Dancehall superstar Shabba Ranks narrowly avoided a dangerous on-stage accident at Reggae Sunsplash 1991, reminiscent of Michael Jackson’s fiery mishap during a Pepsi commercial shoot back in 1984.
While Michael’s encounter resulted in him being hospitalized with second-degree burns to his scalp and also losing some of his hair, the ultra-fit Grammy Kid, in a split second, extricated himself from possibly being consumed by a cotton ball of fire.
Veteran journalist Adrian Frater, who covered Reggae Sunsplash in its heydays in the 1980s and 1990s, recently recounted the little-known story of what went wrong with what was supposed to be Shabba’s “dazzling entry” to the stage and how the Bedroom Bully artist managed to avoid devastation. Frater had captured much of what transpired from backstage, where only media and production staff members were allowed.
“In 1991 he (Shabba) made a dazzling fireball entry, but unknowing to many of the fans, he almost caught fire in executing that one… The 1991 entry saw ‘Shabbamania’ at its fullest in Montego Bay. In the days leading up to Shabba’s performance, there was a major recruitment of girls from inner-city communities in and around Montego Bay who were going to be a part of a trailer load of girls that will be coming in as a part of Shabba’s props,” Frater said in his Unforgettable Stories series on YouTube.
“It turned out to be a major spectacle as girls were more than happy to collect the free outfits to include the Trailer Load panties and at the same time get free entry into Sunsplash and the back of an open air trailer,” he added.
According to the award-winning journalist, the plan for Shabba’s entrance, which was to have been as grand as the one the year before when he arrived at the Reggae festival in a low-flying helicopter, went awry from the get-go.
“Shabba’s colourful entry which includes the use of a fireball and a tractor could have been a disaster had he not been a fit and frisky man. The plan was for a large, knitted cotton ball of fire to slide down on an apparatus like a clothes-line, to the side of the stage which was out of the view of the patrons. At that point, Shabba was to be lifted up in the bucket of a tractor towards the stage, creating the impression as if he was emerging from the ball of fire,” Frater explained.
“Somehow the fireball came down too quickly and landed in the bucket beside Shabba. Luckily he was frisky enough to jump out of the way which saved him from possibly suffering the same fate that the legendary King of Pop Michael Jackson suffered in 1984 when his ear and face caught fire during the filming of a Pepsi commercial,” Frater recalled further.
He added: “In the case of Shabba, the attendants quickly put out the fire and then the tractor was able to lift Shabba onstage without those persons in front of the stage realizing what had happened. Shabba went on to deliver a red-hot performance which included the dazzling Trailer Load of Girls which put the crowd in a musical frenzy”.
Shabba’s entrance to Reggae Sunsplash in 1990 was also a highly exciting one, as explained by Frater, who described it as “the first of the two memorable spectacles which took place at the Bob Marley performing centre”.
“In 1990 Shabba made arguably the greatest entry ever seen at any local Stage Show when he arrived by helicopter which flew low over the venue so that the crowd could get a clear view of the artiste in flight… The great moment began with the sound of a helicopter over hovering overhead, which caused all eyes to turn skyward. As the helicopter flew low over the venue, patrons were able to see Shabba Ranks seated in the aircraft. He was dressed in full white with a red head gear that could have been part of his Mama Christie’s church hat collection,” he said.
“The crowd went wild in expectation of his performance. When the helicopter landed in the backstage area, members of the media and the production team swooped down on the aircraft. However backstage security quickly Rushed Shabba to the side of the stage. It was all pandemonium as he climbed the steps and came into full view of the entire audience,” he added.