Sunday, January 27, 2008

The Morgan Heritage Concert

There was a live Morgan Heritage concert at the stadium last night. I expected there to be a lot of people, but wow! it seemed like everyone and their cousin was there, the lines were so long I almost turned around and went back home. And this was just at the main gate into the stadium. There must have been a few thousand people, and a large police presence keeping everyone in line, herding back those who would sneak into a line instead of queuing up, stopping any fights that broke out, maintaining the public order. Of course we (my friends and I) didn't even think about queuing up - we already had tickets, and we would have been there for hours. We finally solved the problem by sending a scout to look over certain walls to see if they were unguarded, and then taking a running jump over said walls, hearts beating wildly, expecting the sound of a shot going off any minute, and turning round to see the guy next to you on the wall with a smoking hole in his face...

But we got in, almost disappointingly without incident. We joined the crowd milling in at the gate, and walked nonchalantly as possible past the (armed) soldiers waiting, out into the stadium ... where we found another crowd - not as large as the one outside, but still nothing to be scoffed at - waiting in yet another line (it was a night of lines, and long ones at that). This time we got around the line by casually sidling into the holes opened up whenever it moved forward, until we were all in, standing in front of people who had been there hours before us, and were now complaining bitterly, not about us, but about the people who had let their vigilance down enough that we had got in.

Whilst I waited - the line moved very slowly - it struck me how peaceful the whole thing was, how devoid of the beatings, nasty slaps, and other casual violences that are our fine army's usual reaction to crowds getting out of hand. I thought maybe I was just in a freak minute,
and things would go back to normal soon - but the whole time I stood there I did not see one incident in which the police/soldiers on guard and searching people before they went in, acted in any way but a professional manner. There was a beautiful moment when a kid tried to get into line, sneaking past us, step after step, all the while looking the other way. When he had reached the top of the steps he came right bam up against the soldier on guard there.

"What're you doing?", the soldier asked. The kid was silent. Everyone looked up at them, waiting for the kid to get it. The soldier made a sudden lunging motion at him, and he leapt back, scared, almost falling over in his attempt to turn and flee, but instead of grabbing him by the collar and hitting him the soldier put his hand on the kid's arm, and laughed at the kid's fear. Everyone in the line laughed, too. Then the soldier motioned for the kid to go on in, giving him a pat on the back, letting him skip the line for his troubles.

Finally I got to the front of the line. After I had been searched, and just before we went in, the head of the security detail sent a message saying we should be held at the gate for a while, until the stairs had cleared, for safety reasons. The soldier who had run through the contents of my pocket apologized, asking me to wait. We stood facing each other, the line behind me pushing me up so I was right up next to him, breathing into his face, under his helmet he had what looked like green netting.

"So how's it?", he asked, and I almost fell off the stair in shock.

"Er...not bad", I said, and he nodded appreciatively. We stood for a while, avoiding each other's eyes, saying nothing. Then...

"Kinda cold, isn't it?", I said, eyeing the gun that hung so carelessly at his side. [Thank God for the weather, and its conversation-saving properties]

"Oh yes, yes", he replied, "very".

Another longish silence. All around me people were standing in line, being searched for weapons and contraband, everything going along so smoothly it felt surreal. They had to know - someone had to tell them that this was the way things should run, that it would be so much better if they did this instead of the other, even if it was the other that gave them power trips and a high.

"I'm proud of you guys today", I said, to the one who stood in front of me, gun at his side, "how you're handling the whole thing". He gave me a penetrating look, and I felt like explaining, telling him I meant how it was different today, and how I could not ever remember feeling anything even close to proud about the army until now. But I was feeling rather foolish now, so I shut up. Finally he grinned at me.

"Seen?", he asked me, his teeth showing. ["Oh lord - a Jamaican-wannabe soldier", I thought to myself, partly to mitigate the embarrassment I felt now at having been so cheesy]

"Yup", I said.

Just then the leader gave the all-clear, and they let us in...

...where we sat waiting for nearly four hours before Morgan finally came up on stage. There was nothing remarkable about the performance even - the lead singer kept going into these long monologues after each song, which was a bad idea because: a) everyone was fired up and ready to dance, and b) the way the sound system was set up you couldn't hear half the words he said. Several times I got the impression that they were using us as the testing ground for musical ideas they were testing out: guitar solos would start out loud and end up going nowhere, a drum roll would start and then wind down, dying an awkward-sounding death, songs would come to a stop, and there would be a long silence before the next one started. It was certainly nothing close to Morgan in Amsterdam, for example.

When we got in, we were all put up in the pavilions, the MC declaring (to loud boos) that no one was allowed on the grass. Before the show started, about 15 soldiers were set up opposite each occupied pavilions, just to drive home the point (you are not getting down here, so get it out of your heads). In the pavilions there were loud complaints about how this was a show, not a football match, and how could they stick us up here like this, and "God help me if I'm not going down, as soon as I see other people go down". So as soon as the show started, everyone came flying over the pavilion walls - watching it from above was like watching a scene in a war movie: first people surging forward, then the soldiers driving them back, then people surging forward
some more, this time to a point closer to the stage; and in this way advancing more and more until they were almost at the stage. The final drive started when Peter Morgan asked that "the security let dah pee-pol come closah" - there was a wild cry from the crowd (and in that moment Peter Morgan was the most popular person in the whole country) and a mad rush forwards, this time the wave driving the soldiers back, back, back...

The show went until 6am this morning - far more performance time than the almost-disdainful Youssou Ndour ever does at a show here. By the end everyone was completely beat - people were actually lying down on the grass, fast asleep.

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