Concert Review: Dancehall pioneer Tiger Returns — A Blast From the Reggae Past
Unfortunately, the evening was not just a pleasurable throwback to ’80s digital reggae riddims, but drew on the misogyny and homophobia that dominated reggae during that era.
By Noah Schaffer
In 1989 dancehall stars Tiger, Anthony Malvo, Johnny P and Admiral Bailey were on top of the world, headlining the Sting stage show in Jamaica before thousands. On Saturday the four were reunited in the far more intimate confines of Kay’s Oasis, a nightclub/hair salon complex in Dorchester.
Even taking into account the number of years since his heyday, those familiar with Tiger’s story may have been more than a little surprised to see him advertised for a show in a tiny club for a $20 advance ticket. But the once-charismatic deejay, who pioneered the use of videos to promote dancehall tunes – and was one of the first Jamaican artists to collaborate with American rappers – has been almost totally absent from reggae stages since the debilitating effects of a 1993 motorcycle accident.
The performance was originally slated for the Unity Sports and Cultural Club, but a double-booking snafu led to a venue change. Kay’s has been a mainstay on the local scene for decades, but many bashment fans endure rather than enjoy the venue. The artists performed in near darkness due to the lack of a stage light and the air was hot and sticky. The plump Admiral Bailey joked that by the end of the night he’d probably sweat off enough weight to change his moniker to “the small belly man.” On the plus side, the hall was sleekly decorated in honor of local mainstay DJ Quinton’s birthday and club security quickly ejected a pair of troublemakers whose fisticuffs threatened to spoil the vibe at showtime.
Eventually things settled down and a local deejay came on stage; the main event started at 12:45 a.m. with crooner Anthony Malvo and a surprise cameo from Macka Diamond, who has been one of dancehall’s reigning divas for the past decade. While a generation removed from the other artists, Diamond’s ribald lyrics fit right in with the sexually-charged banter that was part of the music making for much of the night.
Once Diamond exited, the other stars joined Malvo and for the next 45 minutes the microphone was passed around for an old-school dancehall session. Bailey and Malvo were confident showmen, but it was clear that Tiger’s cognitive struggles continue. Whenever he performed the opening lyrics from one of his hits the other three huddled closely around him and sung along. No matter: the understanding crowd heartily cheered the chance to hear numbers like “”No Wanga Gut” and “No Puppy Love.”
Bailey, who towered over the diminutive Tiger, was full of his usual comedic bluster, at one point taking off into an extended monologue about the female anatomy. Johnny P became so riled up that his cohorts had to suggest he take a breather.
Unfortunately, the night was not just a pleasurable throwback to ’80s digital reggae riddims, but also drew on the misogyny and homophobia that dominated reggae during that era. One crowd participation segment featured the sort of vicious anti-gay ranting that has all but disappeared from the stage shows of today’s current Jamaican stars. For better and for worse, the night was what Admiral Bailey called for in his biggest hit, “Old Time Something (Come Back Again).”
Over the past 15 years Noah Schaffer has written about otherwise unheralded musicians from the worlds of gospel, jazz, blues, Latin, African, reggae, Middle Eastern music, klezmer, polka and far beyond. He has won over ten awards from the New England Newspaper and Press Association.