In August, it will be 50 years since Jamaica gained Independence from Britain. Today, the Jamaica Observer’s Entertainment section reflects on the influence Jamaican pop culture has had on that country in REGGAE BRITANNIA, a weekly feature leading up to the Golden Jubilee in August.
WHEN Millie Small’s ska ditty My Boy Lollipop topped the British national chart in 1964, it marked the dawn of a new era for Jamaican music, and the Jamaican community in England.
For, five years earlier, when 17 year-old Junior Lincoln moved to north London — Tottenham — there was little to listen in terms of Jamaican music.
“Back in those days Jamaicans would keep parties in basements and family and friends would come from places like Birmingham and Manchester,” the west Kingston-born Lincoln recalled during an interview with the Observer.
The sound system culture many Jamaican immigrants had become accustomed to back home had not yet taken off in Britain, so the early ‘promoters’ used gramophones to play their records.
“They couldn’t get music from Jamaica so we listened to mostly rock & roll and rhythm & blues which came from America,” Lincoln said.
In terms of Jamaican performers, the most popular among Jamaicans in Britain in the early 1960s were the R&B-influenced Jiving Juniors, Laurel Aitken, Wilfred ‘Jackie’ Edwards and Owen Gray.
By 1963 however, ska had taken over Jamaica and the jazz-influenced sound slowly filtered onto the British scene. According to Lincoln, the main distributors of ska records at that time were two Britons: Emil Shalit, a Jewish businessman and a Mrs King, both based in London.
“Music was the most important thing for West Indians in England back then.
When a man got his pay package he went to the record store,” Lincoln explained. As music from Jamaica got more accessible, the sound systems emerged throughout London. Suckle, Duke Vin and Shelly, whose owners were from west Kingston, were some of the earliest ‘sounds’ in the British capital, followed shortly after by Sir Coxson.
Even though My Boy Lollipop was a revelation, the biggest shot in the arm for Jamaican music in Britain came in 1968 with the establishment of Trojan Records, formed by Lee Gopthal, a Jamaican of East Indian descent.
Trojan became the largest distributor of rocksteady, and later reggae music, in Britain. Its biggest Jamaican clients were producers Clement ‘Coxson’ Dodd, Arthur ‘Duke’ Reid, Leslie Kong and Prince Buster.
For nearly a decade, Trojan had a hand in the distribution of the biggest Jamaican hits in Britain, including Bob and Marcia’s Young, Gifted and Black and Ken Boothe’s Everything I Own.
Lincoln, who briefly worked with Trojan, operated the Bamboo, Ackee and Banana labels which distributed Dodd’s Studio One releases. Another of his labels, Ashanti, released albums like the Mystic Revelation of Rastafari’s Grounation.
Junior Lincoln, who produced the hour-long documentary Reggae in 1970, returned to Jamaica permanently in 1982. Now 70 years old, he is a director of the Jamaica Reggae Industry Association.