Friday, April 09, 2010
BUJU...BOUNTY...BEENIE...Iconic figures in our contemporary music kingdom... and they all have their problems. Buju, starving in a Florida jail...Bounty and Beenie, stripped of the privilege to travel to their richest market, for reasons not revealed to their fans. Is this a new turning point in the Jamaican music industry?
Beenie has hit back with a new single declaring that he might not have visa but he has life - an admirable philosophy but not one which is going to pay the bills to support himself, his tailor, his support crew and all the members of the entourage. The same goes for fellow travellers on the visa road.
Top entertainers live well. They travel first-class. In a conversation with a certain performer who went from the confines of a prison cell to top of the charts, he railed at the inefficiencies of commercial air travel. Over and again, as we sat on the tarmac waiting for our flight to get to the top of the take-off line, he kissed teet, switched back and forth between the three BlackBerrys clipped on to the seat pocket in front of him and swore that he intended to buy his own plane so that he wouldn't have to wait "pon dis eff-ry". He was way down the line from the top-ranking but he was big enough in his own mind.
On flights, people tell strangers things they wouldn't repeat to their closest partners. My fellow traveller talked freely about the lifestyle which his success had brought. His crew was in the back of the plane, travelling economy. He always rides up front. He had been to so many countries he couldn't even remember their names.
On the road it is hard work... boring even. Wake... sleep... eat bad food... travel... eat... sleep... do the work, but it brings in money, good money. I wondered (to myself), what will he do when the day comes that he can't travel first-class anymore, can't use one expensive communication gadget after another to remind the bwoy back a him yard to get the SUV washed "cause me nah drive home inna no dutty vehicle, seen"?
Entertainers deserve what they get paid, said my travel companion. "We work hard-hard. It look easy but it hard-hard. Don't even talk about all the bloodsuckers who live offa you... the woman dem who just want you for your money. Yuh tink it easy? It nuh easy at all."
Once I met Beenie coming off a flight into Kingston. Someone introduced us. He knew who I was, he said. I know who you are, I replied. We found a few little things to talk about then we made our separate ways towards Immigration and Customs. As he strode ahead of his crew, people working in the passageways rushed to call out to him. He greeted everyone with enthusiasm. "Him nice yuh see," said one of the women who are paid to paw through luggage looking for "tings". Others agreed, "Beenie have manners." Our people revere their entertainers. They've made them stars. If things were to start changing and not for the better, what will these stars do? They have created a special niche for themselves as representatives of JA, regarded as ambassadors of an art form uniquely ours, which has revolutionised the world. When the fans don't come running anymore, what do you do?
THE ECONOMIC FACTOR is major. Whole communities can prosper or taste defeat according to the presence of a star in their community. If Mega Star could no longer travel, what would that mean to those who depend on his presence? The removal of visa privileges will affect that individual, but he is not alone. The earnings of his entourage pay for food at shop, books for school, rent to landlord. We know by now that the Embassy does not, is not obliged to make public its reasons for whatever action it takes. It is left for individuals and community to speculate on what has brought on the disfavour... and there's a lot of speculation at the moment as stars fly first-class into the storm.
It is hard to imagine the major lights of the Jamaican popular entertainment industry not being able to shine abroad... and that doesn't mean 'Merica only. People here are beginning to worry. You can hear the clink of doors being shut in many places. Things aren't what they used to be with the Brits and the Europeans either. They have particular difficulty with our entertainers' sentiments about homosexuality. Apparently we know something about human sexuality that the rest of the world doesn't and isn't prepared to pay top dollar to hear.
DOORS ARE BEING SHUT against us even elsewhere in the Caribbean. I say "even" not in a condescending sense but as in "even our own family". They are not afraid to shut us out when they want. No less a personage than the Prime Minister of Barbados felt impelled recently to declare that two of our most noted purveyors of lurid lyrics were not welcome in his fair isle.
One other stumbling block about which we haven't said much is the business of taxes. None of us likes rendering to Caesar... but he's on the rampage with a vengeance these days. This should have alerted one of our in-demand entertainers who found himself grounded and had to watch his entourage fly off without him, because the tax people said so. While the tax people didn't name any names when the media came calling, they were not subtle in hints about persons who are given the opportunity to forge a mutually acceptable arrangement to settle tax debts. Failure to do so can bring on a stop order, they said. Get it now, as to why our star didn't make it abroad?
OVER TIME, there has been a lot of chat about organising the entertainment industry in this way and that way. There has been no shortage of seminars, keynote speakers, official pronouncements and all that stuff, yet there is no really organised industry, as far as I can see. What we have is a group of individuals of varying creative gifts who rely on themselves rather than corporate effort.
WHOSE BIG IDEA was it to plan a meeting for nurses to attend on Good Friday, starting at 12 noon? Was it, as some people say, an insult to the religious sensitivity of those for whom Three-Hour Devotions usually begin at noon, that day - OR was it plain clumsy? Whichever it is, the nurses are not amused.
DO BETTER: Persons who have been writing letters to the editor in defence of the young athlete who celebrated his victory at Champs by aiming a two-finger gun salute at the crowd might need to re-think the defence of their little darling. The misguided youth repeated the offence at the CARIFTA Games in Grand Cayman not long after. One time is mistake, second time is purpose, mi Granny say. The kid might not be bright enough to understand other people's abhorrence of gun salutes, real or simulated in this time when so many bodies are being buried. We hope his adult champions get the point.