As the clowns with the massive mobile sound system who drive down my block every night setting off car alarms with their molar-rattling bass will attest, 2003 is the summer of dancehall. And whether or not the Caribana/Carnival event organizers and all the musicians playing soca in mas bands will admit it, dancehall will be the hot sound at this weekend's festivities.
The brash, colourfully cartoonish form of reggae that was once shunned in favour of much less abrasive roots reggae ditties has shouted its way from relative obscurity to inexplicable pop success. For a music still associated with the mayhem and sweat of the backyard clubs that spawned it, the leap from outcast to mainstream music is astonishing.
Much of that can be credited to the success of Sean Paul, the Jamaican-born, Toronto-bred shouter whose Dutty Rock album is the best-selling disc in Canada.
What makes Sean Paul's crossover victory so sweet and shocking is that his music has remained pure and raw. Unlike precious pop flirtations by Beenie Man, Bounty Killer, Shaggy and even Shabba Ranks, there are no soft pop ballads on Dutty Rock, no watered-down collaborations with Janet Jackson to attract mainstream ears. Instead, Sean Paul's success has come on its own terms, with a rugged dancehall record that's getting as many props in St. Andrews, Jamaica, as in St. John's, Newfoundland.
Dutty Rock's sudden breakthrough hasn't led to a rash of best-batty-rider contests and Lady Saw videos on MuchMusic, but dancehall's creeping influence on the mainstream is unavoidable.
Steve "Lenky" Marsden's clap-happy Diwali rhythm - the beat behind Sean Paul's Get Busy as well as jams by Elephant Man and Bounty Killer - has turned up in remixes from Jay-Z to Busta Rhymes, spawned an entire album of versions (check Greensleeves' Rhythm #27: Diwali compilation disc) and sounds as furious today as it did a year ago when it first appeared.
There's always been a contentious relationship between the reggae community and the Caribana/Carnival crowd. Even so, the only way you're likely to avoid Diwali's triple-time clap this weekend is by leaving town.
The man himself, Sean Paul, isn't scheduled to perform here until his August 22 Molson Amphitheatre gig, but he's a Toronto boy at heart. Don't be surprised if he turns up a couple of times. Here are some of this weekend's top throwdowns.
Friday (August 1)
Pre-Caribana Short Skirt Affair with Military , Black Reaction and more. Eclipse Niteclub (2120 Dixie Road).
Dancehall Showdown with DJ Wiz , Firesquad and more. Faubourg (2362 Danforth, 416-421-8983).
Saturday (August 2)
Tony Matterhorn and Bass Odyssey . Golden Palace Banquet Hall (1811 Albion, 416-675-7886).
Caribana Jump Up with Rebel Tone , Bus De Dance and more. Scorso (3200 Dufferin, 416-780-9080).
Caribana Fusion with Beenie Man and Shocking Vibes . CNE Bandshell (Exhibition Place, 416-234-6403).
Sunday (August 3)
Batty Ryda Affair 2 with Stonelove and Metro Media . 2110 Dundas East.
Lock De City 2 with Tony Matterhorn , Bass Odyssey , King Turbo and more. The Church at Berkeley (315 Queen East, 416-361-9666).