Taking Jamaican Dancehall to the World


By Marcia Forbes, PhD
CJ Contributor

Turning 30 – A Time for Reflection

IT’S the end of 2013. Everyone’s busy making plans for 2014. I’m sitting in office on New Year’s Eve feeling more than a tinge of excitement.

2013 was a highly productive year for my business and 2014 promises to be even more so. But this is not about Phase 3 Productions, not really.

STING, billed as the largest one day reggae show in the world, has just celebrated the 30th Anniversary of its staging. Phase 3, over 30 years as a business but coming up 30 as an incorporated company, has provided television coverage for almost all of STING’s 30 years. It is therefore hard to talk about STING and its coverage without making mention of Phase 3.

We have watched STING grow and evolve and are proud of its trajectory into moving the product beyond a local show. The offshoot of this is that this year’s coverage was no ‘walk in the park’ for Phase 3, based on the demands of the television production. At 30, STING decided to pull out all the stops and to take the show to the world via satellite.

Dancehall to the World via Satellite

Joe Bagdanovich, an enigma of a man, partnered with Isaiah Laing, creator of the indomitable STING, to go way beyond catering for the thirty thousand in attendance at Jamworld, the show’s venue.  In terms of engaging the Jamaican Diaspora and others worldwide, the plans were ambitious. Joe not only planned for pay-per-view but also had YouTube on board as well.

Two satellite dishes, 12 cameras, a sixty (60) person crew and a fully built out production compound with numerous local and international experts, did the job of covering the event and feeding the pay-per-view signals to households worldwide, whether via cable TV or the Internet,  with a reported reach of 95 million.

Multiple Signals

While Phase 3 has become adept at signal feed-out via satellite or the Internet, STING was different. Multiple signals, four in all, were sent via satellite. For the first time out of Jamaica, viewers were afforded the option of selecting the main feed or to select views from isolated cameras covering on-stage and backstage activities.

Bagdanovich’s thrust was to delight STING’s pay-per-view audiences, well aware as he is of their growing expectations. So, apart from the line-cut feed of 8 cameras, viewers could select from a suite of other cameras featuring a menu of shots to snack on.

Giving Viewers More

The pay-per-view segment ran for four hours from midnight to 4am. Many dancehall aficionados do not actually turn up for a show before midnight. The STING organizers, well aware of this, timed the pay-per-view segment for maximum eye appeal.  Viewers would have a lot to feast on.  Dancehall fashions, for men and women, are nothing if not a smorgasbord for the eyes.

The inimitable “fluffy Miss Kitty,” a well-known and loved radio personality, anchored the pay-per-view segment and was included in the 8-camera mix. She made it interesting for viewers during band changes. But as noted earlier, viewers got much more, with the option to configure the various feeds to suit their apetite.

The wireless camera afforded great flexibility and allowed viewers to choose to watch each artiste’s backstage activity and stage entrance as an isolated feed. Dancehall artistes are well known for dramatic entrances. Many years ago at Reggae Sunsplash, the 4-day event of the 1980s and 1990s and precursor to many of today’s big shows in Jamaica, the mighty Shabba Ranks arrived in a Trailer, a visual display of his monster hit, ‘Trailer Load of Girls’. Back in those days one artiste arrived via helicopter and landed close to the stage.

The backstage interviews, another feature for viewers to choose, were anchored by a bevy of beauties – Terri Karelle (a former Miss Jamaica World), Nickki Z and Gemma Feare.  The front of stage ‘dolly shot’ was also an option for customized viewing.

The complex engineering required for the multi-feed satellite transmission sent live to Vegas, downloaded and re-encoded for distribution worldwide shows that Jamaican content export has come of age. It also shows that Jamaicans are ready and able to work with experts from other countries to send our best to the world.

Dancehall & STING

Arguments abound as to whether STING is Jamaica’s best and whether it should have been sponsored this year, for the first time, by the island’s Ministry of Tourism. Such arguments will not disappear and proponents will hold their views.

While admittedly, STING is a show that has been fraught with challenges, it has stood the test of time as a viable product and one that Jamaicans at home and abroad flock to be a part of. It is adult entertainment and there must be room for that. The pay-per-view cost was almost U$40 per viewer. We await reports re the numbers who paid and tuned in.

My views on Dancehall and by extension STING have been unchanged for several years and are reflected in the following excerpt. “Notwithstanding actual or potentially problematic content, locally produced songs and (IMAGES) carry not only commercial but also ideological value. The images and lyrics…work on the psyche in subtle and subliminal ways, helping to validate and define Jamaicans as a people, telling their stories in their unique even if sometimes controversial style.”  (Music, Media & Adolescent Sexuality in Jamaica 2010).

STING is a part of “Brand Jamaica’ and is doing its part in content export. There are many more who can learn from this and capitalize on STING’s bold move.

Dr Marcia Forbes, a Caribbean Journal contributor, is a media specialist, the co-owner of multimedia production company Phase 3 Productions Ltd and Adjunct Senior Lecturer, Caribbean Institute of Media & Communication, University of the West Indies, Mona. She is the author of Music, Media & Adolescent Sexuality in Jamaica and the recently-released Streaming: Social Media, Mobile Lifestyles.

Follow Dr Marcia Forbes on Twitter: @marciaforbes