July 14, 2010
Cooyah at Paradise Lounge
Better than: A gap year in Thailand after college
With camera flashes blasting, and a 150 or so amped reggae fans thrusting hands in the air, British reggae artist Gappy Ranks (the stage name of Jacob Lee Williams) got his first taste of San Francisco crowds last night. Apparently he was chuffed, because he stuck around for a good 45 minutes, running through his catalog, inviting women on stage to be serenaded, and interacting with the audience throughout his set. If you haven't heard of Harlesden, London-based emcee Gappy Ranks, don't worry; he's a relatively new name -- but one impressive enough to convince Greensleeves Records (home to Barrington Levy and Yellowman) to sign him. His set at Paradise Lounge's reggae club Coo Yah served as San Francisco's introduction to a raspy singjay (a combination rapper/singer) with a lot of potential. But despite Gappy's electric performance, women were the center of attention for most of last night.
Cooyah (Jamaican slang for "look here," "check this out" or "pay attention!") has been occupying Wednesday nights for nearly four years at various locations in SF. Originally held at Bruno's on Mission Street, in 2010 Cooyah took up weekly residence at the Paradise Lounge. The place is regularly crammed, a success that female DJs/promoters Daneekah and Green B earned with sweat equity -- and good music.
Daneekah Barty is from Mooloolaba, Australia, while Green B originally hails from Boston. Both women are in their late twenties and have played every major reggae party in S.F. and the East Bay since arriving five years ago. At their weekly night, the two "Cooyah ladies," as they call themselves, trade music sets and toasts on the mic. They pack the dancefloor with fresh tunes from artists like Gyptian, Tarrus Riley, Mavado and Vybz Kartel, whose current hit "Clarks," about the British footwear, got played twice last night to rapturous crowd approval. Last night Green B and Daneekah were joined by Sonoma's Blessed Coast Sound - DJ Ryan I and emcee Lionize - who had a hand in putting together Gappy's tour. The guys took over for the ladies around 11 p.m. and quickly changed the vibe from bubbling roots reggae to harder dancehall-rap remixes.After a brief live warm-up set by Bay Area-based Jamaican emcee Winstrong, Gappy Ranks took the stage at 12:45 a.m., backed by DJ Pierre, his French companion. Ranks opened with a lesser-known song, "Mountain Top," but quickly had the whole audience singing along. He followed with the rocksteady beat of "Put The Stereo On," a big crowd favorite that got a quick "pull up" -- where the DJ backspins the record and starts the song over. From then on, Ranks was in full control, leading sing-a-longs for newer roots tracks like "Pumpkin Belly," and bringing female volunteers up on the smallish wooden risers to "wine" (Jamaican slang for slow-dance) during dancehall numbers like "Bawl Out." Two moments really stick out: First, the unannounced appearance by rising Swedish reggae artist Million Stylez -- basically the Sean Paul of Europe -- who joined Gappy for a few duets. Second, hearing the entire room sing Bob Marley's "Soul Rebel" after Ranks did his song "Heaven In Her Eyes," which is based on the same melody or "riddim." Ranks had another woman on stage whom he sang to, and he didn't miss a note. It was like watching a reggae Tom Jones. But, as was the theme throughout the night, without women in the spotlight, the event would have been a flop. Critic's Notebook:
Personal Bias: Gappy Ranks' UK producer, Peckings, is one of my all-time faves.
Random Detail: The women were dressed to the nines in heels and stylish skirts last night, while the dudes were grimy, wearing baseball caps and oversized tees. Ladies ruled it obviously.
Watch: This video for "Longtime," which is set in Gappy's Harlesden 'hood.
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