Creating reggae's framework

BY HOWARD CAMPBELL Observer senior writer

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

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This is the second of an eight-part feature on the impact of women on reggae as artistes, administrators and managers. Today, we look at industry player Maxine Stowe.

FOR over 35 years, Maxine Stowe has lived the roots, rock, reggae lifestyle. She has seen artistes and trends fade, at the same time looking to sign and expose new acts and sounds.

Stowe's re´sumé shows stints with noted record companies like Sony International, Island Records and Motown. There has also been stints with VP Records and Studio One, the outstanding Jamaican label started by her uncle Clement 'Coxson' Dodd.

It was at Sony that Stowe had her greatest triumphs. She was an influential member of the company's Artist and Repertoire team during the 1990s, when it had great success with artistes like Shabba Ranks, Mad Cobra, Patra, Diana King, and Super Cat.

For the last 10 years, Stowe has committed her energies to fine-tuning Jamaica's music business, which still lags in critical areas such as publishing, management and copyright.

"Because no one seems sufficiently adept to organise it, the business does not have a proper infrastructure so since 2001 I have focused on, 'this thing has to be managed'," Stowe told the Jamaica Observer recently.

A properly managed organisation, Stowe believes, would be equipped to negotiate deals with conglomerates like Universal Music. Universal owns the Island Records catalogue, which includes some of Bob Marley's best work, as well as successful albums by Burning Spear, Third World and Steel Pulse.

"They have the largest ownership of Jamaican music, so there would have to be an entity in Jamaica with the knowledge to do deals that would benefit Jamaica. That is where it has been for me for a while," she said.

Stowe, who is in her early 50s, was born in Kingston but grew up in Long Island, New York City. Her mother was Dodd's sister but as a teenager music was not her greatest passion, rather the vibrant Black Power movement that swept the United States.

She recalls reading books like Eldridge Cleaver's provocative Soul on Ice, and inspired by firebrand activists such as Angela Davis and Guyanese Walter Rodney. Stowe entered Columbia University as a political science major but left after one semester and returned to Jamaica in the mid-1970s where she discovered the Rastafarian faith.

Back in Kingston, she met intuitive artist Ras Daniel Hartman (Pedro of The Harder They Come fame) and became part of the Rasta community. It was while helping Hartman sell his art to hotels and record shops that she met Dodd who was enjoying a rebirth at Studio One with singers like Freddie McGregor and Sugar Minott.

Stowe helped Dodd establish and operate Coxson Music City, a export hub for Studio One product in Brooklyn. After two years, she left to manage the career of Minott with whom she had become intimately involved before moving on to VP Records, the Queens, New York, company that was fast becoming the leading source for dancehall music in the United States.

While at VP, Stowe got her big break.

"There was interest by this lady at Columbia called Carol Cooper to put together a Spanish reggae compilation called Dancehall Reggae Español. Her boss David Kahne saw that I had a command of the industry and that's how I got my job at Columbia," Stowe explained.

Columbia was part of Sony International which comprised a group of thriving labels that also included Epic, which had major stars like Michael Jackson and Luther Vandross on its roster.

Through her first signing, deejay Super Cat, Stowe brought Jamaican dancehall to the company. He was followed by Shabba Ranks, Patra, Mad Cobra, Tony Rebel, Diana King, and Jimmy Cliff, all of whom had US pop hits in the early and mid-1970s.

"It was a heyday for dancehall but I felt why we didn't have that continuity of success at Sony was because Jamaica was not included in their plans," she recalled. "So I went to Island because they were looking at Jamaica again."

Stowe had a fruitful run with Island, working on Stephen Marley's Chant Down Babylon, an album of digital duets by Bob Marley and hip-hop stars. She helped promote hit songs by Chevelle Franklyn (Dancehall Queen) and the company's music-driven films, Dancehall Queen and Third World Cop.

The mother of four children, Stowe is currently part of Bunny Wailer's management. Putting the mechanism in place for a well-oiled Jamaican music industry, however, is her greatest priority.

"Something, or someone, has to emerge to fix our music business. It's a creative industry that has to be harnessed," she said.

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