Mavado, Alkaline and Jahmiel are MVP, Dancehall’s Most Valuable Players
Three stars align to change the game
Part 1: The Most
Toronto’s Woodbine Shopping Centre and Fantasy Fair has never seen anything quite like this. Thousands upon thousands of Rexdale yutes—hood-fresh guys in their best kicks, chains, and jackets; bashment girls sporting multicolored hairstyles and dressed in garments ranging from skin-tight to see-through—flood the massive mall’s parking lot on Saturday, August 19 for Fresh Fest.
Only a few minutes’ drive from Pearson International Airport, this venue sits in the working class Scarborough district of Ontario. Nearby neighborhoods like Rexdale have their fair share of government housing projects and experience more crime and violence than most of this relatively peaceful city. Putting on a dancehall show here means a lot to this community. Especially an outdoor concert featuring three of dancehall’s biggest stars—Mavado, Alkaline, and Jahmiel.
As the sun sets a booming sound system blares Konshens’“Bruk Off Yuh Back” while excited fans try to make their way inside the tall metal barricades that the show’s promoters have erected in the parking lot. Event security staff have their hands full tonight. The presence of a sizable—and visibly nervous—police force is not making things much easier. “Back up, way back!” yells the cop by the VIP/Artist entrance, basically a gap in the fence that’s mobbed by hopeful fans, all pleading their case as to why they should be allowed to pass through to the other side. “I’m closing this entrance now!” the cop yells, sending fans scurrying to find another opening in the perimeter.
Much of the crowd arrived hours early because an appearance by any one of these artists—let alone all three—is a very big deal: Mavado aka the “Gully Gaad,” Alkaline the “Vendetta Boss,” and the newest Jahmiel, who reps “Patriots.” Over the past six months they’ve been known as MVP, although this crew is more of a spontaneous movement than a group in the traditional sense of the word.
“People me ah beg you. We don’t get shows like this in Toronto. Please don’t fuck this up!” —Rodeo the Promoter
The concept first took shape this past March when Jahmiel released a song called “Bad Dawg” containing the following braggadocious bars:
“And if you never know, don’t fuck with MVP
In other words, Most Valuable Players
In other words, Mavado, Vendetta, Patriots
You see weh me a say?
All ah we bad!”
Fans soon ran with it and began posting #MVP hashtags on all three artists’ photos, songs, and videos. A few weeks later the three artists performed on the same bill for the first time. The occasion was Alkaline’s “New Rules” stage show, held at Kingston, Jamaica’s National Arena in the car park—not unlike tonight’s show in Toronto. That highly anticipated event—Alkaline’s first live performance in Jamaica for two years, accompanied by Mavado, Jahmiel, and a few other top stars—created such a frenzy that, according to published reports, “rowdy patrons broke down the barriers and bombarded the stage area” while “security personnel…. became overwhelmed.” The Man Himselff—as Alkaline is known on IG—was escorted to the stage surrounded by a human shield of guards. Despite some chaotic moments, the show was completed without major incident.
Jamaican music is a powerful force whose global impact has never been stronger than it is right now. International pop stars from Ed Sheeran to Justin Bieber—not to mention Torontonians Drake and Tory Lanez—regularly borrow dancehall beats, flows, style, and slang to create hits on the worldwide charts. But all too often the Jamaican creators of dancehall culture are left standing on the sidelines. In many cases they’re distracted by local rivalries, making songs more interesting to industry insiders than to the public at large—taking their eye off the ball just when it matters most.
Tonight’s Fresh Fest is all about reversing that trend as Mavado, Alkaline, and Jahmiel come together to bring raw uncut dancehall straight from Jamaica to the T Dot massive. Maybe this particular show won’t be held in a mainstream arena like the Air Canada Centre or the Molson Canadian Amphitheatre, but all three artists consider it just as important. And nobody in town wants to miss it.
Many of those who cannot afford the $60 ticket price ($150 for VIP bands) park along Highway 27, standing next to their cars to overhear Fresh Fest firsthand. Others might try their luck at crashing the gate.
When you host a party in the hood you know for a fact that you’re playing by hood rules. “Real recognize real” as the saying goes, but only a few live by those rules because it’s not an easy road.
“Hear me now people,” says Rodeo, one of the Fresh Fest organizers, pleading with the crowd from the mic onstage. “You know me. I grew up in this area. We are proud to make this show happen for you. But the artists will not be able to perform if they cannot reach the stage. Too many people are crowding the gate. The police are telling us they will shut this whole thing down if we do not move in an orderly fashion.” As he speaks the musicians hang around backstage with nothing to do, watching the fences bulging while a team of security guards
As he speaks the band—a group of ace Jamaican musicians including the legendary saxophonist Dean Fraser and engineer Shane Brown—hang around backstage with nothing to do, watching the fences bulging while a team of security guards throws its full weight against the barriers to keep them standing strong.
“People me ah beg you,” Rodeo continues. “We don’t get shows like this in Toronto. Please don’t fuck this up!”