Great Fete Notes - Day one

Welcome Wednesday
July 27, 2011
Partygoers at the free drinks event. Photograph by Mark Lyndersay.
More Great Fete photos here.

Vybz Kartel is crooning into the camera. His eyes are covered with wrap around shades and as the shot pulls back, he is under an umbrella held by a nubile young thing.
My jaw is slack. There may even be a little spittle escaping the side of my mouth.

The singer isn’t even in the country yet. I’m looking at YouTube videos of the artiste in the Carnbee apartment of Great Fete promoter Kevan Gibbs, who is keen to give me a briefing on his star attraction for the 2011 edition of the event.

He’s just shown me the video of “Clarks,” a duet with Kartel protégé Popcaan (thanks Mitzi), in which the two charming young black men trade jocular and admiring lyrics about the British line of shoes which are, apparently, quite popular with dancehall dudes. The song apparently registered a significant spike in sales for the normally staid and peripherally fashionable shoemaker and has inspired Kartel to consider his own line of footwear.

I am rambling here, though. Probably because I’m still reliving the astonishment I felt when I saw Kartel in the video for “Summertime,” in which his dusky skin has faded, no, bleached, by his own admission, to that chalky yellowish tone typical of forced melanin reduction.
It’s after 11pm while my Kartel schooling is going on, and the gates to the wildly popular first party in the Great Fete series of events have already opened.

That’s always a curious little party. Usually held in a smaller venue far from the beach, it’s a free drinks party, a kind of gift to early arrivals to the party series, now in its 12th year.
Three years ago I got my Great Fete initiation at Wednesday night beset with sheets of rain, not a great idea for an open-air event. The crowds backed into the covered area at the Golden Star and then came back out when the weather cleared, veterans of a party series that first came to prominence with water spraying from a firehose.

But it’s also a key event for young people on the island and the occasional befuddled tourist who blunders into the densely packed crowd, ending up being vigorously wined on. The crowd is engaged for five hours or so by a rapid succession of both practiced and up-and-coming DJs who wheel and toast their way through snippets of selections, usually dancehall with trimmings of soca and techno in a machine-gun brisk, radio-savvy blizzard of song excerpts.

This is hardcore partying with drinks flowing and it’s probably the purest incarnation of the original concept of Great Fete, which began as a mad prance fuelled by DJs and wild spraying of water from a hose at Pigeon Point.

Over the next few days, the event will wend its way through the concept nights its evolved during its existence, Retro Thursday, which celebrates music that really isn’t that old given the children gathered for the dance, Fantastic Friday, dedicated to hot local acts and the Wet Fete, Saturday’s key event, to be headlines by Vybz Kartel and his “empire,” the young artistes he nurtures and produces.
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