Keeling Beckford moves with the times

BY HOWARD CAMPBELL Observer senior writer

Thursday, June 05, 2014

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This is the seventh of a 12-part series looking at Jamaicans who have excelled in the tri-state (New York, New Jersey and Connecticut) area's entertainment and leisure industry.

ED Koch was elected mayor and the Son of Sam murders still had citizens cowering when Keeling Beckford arrived in New York City in 1977.

The Jamaican singer had lived in London for three years prior to his move to the Big Apple. He has established himself as a music producer and distributor with the Manhattan-based Keeling Records.

Reggae On The Hill, a weekly show in Brooklyn, is the 55-year-old Beckford's latest venture. He is using the live event to tap into that borough's changing demographics.

"There are more white people returning to Brooklyn, they call it 're-gentrification'. It's something that started under (Mayor Rudy) Giuliani. For me, it's a case of moving with the times," Beckford told the Jamaica Observer.

Before it became home to a massive West Indian (largely Jamaican) community in the 1970s, Brooklyn was dominated by European immigrants who came to the United States at the turn of the 20th century.

Born in Kingston and raised in Islington, St Mary, 13-year-old Keeling Beckford had a hit song with Conversation in 1968. Moving to London six years later, he recorded for Trojan Records before relocating to New York in the late 1970s.

Jamaican culture, he recalled, was gradually gaining acceptance at the time.

"When yuh played reggae they called it banana boat music. Now, every other car that pass yuh playing it," he said.

Another sound emerging in the NYC boroughs during the early 1980s was hip hop. Beckford said he met several of the music's pioneers including rapper Grandmaster Flash, while hanging out at a club in the Bronx called The Fever.

Beckford produced some of Grandmaster Flash's early songs such as Life on Planet Earth and Rock the Message for his 12 Star Records label. They were not big hits but helped introduce the rapper who later hit the big time as leader of the Furious Five. Grandmaster Flash is regarded as one of hip hop's most influential elders.

Keeling Beckford still operates his record store which has a massive catalogue of songs, albums and DVDs of Jamaican roots plays and documentaries.




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