Passa Passa - Another Jamaican brand gets big abroad
BY JONIQUE GAYNOR, Staff Reporter
Bootleg videos, music, and pirate software are not a big deal in the Caymans, because no laws have been instituted against it yet. The business stays in and amongst islands. You can get a lot of bootleg Passa Passa videos from Cayman Island video outlets.
Passa Passa is known as a stage for showing off the latest dance moves. These youngsters show their talent at one of the events. - FILE
WHEN PASSA PASSA came to life on Ash Wednesday in 2003, no one imagined the event would attract such a following becoming a model for street dances at home and abroad.
Because the downtown, Kingston, business district shuts down at midday on Wednesdays, Swatch International used the opportunity to 'put out the system and tune it up'. People eventually started showing up at the 'tunings' to drink, play dominoes and enjoy the music. The event then evolved naturally.
The promoters also felt this was an opportunity to bring the neighbouring communities of Tivoli Gardens, Hannah Town, Rema and Arnett Gardens together, without strife and tension.
The name Passa Passa was coined by Maestro, a selector with the famed Swatch International, promoters of the event.
BLENDING OF CLASSES
Passa Passa means a blending of, or simply, 'mix up' and is used in reference to the blending of cultures, nationalities and classes that occur at the now renowned dancehall event, Maestro explained.
The high energy street dance usually gets into gear at about 3 a.m., and continues long after the sun rises. Skimpily clad ladies are another highlight of the event and their risque, sometimes x-rated moves have become synonymous with the name.
Swatch International selectors fuel the vibe by providing a slew of popular dancehall hits throughout the night.
Controversial and exclusive dub plates also add to the unique street vibe - it is dancehall in its truest and undiluted form.
Innocent passers-by and motorists often get caught up at the carnival, and persons wishing to 'go about their business' must avoid Spanish Town Road in the early hours of Thursday morning.
Maestro said the party has such great appeal because of the excellent promotion. "A tru wi promote wi ting man, a dat mek it so popular, " he said. Word of mouth also plays its role. It's hard to keep such a big thing secret - word gets around. The stories are too tempting - people just can't stay away.
Passa Passa also attracts several familiar faces. Popular artistes such as Bounty Killer, Sizzla, Capleton and Kid Kurupt are frequent visitors. But the visitors don't stop there. The party has been successful in bringing out people from the middle and upper classes - people that perhaps had previously had no experience with dancehall culture.
Public notables like Courtney Walsh, Jodi Ann Maxwell, Bruce Golding, the CEO of Moet/Hennessy and several fashion designers have graced the Passa Passa asphalt. The New York Times also did a four page spread on the party and there have been several features by the BBC and by the Japanese based NHK television station.
Versions of the party are in several Caribbean islands such as the Cayman Islands, Grenada, St.Vincent, and St.Kitts. The party, or at least the name, is also popular in North American cities such as New York and Miami - cities where there is a large Jamaican community.
The Far East has also been infected with the Passa Passa fever and the Japanese are frequent visitors to the event. And though the Japanese admit to not fully understanding what Passa Passa means, they love it "because it is a real ghetto street dance."
THE STAR spoke with Japanese visitors who said Passa Passa offers something different. They said most Japanese sessions are held in clubs, and when they are held outside, they "have to finish early and they can't play on the street."
The party is often videotaped and the DVDs have created the large international following. This is one of the main reasons for the party's popularity.
The DVDs are available on the streets of almost every major town in the Caribbean and in North America. They are also readily available in Japan. Access to the DVDs is extremely easy.
The 'bootleg' DVDs retail for US$15 (Ja$975) in New York, CI$6 (Ja$468) in the Cayman Islands, 1800 yen (Ja$900) in Japan and EC$20 (Ja$480) in Grenada and other Eastern Caribbean islands.
Dylan Powe, chief operations officer of Passa Passa Limited, the registered and copyrighted company, told THE STAR that the organisation had commissioned someone to videotape the sessions but that there had been no professional monitoring of the distribution, hence the rampant pirating.
He said they intend to take a more professional approach to marketing the DVD. Powe also told THE STAR that they hope to produce bar-coded DVDs that can be sold "in places like Blockbuster". He admits that they will have to 'clean up' the videos, but says this is something that they also plan to work on.
Fitzroy Patrick, a 23-year-old Jamaican living in the Cayman Islands, told THE STAR about the popularity of the DVDs. He also said the DVDs provide a lot of information on the dancehall culture. "Yeah man, di DVD dem sell off. Mi know all the latest dances through the video, and mi know all di dancers and selectors." He said the fashions featured on the DVDs are often recreated on the local party scene. "The younger people that party a lot, take on everything. They have the cornrows and the blazer and the man dem have di tight pants," he said.
A Passa Passa party promoter in Grenada, Steve Duncan, believes the party has become popular in his country because of the DVDs. "I think it all stems from the DVDs. They're all over the island and people are buying them. The DVDs have made the party a household name."
The fashions at Passa Passa have also gained international attention. In honour of this, the promoters are planning to launch a Passa Passa clothing line "by the middle of summer". The line will include male and female T-shirts that will boast the logo and catch phrases from the party.The promoters also hope to secure sponsorship from a popular sneaker company.
Such huge popularity however, breeds negativity. There have been many instances where the company's name is used to promote parties of which they have no knowledge. Powe told the STAR that the promoters will be moving towards legal action against any individual or group that attempts to misuse the name and that can potentially damage their reputation. He also added, "You can't call a Jamaican event Passa Passa without talking to us. You can't use our name to push a product that we're not aware of . We've worked hard to build our brand and and we're trying to protect the interest of the brand."
In late 2005, when the organisers got wind of information that street parties called Passa Passa were being held in the Cayman Islands, they released a statement decrying the practice and threatening legal action.
The statement read partially: There are some unscrupulous promoters who are using the names Passa Passa and Swatch International for events of which we have no knowledge. This is very unfortunate as we have set a standard of quality for our events that is unsurpassed in the dancehall arena. This is something we have worked very hard at and we refuse to let it be destroyed by these fly by night individuals.... we will be using any means necessary to protect the integrity of our brand. We have retained the services of several lawyers who will be taking cases of infringement to court." Powe told the STAR that while they have not had to take any matters to court, "we've had our lawyers and legal representatives speak to people very strongly."
Steve Duncan, a popular club owner and party promoter in Gouyave, St.John's, Grenada, confirmed the growing popularity of the party in the island. He admitted that he has thrown parties with the name 'Passa Passa' in his club before, but says it is something that has "been all over the island." He said the string of street parties started in Grenada after Hurricane Ivan as a means of "bringing out the community and relieving the stress." He said the parties are not rip-offs as he has brought in Jamaican selectors like Matterhorn to his parties.
Duncan told the STAR that he is doing nothing wrong by using the name as he is "not doing it to make money. It's not only in my club it's in every parish. It's all over the Caribbean...it's in New York." He says, Passa Passa is just a slang that has become synonymous with great parties. He also likened the name to the word 'bashment' and its popular use.