(amilcar [in the orange shirt] and his crew set up)
two weekends ago i had the privilege to travel to kingston once again. although my visit happened to overlap with some further traction on the prison project, my principal reason for being there was to film a music video for my song boston jerk.
having long since embraced the ways that participating in the jamaican music industry could provide insights into how it works and what music means to people inna JA, i jumped at the chance to make a video with one of kingston's upcoming video-artists, amilcar beckford.
amilcar is a video/film director who has lately made a name for himself as the man behind the video-mashups shown on jamaican television as the "guiness remix" show. (guiness has a serious presence in jamaica, so their sponsorship of this show is significant.) according to amil, he takes dancehall videos, chops them up, overlays hip-hop beats and various visual/audio effects and re-presents them to the cableTV massive. i was excited--but not surprised--to learn that some of the more innovative uses of digital video technology were coming out of kingston. of course, pushing the limits of new (and old) technologies has long been central to the jamaican (reggae) aesthetic. when i met amil a few months ago, he wowed me with some of his digital mashups, regaled me with stories of working with all the big artists in jamaica, and, having heard an impromptu performance of "boston jerk," suggested making a video for it in kingston. it was an offer i most definitely could not refuse.
alongside other young digital artists such as alan tennant (aka, endless, who, along with dami d and raw-raw, makes a cameo in the boston jerk video), amilcar is emerging as a new voice in jamaican film and video--and just at the right moment. video in jamaica is exciting right now not simply because of the way young, digitally-savvy artists are pushing the technology and creating a dancehall video aesthetic, but because it is a new (and rapidly growing) mass medium in jamaica, allowing for independent artists to get their music out there. whereas radio in jamaica is, like radio in the US, hopelessly locked up in payola and thus inaccessible for upcoming artists, video is wide open. there are now several cable video stations in jamaica, including RETV and hypeTV, and increasingly the public stations are offering video shows as well. as long as one puts together a video with a modicum of 'professional' production values--quite feasible in the age of digital camcorders and finalcut--these stations will play it, thereby gaining national exposure for one's song, one's image, and, usually, one's crew. in many ways, it's a better foot in the door than waiting outside a big studio all day hoping to get on the next hot riddim.
video has thus emerged as an alternative channel for jamaican music, and the various productions i got to see and take home ('pon DVD--you done know) really jump off the screen with a homegrown vibrancy rarely seen in more "commercial" productions today. it helps, no doubt, that many of these artists choose to place themselves in the poignant context of kingston's ghettos. the video for raw-raw's "garisons," for instance (which, i am told, currently has JA viewers enraptured), takes as its primary backdrop tower street prison, aka, GP, or general penitentiary. people pointed out to me that his was the first video filmed in front of this towering symbol of the jamaican justice system. it definitely gives his calls for clemency--for "all of the garisons who living in jail" (jah cure included)--an added emotional resonance. and adonai's "the ghetto" lovingly features little kids busting the latest dance moves, brethren respecting their sistren (a little 'community-policing scene' shows a man stopping his friend from slapping a woman's backside), and seemingly the whole community vibing on a sunny day and celebrating the streets and yards they call home.
all this considered, i'm amped to see what my video will do when played alongside these other productions. no doubt amil will do a fantastic job with it. (he's editing currently--feverishly, i'm told.) and i have a feeling that it could go over pretty well, which has as much to do, i think, with amil's execution as with the reason he was inspired to make it in the first place. as amil agreed while we discussed storyboards, the song is so dense with references to jamaican places and pursuits that it essentially tells itself, and its intensely local flavor, as projected in my weird insider/outsider tongue, rarely fails to entertain a jamaican listener. moreover, the critical/comedic vibe of the song gives it a tone that, one hopes, differentiates it from previous white-folks naively doing the jamaican thing.
