Those not well versed in Jamaican patois may have had a tough time discerning exactly what dance hall wonder Shabba Ranks was growling about Saturday night at Kilimanjaro, but it was easy to get his drift. Besides, you don't have to understand a single word to be entranced by Ranks, currently an unqualified sensation in his native Jamaica.
Backed only by a deejay and a group of big-league admirers who crowded the stage, Ranks proved to be a dynamic performer whose stop-and-start chants had an electrifying effect: a few spins, half-a-dozen words, and the jam-packed club exploded in an ecstatic uproar. To the uninitiated ear, Ranks's background music would sound monotonous. But the mixes, drawing from other dance hall hits, were clever pastiches frequently punctuated by tinny explosions and death-ray sounds that usually come from pocket "terminators."
As in other Caribbean styles, the hook is of paramount importance in dance hall, and Ranks's more ambitious numbers -- "Reality" and "Roots and Culture" -- were as catchy as their lyrics were prickly. The sweet 'n' rough "Twice My Age" developed into amusing male-female competitions and an audience sing-along. And his infectious hit "Wicked Inna Bed" gave Ranks one of several opportunities to launch into explicit sexual (and often sexist) banter.