*Young, Red-Headed, baby-faced and black sits before me a Japanese star. No, not that he is Japanese. But that in Japan, a land far more synonymous with ivory-faced Geisha girls or maybe even the gothic-y Harajuku fashions, he is a celebrity. True, Americans don’t even see a quarter of the reach and following Dancehall culture has garnered internationally, and Konshens’ stardom on this Asiatic island could be attributed to this world-wide explosion that reggae music has undergone.
However, for Japan, Konshens (pictured above) is more than just their top “reggae artist.” He has by far received the highest acclaim of his career here, to date. So, how is it, a Black man from a nation and culture so perceptibly different from Japan, conquered di scene? And, how did America, familiar with reggae and blackness as we are, miss this boat? But, lastly, could I expect to find a jovial old Japanese Rastaman complete with natty dread and slanted eyes, sitting ‘pon his porch smoking a spliff of the sinsemilla jammin’ to a Marley, should I ever visit Japan?
Garfield Spence, a formerly transient army brat, wasn’t always in tune with his calling to create hit songs. A self-described student-athlete, with eyes more often cast upon babes than beats, it wasn’t until comparably later in his life that he began to piece together his destiny of becoming a Dancehall artist. So, along with his brother, fellow artist Delus, he put the gears to the grind. And the offspring? A Japanese hit! “It was the internet! We release a song, Winner, and me go pon the internet and find out it was number 1 in Japan….So we went on tour out there” Turns out, yes, Japan does have a thriving dancehall scene, complete with Queens (female dance champions), artists, and no, it’s altogether not uncommon to see a native Jafake-an rocking dreadlocks.
“They try [to speak English with a Caribbean accent].”
Here in America, although not so much so these days, we’ve struggled with the acceptance of certain brands of music from people or places which did not fit into a very specific prototype. (i.e. Suburban Rappers.) So, realistically, if he didn’t deliver the goods, Konshens’ acceptance on the other side of the world could’ve proved detrimental to his status in Jamaica. “It was the hardest thing to get my foot in the door inna Jamaica,” says Konshens, but, he did, and from there, it was almost as if his career came full circle, became complete.
But perhaps that is because the man is good. Konshens has produced material like “Rasta Imposter,” a prolific and elaborate criticism of those who use the name and image of Rastafari to promote themselves while flagrantly violating the most basic principles of the faith, as well as songs like “Gal a Bubble”, a tune in classic dancehall design urging female partygoers to “bubble”, or fling their rumps up and down in a rapid fire motion. See, in the sphere of Carribean music, an artist has his or her own thing, and sticks to it. More specifically, the music largely dissolves further into either hyper-sexualized party music, or the conscious compositions that could serve as fodder for social revolutions. One, or the other. Rarely do they mesh, much less inside of one person. But he has managed to do so, and so masterfully that it draws no criticism, no naysayers that question either his integrity or authenticity. His transition is seamless, and has only served to broaden his fanbase, never diminishing it.
In another not-so-common feat amongst male dancehall dj’s, Konshens has attained the status of Sex Symbol. Only a handful of Kingston’s crooners have been able to tout the title. (Think Sean Paul). Dancehall culture itself promotes the theory that all men are prowling predators (in a good way, of course) and gallivants, or ladies men, but a man that makes the ladies want to be preyed upon? Enter smooth-faced, clean-cut, (two-tone Mohawk aside) handsome 27- year-old with athletic frame and soulful eyes. But Konshens’ head is no bigger now, than it ever was.
“At the end of the day, it’s all about the music. Even if they don’t know the words to none of my songs. It’s because of the music they know me.” It’s not like its anything new, anyway. “In high school, I was very good looking, so the girls always liked me. I don’t know what happened.” Oh, boy please.
So, Artistry? Check. Acclaim, from both fans and peers? Check. International recognition? Check. Sex Appeal? Double Check. Sounds like a recipe for the next Lauryn Hill or Taylor Swift. (Maybe minus the sex appeal. Depends on who you’re talking to.) But for Americans, Konshens is not a name synonymous with reggae, fledgling as our affair with Carribbean music is. Honestly, a large portion of our most celebrated and famed artists can barely meet half these requirements. So what’s the deal? “Dancehall lacks organization. Every man do his own thing … here in America you have to have the link. The music industry here is too [formal]. …We (the dancehall industry) could try to organize ourselves more [to gain more popularity in America].”
With Dancehall on the move, Konshens stands on the precipice of full submersion into the sea of celebrity, complete with screeching fans and astronomical amounts of money. But, along with the celebrated aspects of fame, comes the much maligned.
“[The worse thing about fame] is total lack of privacy. Here in [New York] I can walk down the street without anyone recognizing me. But in certain places, I can’t…chill out and do the things I like to do. But it comes with the job.”
Does the young star possess the gumption required to not only transcend his current level of fame and finances, but also remain unfazed by the much fabled lifestyle that celebrity brings? Will he nimbly steer clear of the pitfalls and perils with which fame has so expertly snagged many?
“You haffi know when to flick the light switch off and on. It’s not so easy, but you haffi know to do it…I just pick up my daughter.”
But what’s more, and remains yet to be seen, is if he could do all these things and bring his act stateside. Will he take his place amongst the ranks of Dancehall greats with a heavy American following like the Marleys, Shaggy, Beenie Man and Mr.Vegas? Or rather, does he even want to?
“The hypest things have been done already. The biggest check has already been cut. You see Mad Cobra. You see Shabba Ranks. If you [come in this game] to try and make a big food (lots of money), its already been done….[I just want people to say] Konshens was real.”
Check out Konshens’ Music at myspace.com/konshenssojah