The Side Stage


Bertolt Brecht, Jarvis Cocker, Sizzla—class-war cabaret lives on. I suspect the Weimar antifa signification is long lost (since Nico sang “Deutschland Über Alles” at least) but there’s still the musical format’s own allure: the immediacy of artifice, room to stretch vocal nuances opening into vistas of sleazy prole seduction. Tunes on Sizzla’s Rise to the Occasion range from traditional to vocodered to two-tone Tuvan throat-singing to jazz standards that never were. (I had to check three times to be sure “In the Mood” bore no relation to the big-band classic.) Producer Donovan Bennett cuts loose, extending his tight Eastern-inflected riddims (Mad Ants, Egyptian) into something more downbeat and organic.

Ragga concerts have long been equal parts religious revival, soundclash, moshpit, and rock show—so it’s natural to throw a beatnik happening into the mix. Like those by other dancehall stars, Sizzla’s cuts have schizophrenically alternated from sweet r&b salvation to bad bwoy ragga-chat. Here those styles pass between one another in the course of a single track, or even a line. Dynamism, tempo, and tone switch-up at whim. Even calls to rise up feel hollowed, like Sizzla’s voice is hovering between semitones, almost alighting on notes, never quite finding them. But then, flickering candles are always more poetic in a darkened hall.

Related Stories:

The Riddims Method: Jamaican Dancehall Has Arrived, Secure in Its Identity, Preposterous in Its Syncopation” by Tim Finney

Comps Illustrate Both Halves of Reggae’s Dancehall Coin” by Baz Dreisinger