let them overcome.” It’s a song that states the forces of evil can’t built great men, it can only destroy great men and shouts out the names of Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr., and Peter Tosh, just to name a few. It’s a hit on reggae stations in South Florida, and the crowd at Congas went crazy for it. Mojah even took off his T-shirt and showed his belly à la Jacob Miller. Shortly afterward, Mojah stopped singing and started lecturing the crowd, berating anybody who may have shown up high on cocaine, “´cause Rasta man no need fi touch da powder,” and then went on a diatribe against gays. He asked for a show of hands from the men in the audience who had never had their underwear taken off by another man. It wasn’t a show where gays could even remotely feel comfortable. And that shit just needs to stop.
Chuck Fenda took the stage shortly after Mojah. His set was more relaxed, and unlike Mojah, his songs catered to both genders. He’s more of a singer than any of the artists on the bill and displayed his signature voice on his new single, “Coming Over Tonight.” Unlike in the previous set, where ladies weren’t even addressed, Fenda had the women in the audience singing along and making catcalls toward him. What was most impressive was the backing band on stage, particularly the bassist who goes by the name One Drop and drummer Steve “Snagga” Richards. Every note they played was crisp and done so from precision. It was a good 20-minute set, and Fenda displayed a lot of the showmanship he’s known for.
At that point, it was 3:53 a.m., and all that was left was for Anthony B. to come out and play a full set of wicked tunes. The crowd stood around all night waiting for it, and it seemed I was the only person in the bar who realized Congas closes at 4 a.m. It’s a mystery why these shows start so late in America, as promoters know full well that clubs in Sunrise close at 4 a.m. It’s fine that, within dancehall culture, reggae shows always start late and go until dawn. But when people pay $30 for a show, don’t put the headliner on with seven minutes to go. And that’s what happened. Just as Anthony B. was getting warmed up, the house lights were turned up. A patron could have gone to the bathroom and missed his entire set. It was just that quick. The folks at Island Love Promotion could learn to space out their lineup so that patrons get their money’s worth of entertainment. But they did a good job of bringing out artists whom reggae lovers enjoy and paid to have a band back everyone up, which made a big difference. Aside from some folks getting thrown out of the venue for smoking ganja, there weren’t any problems or issues that got out of control. Then again, if you were in the LGBT community, the whole event was out of control, and that calls for some serious discourse. --Jonathan Cunningham