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By the end of Carnival in Jamaica this year, the artiste on the lips of many visitors was Ding Dong.
In soca fetes and on the parade route, Ding Dong’s songs, ‘Dweet (Genna Bounce)’, ‘Fling Yuh Shoulda', 'Flairy' and 'Lebeh Lebeh', proved the most popular when it came to moving the crowd with their accompanying dances.
The singer, real name Kemar Ottey, is still in shock.
“Me, myself, was shocked with the Carnival scene. Leading up to Carnival my songs were some of the most played and I was like what is going on here? My songs have some of the biggest impact on the Carnival event,” said the singer who this year attended several Carnival events for the first time.
Ding Dong was one of the artistes in the Xaymaca band alongside soca stars like Nailah Blackman who he described as a huge talent. Standing atop one of the music trucks, he was stunned at the response to his songs in an environment that some argue has no place for dancehall.
“When I came off the truck, everybody said it was superb, they enjoyed themselves. Two days after Carnival I got a text from Bunji Garlin and he said he was so proud of me, I ripped Carnival. I was so moved. This is Bunji! When him text me and tell me that, I felt so good, I never knew I could get accepted in the soca world,” he said. He recently collaborated with Bunji on the Outlaw Riddim and is due to work with soca star Machel Montano.
With Carnival over, the disc jocks from Trinidad and Tobago and other Caribbean islands, and from the diaspora, have been ensuring that Ding Dong becomes a household name in their respective countries.
His songs and dances are no doubt set to dominate the summer.
“I am a young kid with big dreams, I have that drive to make it big. I just want to be accepted in the Caribbean,” said Ding Dong fresh off a performance in Barbados where he saw first-hand how popular his music is becoming. The show was staged by Magnum Tonic Wine for which Ding Dong is a regional ambassador alongside Soca Princess Patrice Roberts.
Ding Dong’s current success did not happen overnight. In fact, he said, his attempts to bring dance back to dancehall was met with resistance.
“There was a whole heap of adversity and roadblocks. Dancehall is like a circle, everybody have a time and segment. It took three to four years to get to this stage, it was a process. I did ‘Syvah’ first and that was the first song that resurrected the whole dancing thing in Jamaica,” he said.
‘Syvah’, which has a distinct Hip-Hop influence, was launched in New York City with the help of producer Ricky Blaze.
With the popularity of the song in New York, Ding Dong said he had to take it back home to Jamaica. He did this by linking up with two local selectors Boom Boom and ZJ Chrome – most other selectors, he said, weren’t as receptive and told him that interest in dancing had waned.
Assessing the scene, Ding Dong strategised on a way to break the mould.
“I was like one song couldn’t bring it back the way it supposed to be so I did more songs. Bling Dawg had a song called “Kreech”, it was a big dance in Jamaica and then I came with ‘Shampoo’, so we would have three big songs and I came back with ‘Lowe Mi Nuh’. Then I just flood the streets after that,” said Ding Dong, who also released ‘Wul Up’ and ‘Yeng Yeng’ soon after.
“The movement was moving strong. When it took over then I did ‘Fling Yuh Shoulda’, that song was like the run over point. Usain Bolt dance to it on his final run and that sent it mega. I didn’t stop there. I came with ‘Genna Bounce’, ‘Lebeh Lebeh’ and ‘Flairy’ and I have two more coming.”
With dancehall music suffering from bad publicity over its anti-gay, misogynist, violent and sexual content, Ding Dong has taken the responsibility to change the image of the genre.
“Everybody have this stigma with dancehall, it raw, it dirty, it slack, it promoting hatred and war against people. I was like I am going to show these people we are going to have dancehall on a platform where people will see dancehall as fun. I have preachers, people in the churches, baby mothers, cops …I have everybody dancing. They stigmatise dancehall, it supposed to be raw; it supposed to be dirty. I doing it opposite,” he declared.
This is not Ding Dong’s first attempt to fuse dancing into dancehall. In 2005, he recorded ‘Bad Man Forward’ but his attempt to transition from a dancer to a singer was not welcomed.
Founder of the Ravers Clavers dance group, Ding Dong – who hails from the tough community of Nannyville Gardens in Kingston - first made his name as a dancer.
“Dancing is my passion, dancing is my freedom, dancing is me, it is my getaway place,” said Ding Dong, who gave up football to focus on dancing.
He was inspired by the late Gerald Levy, known as Mr Wacky or Mr Bogle, a dance pioneer in Jamaica known for creating popular dances such as the ‘Bogle’, ‘World Dance’ and ‘Willie Bounce’.
“I knew him personally, he rate me and he wanted me to join him but I wanted to do my own thing. I just can’t see myself as a follower,” said Ding Dong, who acknowledged the comparisons to him and his mentor.
“I never even try to compare myself with him, he is somebody who set it. I have so much respect for Mr Wacky. That is why I never stay in his shadow, I never wanted to be the second Wacky; I wanted to be the first Ding Dong. I took what him leave and put it on a different level, different platform, and different scale. My aim is to create the first me.”
Ravers Clavers today comprises 10 core dancers but, said Ding Dong, the brand is expanding and includes managers, marketing personnel, social media handlers and singers. 1st Klase, a music producer and dancer and Pablo, a dancer, both from T&T, have been early members of the group.
A hustler from young who used to pick up bottles to sell, Ding Dong believes in hard work and encourages the same from his group. He said he’s using Ravers Clavers as a medium to uplift its members.
“When I came back from New York, I sit down and I said I just gonna work, work, work and whatever come, come. I grow from hustling from young. I used to pick mango and sell it back, pick up bottles. I am a workaholic and I am very professional about it. I work hard, I hate to be lazy. I try to pass it along to the group. I tell them just pay attention to your work. I am trying to give everybody an individual name and platform to stand up by themselves,” he said.
With plenty touring on his itinerary this year, Ding Dong is focused on putting out more music and more dances to keep us moving for the next three years.
“I am ready for the world to experience fun through me, I am ready to hold a vibe with the world,” he said.