The launch of MTV’s Caribbean channel TEMPO at Chris Blackwell’s James Bond Beach in Oracabessa, was the first Jamaican concert ever held in pouring rain. The relentless downpour that had covered Jamaica for eight days while Hurricane Wilma was forming overhead, fell continuously throughout the day and night, but as the show advertisements had boldly stated “Rain or Shine”, the determination to make the rain a blessing rather than a washout created a unique situation.
Imagine therefore, hundreds of Jamaicans (one thousand of whom had won free entry by owning sponsor Cable & Wireless’ cellular phones) standing, rocking, shouting, dancing and happily enjoying performances from its top favourite artists just as if the sun or moon were shining overhead, instead of the bucketfuls of falling water that soaked everyone and everything not covered by the large stage.
Cancelled from its previous start date of Saturday, October 16th and with two days of promised performances crammed into one waterlogged night, the TEMPO show ignored the non-stop thunderstorm and shoe-deep water that covered the venue, to please the surprisingly large crowd of enthusiastic fans that braved the weather, some sheltering under large umbrellas and some simply standing bareheaded in the soaking showers.
In the face of such fan loyalty, the artists all gave excellent if brief performances, rallying the crowd and keeping them happy and satisfied throughout the night. There were no moments of boredom as far as the crowd was concerned and they greeted their favourites enthusiastically. Roots & Culture was represented by Morgan Heritage, Toots Hibbert, Jimmy Cliff, Natural Black and Little Hero, while Bounty Killer, Wayne Marshall, Elephant Man, Assasin, Jagwa and Vybz Kartel were among the Dance Hall performers.
TEMPO’s launch was also shadowed by controversy, as days earlier the Jamaican Broadcasting Commission had issued an edict forbidding the many local music cable channels from airing commercials – their economic lifeblood—as this competed with the earning potential of the two free-to-air mainstream channels. Though the music channels had been aware of the ban on advertising when they started broadcasting some 3 years ago, they had gotten around this by creating their own genre of music event commercials to accompany their innovative in-the-streets programmes. The immense popularity of these music channels had shown some advertisers an excellent market for their products and the mainstream channels were howling that they were losing advertising revenue to the music channels.
The advent of TEMPO, with its access to international as well as Jamaican advertising, had many Jamaicans discussing the advantages and disadvantages of this new and powerful media competition. But the artists performing at the launch were almost unanimous in welcoming the new outlet for their music. With press and VIP performers sheltering under an ample roof upstairs the backstage area, the TEMPO launch became more of a confirmation party at which a wide range of Jamaican artists greeted and chatted with each other and, most of all, endorsed the arrival of the new MTV channel that will provide them all with opportunities to be seen globally.
Bounty Killer, surrounded by a large group of top dancehall stars, was bubbling with energy and enthusiasm. “If there is controversy about the coming of TEMPO,” he declared, “bring it on. I am an activist artist, a rebel without a pause, so I welcome innovation. TEMPO is a good thing even if it is competition with local reggae channels,” he continued, “because competition causes everything to improve. Again, with more stations, there will be more diversity of artists.”
His views were echoed by Wayne Marshall. “While the local channels already have reggae locked, TEMPO will be a niche market for all the Caribbean music genres, so I see TEMPO bringing more opportunities for all Caribbean artists to take their talent to the world.”
Upcoming artist Marlon Binns said, “We love all the TV choices, but TEMPO will expose us better.” However, roots Rasta Natural Black from Guyana was more reserved: “Competition is life itself, so let’s give TEMPO a chance to prove itself. I think it will be a great success because it will deliver music that people love, but let’s wait and see.”
TEMPO’s Founder and General Manager Frederick A. Morton is Senior VP and Legal Affairs Counsel for MTV Networks, and a Caribbean-American from St. Croix, US Virgin Islands with a history of community outreach to Black and Caribbean cultural causes from his New Jersey base. Morton was not fazed by either the calamity the weather had brought, nor the competition his station represented.
He told me that after coming up with the idea for TEMPO, he deeply researched the history of Caribbean cable programming, especially the previous attempt by Jamaican Delroy Cowan who operated a similar channel out of Miami in the late 1990s that failed due to lack of advertising support. “It is an inspiration to see that a channel providing round-the-clock Caribbean music has already been attempted,” says Morton, but he is confident that the power of MTV’s name and outreach will ensure advertising to keep his channel alive.
“I want to work together with the local channels and they should see TEMPO as an opportunity, not a threat,” Morton said, inviting local film and video makers to supply programming content to his station. “The Jamaican channels concentrate on reggae and dancehall, but in addition to reggae TEMPO will present soca, calypso, reggaeton, salsa – all the other music of the Caribbean. It’s about time we had a cultural meeting place for ALL our Caribbean music.”
With all the rain and controversy, the show onstage was a secondary attraction to the social gathering backstage of reggae’s celebrities and personalities. These included ace videographer Ras Kassa, Tami Chynn’s talented sister Tessanne, Bob Marley’s former lawyer Dianne Jobson, radio announcer Paula Ann Porter, and culinary diva Jackie Tyson. In addition, TEMPO brought 50 workers to Jamaica and hired experienced Jamaican promoter Sharon Burke and her team to produce the show.
Of all the artists who stood out, mention must be made of Cecile – the only female performer of the night, whose new slimmed-down look and Beyonce hairstyle gave a dynamic edge to her performance. Female fans sang along with her and screamed with delight when she brought onstage dancehall’s newest star Aidonia to duet with her.
The other crowd-pleaser was the ‘Warlord” Bounty Killer, who can do no wrong on a Jamaican stage and roused the crowd to fever pitch with a presentation that was clear and audible – aware of the 6 cameras filming every onstage moment for MTV-TEMPO exposure. He brought Buju Banton onstage for a cameo moment, who left the venue within minutes after his brief performance, with no comment on the latest legal controversy surrounding him.
The only downer of the night was US rapper The Game, who closed the show after Jimmy Cliff’s excellent set, with an expletive-laced commentary on his problems with Fifty Cent that was not welcomed by the Jamaican crowd. For the first time that night, there was a good excuse to get out of the rain.
Barbara Makeda Blake Hannah is a Rastafari author, journalist and filmmaker. Her book “Rastafari – The New Creation” [Jamaican Media Productions, 1997], a 12-chapter thesis, was the first book on the religion written by a practising Rastafarian when it was first published in 1981. Her films include “Race, Rhetoric, Rastafari” made in 1983 for CHANNEL 4, UK as a personal document on race relations in Britain. She also writes regular opinion articles in the Jamaican and international media on Rastafari cultural, religious and political issues.