Some Recent Listening 'n' Stuff Part One
Vybz Kartel - Hall of Fame; Tek Buddy Gal; Good Day & Night
I don't know or have forgotten the names of the riddims that underpin these tracks, but they're all pretty good: "Hall of Fame" is quietly exotic a la
Amharic, its fluid tabla groove complemented beautifully by a tight piano riff and dramatic little string flares. "Tek Buddy Gal" falls squarely into the post-20 Cent tradition of stomping Oriental-rave (see also Bounty Killer's "Hey Yallow" on the Marmalade riddim). "Good Day & Night" is a chirpy upbeat synthesiser ice cream cake that will delight anyone who loved the Buy Out riddim (eg. Sean Paul's "Like Glue").
A disproportionate amount of my dancehall listening is devoted to Vybz, not because he's amazing or anything (though he often can be) but because he's the easiest person to do file-searches on by far: distinctive name and a high profile, but enough of a novice that anything unfamiliar that turns up is likely to be new or recent. If I look for Elephant Man or Bounty Killer I'm buried under an avalanche of history; if I look for Cecile I get nothing; if I look for Chico I get an avalanche of irrelevance (this last particularly annoys me as Chico fucking rocks). Anyway, these three tracks are pretty good, and demonstrate aptly what I think is Vybz' big talent, which is a certain flexibility. On "Hall of Fame" he's all gruff and hoarse exhortations, the closest he gets to Elephant Man or the like. "Tek Buddy Gal" utilises his sly, sarcastic whiney voice which always makes me think of those evil animal sidekicks in Disney animated films (suddenly I have an idea for a flick about the Bermuda Triangle!). Although maybe this idea is a bit off, because I always get the sense that this high-pitched Vybz is a calculatedly false construction, a pretense at (dareisayit) effeteness which is effective insofar as it is perceived to be a front (something like footballers doing drag only without the humor). "Good Day & Night" abandons caricatures in favour of a natural mid-range in the service of seduction. Such blatantly synthetic grooves tend to work best with singjay performances, and while Vybz can certainly do singjay he ironically shies aways from it in just this sort of context (see also: "Gi Mi Some" on the Mudslide riddim, which loses out to Assasin's "Want To Be Free" for the exact same reason). As a performance it's probably the least interesting of the three here, which makes me suspect that I mainly like Vybz as a method actor.
There's certainly something aethetically pleasing about Vybz' flow even at its most straightforward, but it's an aesthetic of groove-conformity: I can appreciate the way his fluid vocals hug the groove so tightly, so confidently, but it's just that - appreciation. This is why "Sweet to da Belly" can get tiresome (or, rather, ignorable) after the Nth replay - it's probably the most "professional" cut on the Egyptian riddim, but (erroneous aspersions on R Kelly aside) it just doesn't have the captivating unpredictability of, say, Sizzla's "These Are The Days", which manages to keep me guessing no matter how many times I hear it. Vybz is better served when he combines his professionalism with a deliberately intensified tendency towards idiosyncracy, because it's then that his accuracy becomes noticeable, remarkable - a martial arts display rather than a simple sewing machine stitch.