Up next in Jamaican music

Kellie Magnus asks some of the biggest movers and shakers on the Jamaican music scene to name the up-and-comers most likely to take the world by storm

Mitch. Photograph courtesy NairobiNew Kidz. Photograph courtesy NairobiSean Paul: a few years ago he was an ambitious up-and-comer. Now he has his eye on Tami Chynn. Photograph by UrbanImage.TV/Wayne TippettsTami Chynn. Photograph courtesy Piper FergusonTessanne Chin. Photograph courtesy Gary James

In today’s blink-and-you’ll-miss-it world of instant celebrity, finding real talent can be a challenge. Every teenage boy wants to be the next Sean Paul. Every karaoke girl wants to be the next Rihanna. And they can be. With a rhythm track and a hype beat, do lyrics, music, and talent still count? Thankfully, yes. And, according to those in the know, there’s a new generation of real Jamaican talent poised to take the island’s music to the next level. I asked some of Jamaica’s biggest stars to help Caribbean Beat spot the Next Big Thing.

The diva

No one’s feeling the heat of the klieg lights of international stardom more than dancehall artist Sean Paul. With the number-one spot on the Billboard Hot 100 charts and his second platinum-selling album, The Trinity, under his belt, Sean Paul has raised the bar for international success for Jamaican artists. So who does Sean Paul think is ready for the big time? Maverick multicultural singing sensation Tami Chynn.

“Tami is a true Jamaican diva,” says Sean. “She can stand up to Mariah, Beyoncé, and all those other [American] singers. She is beautiful and has a beautiful voice to match. She has her own style and brings amazing hooks to dancehall beats.” The two collaborated on Trinity’s “All On Me”, an R&B dancehall hybrid produced by Sean Paul’s brother, Jigzag.

Recently signed to a four-album deal with Universal Records, Chynn is set to release her debut album Out of Many, One this summer. The album boasts twelve tracks that blend dancehall and reggae with a variety of musical genres. And, of course, friend and fan Sean Paul makes an appearance on the hit single “Hyperventilating”.

At a recent listening party for journalists in Jamaica, Chynn explained her album’s multi-culti sound: “I just want people to see that we are a diverse people — not only do we have some of the best dancehall and reggae artistes, but R&B artistes, some of the best pop artistes, some of the best jazz artistes. I just kinda want to open their eyes up to something different.”

The alternative choice

If the lookalike faces and the similar names confuse you, listen closely and you’ll hear the difference. As Tami Chynn emerges as the face of pop diva reggae, big sister Tessanne is putting her stamp on the island’s growing rock music scene. With a big, throaty voice and outstanding vocal mastery, Tessanne Chin earns nods from leading Jamaican musicians, including musical legend Jimmy Cliff, with whom she toured for three years.

Flying solo after years at the helm of Jamaica’s popular rock group Mile High, Chin’s getting ready for stardom. Her two new singles, “Messenger” and “Hideaway”, recently hit Jamaica’s airwaves, and she’s currently at work polishing her debut album. Chin regularly draws crowds to live music haunts like Kingston’s Village Café to hear not just her voice and her rock reggae blend, but also what she has to say.

“I believe words are important,” says Chin. “They can be used to hurt or to heal. I try to use my songs to talk about the way I see life.”

The storytellers

Long before the hybrid dancehall album became a formula, Buju Banton pioneered the genre’s versatility. Equally versed in singing and DJing, the Gargamel’s made his mark on both sides of the reggae line. It’s no surprise, then, that Buju sees double when he looks at the future of reggae. His picks: soulful singer Mitch, and upstart deejay New Kidz.

Says Gargamel, “Mitch has a very melodic flow, but he doesn’t sound soft. He sounds melodic and edgy. And I like his style of writing. Mitch doesn’t think or write like a typical Jamaican singer. He delves deeply into his subject matter and has a real storyline in his songs.”

Mitch first caught Buju’s ear as part of the group ARP. “From the first time I heard him, I knew he was wicked, and the whole of Jamaica say the same thing,” says Buju. For years Mitch has been contributing hit singles like “Don’t Wanna Break Your Heart”, “Hey Girl”, and “Can’t Hardly Wait” (on the hot “Garrison” rhythm) to compilation albums. Now he’s ready for the spotlight.

So too is New Kidz, who Buju describes as “the ultimate cross between Shabba Ranks and [me]. He has a very big voice and he’s a very good performer. He’s hot in Jamaica right now. Any day now him a buss. His writing is critical. He can write and arrange his songs. He doesn’t have a regular style.

“The first time I heard New Kidz was in 2002. They were playing his tune ‘Hotta Set a Gal’ on the radio. The song was fresh and unorthodox. Jamaicans don’t accept new things so easily, and I remember saying to myself, it may take a little while but it a go work.”

The life of the party

For late-night clubbing in Kingston, all roads lead to the Quad — the multilevel nightclub in the heart of the upscale New Kingston district. So who’s setting dance floors afire? The Quad’s owner Brian “Ribbi” Chung gives props to dancehall artists Idonia and Busy Signal, both adept at riding the latest beats with unique styles of delivery and hard-hitting lyrics. With the 2005 hit single “Lolly” and tracks on the hot “Galore” and “Stick Up” rhythms, Idonia has earned himself a spot in radio and club rotations. His lyrical dexterity has earned him comparisons to fellow DJ Vybz Cartel, while his hip-hop tinged style is earning him fans beyond the dancehall mixed-tape circuit that has long been his base.

Busy Signal, the self-described busiest artist in dancehall music, rocks the house regularly with tracks like “I Like to Say” on the popular “Steps” rhythm and “We Not Goin’ Down” from Renaissance Records.

“Right now, Idonia and Busy are the ones hyping up the young people,” says Chung. “They’re mashing up the club and mashing up the airwaves. They have the hype [rhythms], but it’s more than that. The songs are catchy and [sometimes] humorous. You have to pull [them] up.”

The people’s choice

No artists have stolen the hearts of the Jamaican public like Rising Star pair Christopher Martin and Noddy Virtue. The winner and runner-up, respectively, of the Jamaican version of American Idol, Chris and Noddy have become bona fide local stars, wowing crowds at stage performances across the island.

Jamaican songbird Nadine Sutherland, who serves as a Rising Star judge, believes that Chris and Noddy have what it takes to go the distance in the business. “Chris is incredibly talented,” she says. “He’s a wonderful R&B singer with an amazing voice. He can grow from a boy star to an adult star. As he evolves into his own style, he’ll be a force to reckon with.

“Noddy is a pure rock star from St Elizabeth [in rural Jamaica], which is the most bizarre thing in the world. He was a farmer before Rising Star. A rock star farmer with a big voice and a big range like Bryan Adams or Steve Perry.

“The Jamaican public has embraced both Chris and Noddy as winners,” says Sutherland. “Both are versatile. Neither one of them is a flash in the pan. They’re typical of the talent in Jamaica — there’s no shortage of pure, real talent here.

“What they both need now is some serious music.”