By Carter Van Pelt
Aug. 9, 2017
“Every spoil is a style.” That’s one of my favorite Jamaican phrases. It suggests that things that seemed defective can emerge as a new creative direction. The phrase also celebrates making the best of a situation.
As of Sunday, I thought Kabaka Pyramid was coming to the Bourbon Theater with his band, the Bebble Rockers, as had been advertised. Due to reasons that are still unknown, the Jamaican reggae dancehall emcee came to Lincoln’s Bourbon Theatre Tuesday with the DJ Yaadcore instead. It’s unclear if his band will join him for any of the remaining dates, which run through August 22 at S.O.B.’s in New York City.
Since there is no soundsystem culture in Nebraska to speak of, I assumed that many who had planned to see Kabaka would be disappointed and choose not to come. The news definitely thinned the crowd down to the people who really wanted to be there, but it was unfortunate because the rest missed out on a remarkable and intimate performance.
The Bourbon moved the show into its front room due to the circumstances, which was a smart move that helped make the event work. The crowd, which numbered no more than 50, was treated to an unusual soundsystem-style performance that showed with crystal clarity how the proximity, intimacy and rapport with an audience defines stagecraft and professionalism. Kabaka Pyramid has the dancehall X-factor.
Yaadcore warmed up for about 10 minutes with a quick succession of Barringon Levy’s “Vibes Is Right,” Bob Marley’s “Natural Mystic” and “War,” Peter Tosh’s “Legalize It,” Ini Kamoze’s “World Of Reggae,” and Damian Marley’s “Welcome To Jamrock.” Crowd pleasers, every one.
Then Kabaka took the stage and kept people dancing, singing, handwaving, and Instagramming for over an hour. Yaadcore ran the backing “riddim” tracks responsively and gave Kabaka room to operate. He was no more than an arm’s reach of half the crowd the whole time, as intimate a show as you could have without the audience being on stage.
Kabaka ran through original tracks including “Free From Chains,” “Lead The Way,” “No Capitalist,” “Never Be A Slave,” “Can’t Breathe,” “Herb Defenda,” “New Year,” “Liberal Opposer,” and “Well Done,” and his combination tracks “Mi Alright,” “Warrior,” and “The Flame.” He performed a cover of Tenor Saw’s dancehall anthem “Ring The Alarm,” after which, he said, “I don’t want to walk off the stage and try to force an encore, I just want to give you one more song,” after which he sang “Worldwide Love,” and then “As The Keys Play,” which he noted as one of his favorite and most important songs.
“The Flame” was notably performed by request, and unrehearsed. Yaadcore had the riddim track with him, since he’s also a DJ for Protoje. While Kabaka was initially challenged to find the key for Protoje’s part of the song, eventually he settled into the verses and turned spoil to style.
One of the most engaging things about him as a performer was that he went beyond an obligatory “hello Lincoln” shout-out, by working “Lincoln” or “Omaha” into rhymes in his songs at least four times. That’s the art of the dancehall emcee, keeping it local, whether he was burning chalice from Pinnacle (the historical Rasta camp in Jamaica, not the arena) to Lincoln or from Lincoln back to Junction (St. Elizabeth, Jamaica), it was an effective ploy to help win the crowd, which was on his side from the outset regardless.
When all was said and done, it was an unexpectedly remarkable and successful evening. What had appeared spoiled was a dancehall style. I suspect than anyone who attended would demand their friends come with them next time. I know I will.