Shabba, Ninja, Supercat, Tiger, Proffesor Nuts, Admiral Bailey and so many others were tearing up the dancehall. The warm heavy bouncing baselines were infecting Caribbean communities all over the world and being transmitted to foreign ears especially in cities like London, New York, Toronto and Miami. Almost thirty years ago any Caribbean teenager was a dancehall fanatic. Around that time I was a teenager going to the US for summer break. I attended a boarding school in the country, Knox College, and I was ready for some freedom. My Aunt was bringing me up to my Mom in New York. We arrived at Kingston airport long before our scheduled departure. She does not like to be late and of course had to bring a few bottles of Jamaican Rum up for friends. When we finally got to the check in agent there was some sort of issue with our seats that I was paying little attention until I heard my Aunt “kiss her teeth”, if you are not Caribbean it may be hard to explain but when this sound is made it is more than likely a bad sign. My Aunt was a hard working woman living between America and Jamaica working as a nurse. She spoke very proper especially in public so when she went off on the lady I was surprised and embarrassed. But apparently she was right, an error was made and she was a frequent flyer so by the end of it all we had first class tickets and were sitting in the waiting area with Rum bottles in hand.
While waiting to board my flight the feeling of curiosity as to what first class would be like gave way to excitement when I spotted the the Ranks! Shabba Ranks dressed in the baggy tailored linen suit, shades and cross cut dress shoes with no socks. He was with Pappa San. I wanted to say something but they were already busy with people trying to get a word and a fist bump. As we were boarding for first class Shabba and San were boarding as well. How close would I be sitting to them and how would I get to talk to them with out my Aunt embarrassing me? As we took our seats Shabba and San were ahead of us and both took window seats in the same aisle. My Aunt checked the tickets and she told me I was next to Pappa San, “this young man” as she put it. I was trying to fight the smile from the thought of bragging at school about this. As awesome as this was it was quickly dampened by the fact that my Aunt was next to Shabba! How could this be? The biggest most electric dancehall star is sitting next to my Aunt and she has no idea.
Here is Shabba Live on stage in Jamaica
There wasn’t much being said between passengers in the beginning of the flight. First class was filled with plush seats and the stewardess checking on you to offer you something every 15 mins. The awkward silence was broken when Pappa San turned to me and asked if I lived in New York. I quickly told him I went to school in Jamaica but my Mom lived in New York. He said, “oh Jamerican”. It was the first time I had heard the term and wasn’t sure how I felt about it but didn’t care because he was talking to me. We continued the small talk and he even invited me to a stage show he was doing that my school alumni produced every year called Knox Salute. Just as I my confidence peaked and I thought I was a don in training I hear Shabba ask my Aunt to use some of the hand lotion she was using. My nerves quickly returned and I remember how volatile the situations was.
My aunt quickly agreed and Shabba took multiple rings off and began moisturizing. As he finished his hands in one swift motion he slid his shoes off and began to get his feet. My Aunt’s facial and body language spoke loudly, she tightened up like she tasted a sour lemon. She held back her comments. Shabba reached for the fancy cloth napkin and wiped his hands. Before he could wipe his feet my Aunt couldn’t hold back she turned and scolded him, “No, you can not use the people dem linen like that”. I cringed and froze with shame. But then something I didn’t expect happen. Shabba smiled and said “yes Ma’am, you right”. The two actually laughed about it. My aunt asked him his name and once he said Shabba and told her he was a musician the awkward chatting began. Pappa San laughed about it too and he actually invited me to one of his shows so I had something to brag about and go with my pre teen embarrassment.
Here is Shabba in more recent years doing an interview in Toronto.
What stood out to me about that day was the respect Shabba showed my Aunt, his elder. With all the posturing and image building of artist in the media we often times think they are strictly the persona promoted. Sometimes they are but more often than not in normal situations they are just normal people. I was actually humbled and inspired at the same time. Being an artist in the public eye can be very taxing but there is always a responsibility when people look up to you. Shabba and Pappa San left a lasting impression on me that I carry to this day. Artist please remember the smallest things you do mean a lot to your fans.