Beenie Man / Malcolm X Centre, Bristol

REGGAE
Click to follow
The Independent Culture
Never mind about Rastafarianism, roots and culture for a moment. There's nothing that the reggae audience likes as much as a good shouter. While the message might be brimful of socio-cultural content, it's the medium that grabs the attention and the spectacle of one man hammering away at the top of his voice can be a wonderful thing to behold. Appropriating the imperative tone of the preacher and using it to address the concerns of the ghetto has been one of the great inventions of Jamaican music. Toasting (shouting lyrics to the beats of bass and drum) crossed the Caribbean to the United States to meld with a strong native tradition of talking in rhythm to become rap, but if it's a really serious shooter you're after, Jamaica is still the place to look.

There also seems to be a law of inverse proportion governing the relationship between the sheer lungpower of the shouter and the physical size of the man behind the mouth. Buju Banton - the current king of the genre - sounds like Popeye's Bluto but is actually a mere stripling. Beenie Man - a pretender to the throne - sounds like Godzilla, but is even smaller; thus his nickname, which means little, as in beenie (or beanie) hat. Though he didn't take the stage until 3am, it was worth the wait.

While the Shocking Vibes band of guitar, bass, drums and keyboard was at best functional, and Beenie Man was both a little larger in frame and smaller in voice than his records had suggested, he could still shout with the best, with a neat sideline in red-indian whoops and falsetto screams. He may not have Buju Banton's killer crossover tunes to play with but he gradually revealed a satisfyingly cartoonish persona, vanishing the memory of the previous down-bill shouter who had transfixed the audience merely by stilling the musicians, taking off his shades and declaiming, "Me a bad boy!" Dressed in blaxploitation-gangster chic, with head covered by a nifty homburg and body encased in a post-box red tunic, Beenie Man more than looked the part.

But it took the arrival of another singer to act as his foil before Beenie began to shout at his best, rapid-firing his celebrated toast to Bob Marley's "Crazy Baldheads" while the singer took care of the melody. From then on, it was shouter-heaven, and every time the ragga-rhythm was doubled in time, the audience went wild. Incantatory rhymes delivered at maximum thrust, accompanied by sly sidelong glances and high-stepping kicks across the stage, satisfyingly fulfilled the essential shouter-credentials. The rest was Rastafarianism, roots and culture, but it was the shouts that echoed in your head all the way home.

Phil Johnson

Comments