1 March 2013

Rwanda: My Encounter With Jamaican Dancehall Star Beenie Man

Beenie Man's hit song. ( Resource: Beenie Man - Dude )


After watching other international artistes jet in with a football team-size entourage, and the kind of bureaucracy it took for even their hosts to contact them, I was, to say the least, humbled by Beenie Man's simple man profile.

I FIRST CAME face-to-face with Jamaican dancehall-reggae artist and performer Beenie Man in the first week of December 2009, in Kampala. No, actually it was at Entebbe International Airport, a 30-minute drive from Kampala. The singer had just jetted in for a huge end-of-year concert organised by one of the soft drinks manufacturers in Uganda.

Down to earth

In typical Jamaican Rastafarian style, Beenie Man kept everything about him simple. So simple, many in the airport's Arrivals Lounge argued loudly on whether he indeed was the famed musician. He was accompanied by a crew of only two: his DJ and an aide, and he carted his own luggage.

At Arrivals, where an impatient crowd waited, he was received by Ugandan singer Jose Chameleone, whose son Abba presented the singer with a bouquet. The organisers had appointed Chameleone Beenie Man's official chauffeur and guide on account of two things; his luxury, butterfly door Cadillac Escalade ride, and the fact that he is a self-confessed Beenie Man fan.

For me, the Beenie Man show had begun, and by the time it was actual show time, I had better memories to cling onto than watching him perform. At the airport, while in Chameleone's posh ride, he had declined to hold Abba, Chameleone's son, saying "mi nuh like pickney," Jamaican patois for "I'm not so into kids." He went on to explain that he had once hugged a little girl back home in Jamaica, only for the mum to accuse him of sexually molesting his daughter.

He was full of praises for Chameleone, both for his musicianship and his monstrous ride. He told us he was the only Ugandan musician whose music he had heard back in Jamaica. He was talking in the trademark Jamaican sing-song accent that actually sounds like music.

We arrived in Kampala and, on the approach to the Africana Hotel, where he had been booked, he noticed that something was amiss; something he had seen four years earlier, when he had last been to Kampala; a roundabout. "A where pon di rotary?" (where is the roundabout?) he asked, to which Chameleone replied it had been cleared for reconstruction. Beenie nodded his head and joked that he thought Chameleone was diverting him to an unknown destination, boasting the he is ever alert. Everybody laughed out loud.

At Hotel Africana, after a brief press conference, Beenie sauntered onto the pool-side terrace, where a private dinner party was underway. It was about 9:00pm now. Seeing the elaborate buffet table, and without warning, he skipped over the low hedge, grabbed a plate and made himself the first person to hit the queue. The waiters, who had no clue who it was, approached and angrily demanded he wait. Enraged, Beenie took on one of them and angrily asked, "Are you African? Be African, my friend," before storming off. He was not there to hear the apologies when Chameleone later explained it was Beenie Man and he didn't mean any harm.

After watching other international artistes jet in with a football team-size entourage, and the kind of bureaucracy it took for even their hosts to contact them, I was, to say the least, humbled by Beenie Man's simple man profile.

If, like me, you like to get up close and personal with your stars and perhaps pitch in a word or clinch that autograph, just head to the FESPAD venue, Amahoro Stadium tonight.


Beenie was born Anthony Moses Davis on August 22, 1973, in Kingston, Jamaica.

Attending school during the day, Beenie Man got an education of a different sort in the evening as he worked on his dee-jaying and toasting skills using his uncle's equipment. At age eight he won a national competition called the Teeny Talent show. That led to a single called "Too Fancy" and, two years later, to an album called The Invincible Beenie Man: The Ten Year Old DJ Wonder. The album brought the singer wide public recognition, and during the 1980s he recorded with various producers.

Taking several years off and then re-emerging as an adult, Beenie Man put out several chart-topping Jamaican hits in the early 1990s. He worked in the style called dancehall, where in the vocals fall in between singing and speaking, otherwise known as "toasting" in industry speak.

Beenie came of age as a performer at the 1993 Reggae Sunsplash Festival, with a set that inspired fans to call him back on stage for five encores. Word of his talent soon began to circulate beyond Jamaica. In 1994 he made it to the top of dancehall DJ lists in both Jamaica and New York City, and the stage was set for his attempt to conquer the larger U.S. market. By the year 2000, Beenie Man had bagged more Number One singles than any other artist in Jamaican musical history.

Actually, the distinct Jamaican inflection heard on U.S. urban radio around the turn of the millennium was partly the creation of Beenie Man, a DJ and singer who succeeded in transplanting his popularity to North America.

He had made music since his "little youth days". The word "beenie" actually means "little" in Jamaican dialect. The singer first performed at the age of five. Beenie Man grew up in a city whose poor neighbourhoods were breeding grounds of musical creativity.

"I cannot say that life in the ghetto is hard, because there are certain things you can do in the ghetto that you can't do anywhere else," he once said, adding that "the ghetto is the truth of life."

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