Fox Facts

THERE’S NO POLITICS IN MUSIC

Ever since the use of sound for pleasure, musicians have braved politics, power, privilege and poverty to create and hone their craft, and if they are lucky enough, are heard. But the path of an entertainer is bittersweet, as personalities are also magnets for controversy, whenever it’s convenient for those who are not fans.

The most recent controversy on the Caribbean forefront is the political strife that has trapped dancehall star Mr. Vegas in a rift between parties in Grenada.

Vegas, a veteran of the business and a scintillating entertainer who has enjoyed Billboard and crossover success over the years, was invited by the government of Grenada to perform on May 27 in Carriacou, an isle off the coast of mainland Grenada.  It was an invitation Vegas gladly accepted, as he has been journeying to the shores of Grenada throughout his career, bringing dancehall beats to his spice island fans.

Hired by the ruling party of Grenada (the New National Party or NNP), Vegas was contracted to perform, with a contractual clause that prohibited any “derogative dancing” during his act. In an effort to abide by his contract, he decided to perform without his dance crew, who are truly stars in their own right within the dancehall industry. While on stage, Vegas was cautioned by a government official to keep his performance “toned down” and to not perform “Hot Wuk,” a hit track from his latest album, Hot It Up, and one that has been enjoying immense radio and video play worldwide ever since its release late last year. That was what politics called for that night, and as their employee for the night, Vegas played their game. He did, however, run through his catalog of hits, including the very popular “She’s A Ho,” which had the audience screaming and singing along, word for word.

Now with elections in Grenada on the near horizon, the opposition party is using Vegas’ lyrics, word for word, in their campaign against the government, saying the NNP condoned lyrics that called women prostitutes and encouraged drug use. As a result, the NNP, which hired Vegas, is denouncing his performance in their country.  Vegas was hired for a job – to entertain, and that he did. Numerous stars have faced similar battles, even pop icon Madonna, all fighting for freedom of speech and artistic expression. Vegas was not in Grenada to prove a point; he was there to entertain. In fact, he complied with all the specifics dished out by the government officials who hired him.

Public outcries in the aftermath of Vegas’ appearance fail to mention the songs that are being ridiculed, such as “She’s A Ho,” have been receiving airplay across the Caribbean, including Grenada, ever since its composition some 10 years ago. Furthermore, public statements made about the event have never mentioned the dangerous conditions that Vegas braved to get to the venue, as he was transported at midnight on a single-engine powerboat at 200 miles-per-hour speeds to Carriacou.  

Too often, censorship by political and religious powers interferes with artistic expression, and is more of a norm in our small island nations than in larger countries worldwide. The micromanagement of local sounds can inhibit musicians when they are already battling geographical, cultural and economic limitations to break barriers and bring Caribbean music to the international masses.  

Politicians that hire a dancehall star who made his name penning tunes such as “Heads High” and “Hot Gal Today” should expect to incur some amount of wrath from opponents of explicit lyrics.

Mr. Vegas is a staple in dancehall music – a genre that has carved a niche for itself by spewing gritty, hardcore and most often sexually explicit lyrics fused over bass-driven beats that literally make you want to gyrate in a dancehall. To invite Vegas to Grenada and involve him in a local political warfare is unfair. He is but an obvious pawn in the ploys of the political parties in their campaigns against each other.

However, since it is not their native music, an attack on dancehall and its stars has no impact on the government of Grenada. Perhaps they are missing the larger picture. Censorship at home and waging controversies with Caribbean musicians who are fighting to put our island nations on the global forefront can be detrimental to their craft, especially when they are victims of circumstances such as the situation at hand. As cultural icons, our entertainers are sometimes the only way people far and wide can taste Caribbean culture, or know what a Caribbean person looks like or sounds like.

Mr. Vegas’ explicit lyrical expression is the definition of dancehall music. He should be celebrated for his sounds, not attacked for them. Those who find his music offensive should simply flip the dial, or better yet, not hire him for a show they knew harbored the potential for political controversy. Furthermore, they endured a similar predicament a month ago when Beenie Man incurred the same wrath after performing in Grenada. The choice of lyrics is not to be blamed; the promoters, who in this case were the government, have the ultimate choice of choosing and hiring the entertainer. The political debate and slander against an artist for his craft can continue forever, but simply put, there’s no room for politics in music, unless of course, the music IS about politics. How’s that for something to sing about?

MACHEL MONTANO BRINGS SUMMER SIZZLE

This year’s Crop Over celebrations will be extra special as the reigning prince of soca, Machel Montano, journeys to Barbados to help celebrate in style. Known to Barbadians as the end of harvest and to the rest of the world as the Barbados Carnival, Crop Over celebrations take place from late July to the first week in August, the highlights of which are a musical variety show called Cohobblopot on August 3 and the Grand Kadooment street parade featuring mas bands on August 4.

Trinidad & Tobago’s jewel Machel Montano was invited this year by event organizers to bring his brand of steaming soca sounds to his neighboring country. Having mashed up the carnival circuit in February in Trinidad, with 48 sold out shows in the brief carnival season this year, Montano is back with some new tunes to add to his catalog of soca staples.

At the recent launch for Crop Over in Bridgetown, Barbados on May 30, media and industry officials were treated to advanced copies of his latest album, Wining Season, a remixed and re-mastered version of his album Flame On, which was unveiled earlier this year at Carnival in Trinidad. Wining Season serves up some sizzling remixes, including “Defense – The Anthem” featuring reggaeton star Pitbull and rapper Lil Jon, “Make Love Remix” featuring Buju Banton, and “Wining Season Remix” featuring dancehall icon Shaggy.

Having just shot the video for “Defense-The Anthem” with Pitbull and Lil Jon in Los Angeles, Montano is gearing up to release his new productions, with a strong focus on melting Caribbean music together and taking it to the masses.

With the same goal in mind, Montano will lend his star power to a highly anticipated soccer match between Trinidad’s Soca Warriors and Jamaica’s Reggae Boyz, in Port of Spain, Trinidad on Saturday, June 7. A busy schedule will keep the soca star touring and spreading his fusion sounds from Anguilla to Venezuela in the upcoming weeks.

Winning Season is now available worldwide from digital retailers such as iTunes, with a physical release slated for mid-June. Log on to myspace.com/machelmontano or machelmontano.com to see where you can catch him in action this summer.

SHAGGY TO “INTOXICATE” EUROPE

Dancehall icon Shaggy kicks off his summer tour today and is set to take Europe by storm this summer. Shaggy will have fans shaking to his beats, many which have embraced the phenomenal entertainer long before he enjoyed success in America.

Armed with his new album, Intoxication, Shaggy has enjoyed constant radio and video play with his current hits, “What’s Love” featuring Akon and “Bonafide Girl” featuring Rik Rok. His latest single, “Mad Mad World” featuring Sizzla and Collie Buddz, is garnering radio play across the Caribbean, Europe and the States, and is bound to be another success for the bombastic entertainer.

Recently winning the International Reggae and World Music Award (IRAWMA) for Best Video for  “Church Heathen,” Shaggy has been popping up at numerous industry events worldwide, from Monaco to Miami to his homeland, thereby keeping his brand alive and his fans intoxicated for more.