A Thing About Fire

Despite all kinds of dissonance, Jamaican dancehall don smokes

In the reggae arcade game, Damien Marley's "Welcome to Jamrock" plays when your guy gets fragged—game over, no more quarters. Thrice the summer's fourth-hottest song appeared, first at the end of DJ Liondub's generous 45 rpm set, second during Brooklyn rap team Smif-N-Wessun's black hole of a performance. MC Tek thanked the rap- athetic for letting his group do their thing: "It's all good," he added. "No it ain't!" someone yelled back. Then, like a variety show host with a stage hook, the DJ cued "Jamrock," and a resigned Boot Camp Clik prepared their exit. Murder, they call it.

As if his Firehouse Band's entrance to "O Fortuna" didn't suggest as much, dancehall don Sizzla couldn't give a shit about Damien Marley. He couldn't give a shit about a lot of things, actually—political correctness, smoking bans, "smoking" bans, but you know that. Still, he barreled through what seemed 30 albums' worth of midtempo numbers in the first 15 minutes. Like Diddy, Sizzla's a vibe giver, but he's also a vibe taker. So when the audience didn't flick a Bic or sing along to songs that weren't "Da Real Thing" or "One of Those Days" or "Jah Knows Best," he skipped to the next riddim and asked, politely, for more fire.

A thing about fire. As someone who can take years just to finish a bottle of Amstel Light, I marveled at the efficiency and professionalism with which the crowd ripped the green stuff. Apparently some people have the ability to inhale smoke from their own dreadlocks. Granted, this is a reggae show, and more than that, Sizzla's certainly made a platform out of pot advocacy, which gave him good between-song recourse when the "people here don't know their own culture" line and "this is why I hate gays" bullshit fell flat. (Though I'll give him, "What are the colors on a stoplight? Red, yellow, green—that's Jah Rastafari.")

Has been known to inhale
photo: David Atlas
Has been known to inhale

The longer the songs played, the more fiercely he snarled his toasts over the singing audience's flubbed but earnest patois—"Thank You Mama" jerked tears the smoke couldn't. People do and want to continue to like this magnetic artist despite the semi-dissonance. Pure tuff things, they are Jah. And oh, "Jamrock" played on the way out too.

 
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