Loud night in Kingston. Walking into Di Lot on a Sunday like this could crank anyone’s senses into overdrive. A quick twist of the head revealed three restaurants, a well-tended bar, an upstairs art gallery, an open-air art exhibit, a glowing and booming stage, and a few shops for local artisans — all contained within this 1,000-person capacity venue. People were loosely scattered throughout. At only an hour into the event’s scheduled start time, a proper glimpse into the space’s potential was still a few hours away.
On this breezy November 13th evening, the digital platform New Wave took on a very real form there at 33 Constant Spring Road. Its flagship event, Block Party, was gathering steam, and was making good on its promise to deliver “a celebration of music, food, art and entertainment – the parts of our culture that make us who we are as a people.”
Founded in 2017 by the Reggae artist Protoje and the entrepreneur Jason Panton, New Wave has consistently spotlighted Jamaica’s emerging creative talent across social media and through in-person events like this. Lindsey Lodenquai, New Wave’s creative director, reinforced the platform’s commitment to young creatives: “the impact is so important – just to be able to give the space to our friends and to people who we think are doing really dope stuff within the community.”
Our conversation was somewhat muffled by a dance edit of Bob Marley’s Burnin’ and Lootin’, courtesy of the selector Circa Fatman and the towering speakers that flanked the stage. He was the first DJ curating the vibrations that night and was set to be followed by Laing D and Fyahmatic, Heatwave Fatalic, and Brush1 the Road Marshal and Bloodline Franco.
The visual artist Joshua Solas, aka Solas Ink, also drew a crowd with his dozen or so paintings adorning the wall to the right of the main stage. While some Reggae fans may be familiar with his artwork designed for releases by artists like Protoje, iotosh, and Tessellated, the mostly text-based works on display tonight offered a more panoramic view of his skills and concerns. The common thread running through the bold, hyperlocal, and sometimes searing paintings was a survey of language – specifically, patois.
The words “BLOCK ROAD, BUN TYRE” blanketed one canvas and were written in one of Solas’ self-designed typefaces. “GWEH! (GO + AWAY)” read the text on another surface, which was coloured yellow and oriented like a diamond-shaped street sign, a signal of warning.
“After doing some studying, I realised that words are the most abstract way you can represent something visually. Diving down that thought, I decided to explore patois and the works of Miss Lou, and those like her, in my own way of carrying on that tradition that she put forth,” Solas told DancehallMag with thoughtful precision. LED spotlights splashed his work with constantly-shifting hues; it wasn’t his idea, but he didn’t seem to mind.
Throughout these early hours of Block Party, onlookers questioned the artist about the ideas and intentions fuelling his hands. “I firmly believe in accessible art and art that people shouldn’t feel intimidated to approach,” he said when asked about the viewing format. Raised and currently based in Bull Bay, Solas has been commissioned to design murals and public art experiences around Jamaica, Los Angeles, and Michigan. Tonight, people gathered to admire his smaller-scale work, with some viewers pondering wordlessly and others posing for snapshots among the pieces.
The vision that Craig Phang Sang had four years ago when he first conceived of Di Lot appeared to be playing out in real-time. An artist and entrepreneur, Phang Sang has been involved in Kingston’s creative scene since the 1980s. He cut his teeth in radio, television, and film production before opening his own Sony dealerships. Though he found success in business, he missed creating freely. So he took to photography and then painting.
Around 2018, he began developing the idea for what become Di Lot, a multi-media venue ready to host shows for every art form from music to film to poetry. “We want to help artists use the space to better themselves by being able to sell. And we’re not here to charge the artists. We want to give them the space, and to put them in the middle of things like [Block Party],” Phang Sang said.
Di Lot received a soft opening last September and officially opened in July of this year. It operates seven days a week and sometimes hosts special events like Block Party, or Skeng’s recent Beast of an Era EP launch party.
As we went over the architectural renderings for the space, Phang Sang told me that he’s fully aware venues like bars and clubs often have short lifespans, but he hopes to nurture Di Lot carefully enough to make it endure. He has enlisted the help of his four sons to help out with operations and expansion. Beyond his office walls, the insistent bass sought us out.
In our chatty absence, Block Party shifted gears. The constant trickle of people entering Di Lot swelled the venue to near capacity, and most of the gaps on the main floor had closed up. Smoke floated overhead as people talked and laughed and danced below. Videographers framed up shots before flitting off in pursuit of fresh moments. Camera flashes punctuated the action.
Many were dressed from their crowns to their soles in their Sunday best. As the DJs cycled through their sets, the audience responded eagerly, some syncing the rhythm of their bodies as easily to Elephant Man’s hits as to those of Laa Lee. The dancer Energy popped up a few times, conducting the audience in spells of motion.
Afrobeats, hip-hop, pop, and decades of Reggae and Dancehall music leapt out of the speakers all night; Dirt Bounce found its way to Blood Money via a stretch of Welcome to Jamrock, That Day Will Come, and One Blood. Hollaback Girl and Never Gonna Give You Up were surprises, but welcome ones judging by the rapturous forwards from the crowd.
Though no artist performance was billed in the lead-up to the event, recent history suggested that one shouldn’t be ruled out. So when Protoje hopped on the stage around 11 PM, the focus shifted to him, and the crowd grew tense with excitement over what might follow. As HILLS started playing, the audience echoed the singer’s familiar words in a joyous chorus. The energy flowed through Switch It Up, Pop Smoke’s Welcome to the Party, and Lila Iké’s Dinero before climaxing with Like Royalty.
Photographers, hypemen, and onlookers hoping to get a better view leapt on stage freely during Protoje’s brief appearance. One stagehand turned the performance into a pyrotechnics show with little more than a lighter, a can of Baygon, and a bit of zeal.
The MC and DJ pair Brush1 the Road Marshal and Bloodline Franco animated the crowd for the rest of the night. Coordinated dances filled the stage, and some audience presenters were pulled up from the main floor to join in on the fun. Even as the crowd receded after midnight – it was a Sunday, after all – the energy refused to wane, and was even jolted to another peak once Brrrp by Skeng came on.
Ras-I closed out the last set with a performance of Kingman Ting, after which, the speakers were locked off abruptly. This didn’t stop the music, though; Lila Iké, from the second floor of Di Lot, led the remaining congregants in a happy birthday tribute to one of her friends.
Outside the venue’s walls, Dash D and KinDah of Friday Night Cru greeted weary celebrants with promo posters for their upcoming event, “Deh Yah.” At one point, the duo seemed to realise that they underestimated the number of flyers they needed.
A few people lingered around the sidewalks outside the venue. Now in the hush of an early Monday morning, some sped their cars away from the orange and white lights lining Kingston’s streets. The rest found their homes among them.