it was clear, at any rate, that amilcar got the joke, and i was really impressed by his vision for the video. in many cases, he actually went futher than i would have gone. i mean, sure, i put on a fake-dreads hat in order to pose for pictures that play-up my position as a "jerk"--not to mention make fun of anyone who would ever wear a fake-dreads hat--but i wouldn't have suggested that i or anyone else should wear one in the video. amilcar, however, had other ideas. he decided to really play-up the tension between stereotypes of jamaica and "real" jamaica. so he outfitted one of his right-hand men (who happens to be the son [yes, one of many] of aston "family-man" barrett) in a dreads-cap and bongo, and dressed up another crew member to look like a real country bwoy, complete with straw-hat and guitar. he also made sure to find me a truly garish hawaiian-shirt, beach towel, and a straw-hat of my own in order to contrast images of me as the protoypical tourist with the "real" me, who knows better. i'm not sure that onlookers at hellshire beach necessarily knew better, though, and i had to swallow my pride, play the role, and hope i wouldn't get bokkled in the process.
along with amil's eye for a good prop, he also located a number of perfect locations. on our way back from hellshire beach, we stopped at a KFC in portmore to film some takes in front of jamaica's most popular fast-food joint, including a scene where i get thrown out of the restaurant by a security guard. filming this scene turned out to be perhaps the most surreal moment of the weekend, as i found myself rapping and dancing on the lawn in front of KFC, while cars, minibuses, and other passers-by on the main road gawked at this funny white-boy trying to do the thundaclap. i promised to throw myself into the shoot for the weekend and embrace and enjoy the moment, so i obliged amil's calls for additional takes and did my best to put on a good show. it was clear that the film crew, my bredren who were along for the shoot, and various motorists were enjoying it immensely. let's hope the fun/funny vibe comes through in the video.
we also got some good shots at devon house, with me awkardly attempting to climb a mango tree and, later, having a whole heap of mangoes fall on my head. in another scene, i waited at a bus-stop in new kingston and then jammed into a minibus along with all of the extras. the final shoot, which was another supremely surreal moment, took place at an estate in kingston's foothills, where amil staged a pool party--a reggae/hip-hop video cliche if ever there was one--and, with dami d's help, found several beautiful young women to dance around me as i rapped my way through the song for the thirtieth time that weekend. again, it was a bold idea, and not something that i would have choreographed myself, but i trust that amil can make it look right (rather than, say, exploitative) and make it fit the overall vibe of the video.
the house was a perfect spot for such a scene, lending it a real uptown-vibe and, hopefully, raising questions about social spaces in kingston ("hope road to TG...you see me"). here's the view from the gate:
and here's the house (yeah, it's a likkle on the small side, don't?):
in addition to their dedication, hard-work, and professionalism, one thing that really impressed me about amil and his crew was their creativity and their willingness to throw themselves into the video for the production's sake. one good example of this is the jerk-drum that amil rounded-up and then spray-painted red, gold, and green to continue our pursuit of an over-the-top "authentic" look. and, you guessed it, family man's son played the "rasta jerkman"--a glaring paradox to any jamaican viewer, and, hopefully, another way to mek the video deconstruct itself.
clearly, the song--and the album more generally--seeks to celebrate as it sends-up various aspects of jamaican society and culture. i was really pleased that amil shared my vision for the song and brought a boldness to the production that i would not have attempted on my own. of course, that's why he's the director and i'm the guy dancing in front of KFC.
if you're looking to shoot a video down in jamaica, give amil a link [abnormalproductionz (at) yahoo (dot) com]. he's a talented guy with a dedicated crew and i think we'll be seeing a lot more from him in the next few years. he's got ambitions to move into feature-length films as well, and i can only imagine that those will dazzle. personally, i can't wait until this new wave of digital dancehall directors comes to a theater near me. meantime, i've got some shit on DVD to hold me over, like the cassia park gang--including dami d, wasp, and man-of-the-moment fanton mojah--doing a ten-minute "medley" video. (with so many songs on the same riddims, a "juggling" approach to videos makes a lot of sense, and it really works, too.)
[incidentally, all of this stuff definitely needs to get on the net: holler if you know of some good internet video platforms.]
overall, i think the shoot went extremely well, and i'm eager to see the results. you can be sure that i'll share it here soon as it's ready. it was great to get back to kingston, if only for a couple days, never mind to roam the city with a full entourage. in my next post i'll focus on a number of other (less self-centered) observations i made while there. though i didn't have much time to hit the dancehalls, i heard and saw some things that got my head spinning all over again, including--it was only a matter of time--the latest incarnation of the mad mad.