Sumfest debut for AJ Brown
FOR many years, AJ Brown was the Montego Bay version of Las Vegas' Wayne Newton. A native son, he got his start as a singer working the city's hotel circuit but surprisingly, has never performed at Reggae Sumfest, one of the resort area's major events.
Brown is scheduled to appear on the festival's International Night 2, which takes place July 21 at Catherine Hall. Last week, he spoke to Splash about his debut on the show which is celebrating its 20th anniversary.
"When the show started I was living in Las Vegas, and when I came back for one reason or the other it wasn't convenient for me to perform or for them to book me," he said. "But as they say, better late than never."
Brown is a product of the Montego Bay live scene. He was preceded by artistes like ET Webster in the 1960s and 1970s, and set the pace for other homegrown talent like singer/ musicians Benjy Myaz and Junior Jazz.
His Sumfest gig comes at a busy time. He is expected to launch his latest album, For All Kinda People in August before heading overseas for a series of shows.
For All Kinda People was produced by Brown who worked with Ocho Rios engineer/producer Barry O'Hare on the 13-track set. It is the follow-up to Voice of Love, an album of inspirational standards he recorded with Jamaican/Canadian businessman Raymond Chang.
Though Voice of Love gave him a minor hit in You Raise Me Up, Brown says he took control on For All Kinda People. In addition to producing, he wrote most of the songs.
"An important part of the business is to own your own products and that's something I'm determined to do," he said.
Brown was born in Mount Salem, a working-class neighbourhood in Montego Bay. After graduating from Cornwall College in the late-1970s, he joined the government's National Youth Service (NYS) and started his music career at the Banana Boat Club in his hometown.
Once his NYS duties were completed, Brown attended the School of Art in Kingston. Shortly after graduating in 1982 with a diploma in graphic design, he scored his first hit song, Love People. He next worked with Peter Ashbourne, who produced his next three hits, Get Up Chant, All Fall Down and the ballad, When You Love.
After a seven-year run at the Mirage Hotel in Las Vegas, Brown returned to Jamaica in 1997, determined to shed his image as a lounge act.
"I never had great worries about it, but yes, people pigeonholed me. Over time, those people have come to appreciate my talent," he said.
Brown won some dancehall fans 10 years ago when he worked with Bobby Digital, one of the genre's respected producers, on the song, Father Friend.
While living in Las Vegas, Brown attended the University of Nevada where he majored in fine arts. Later this year, he plans to release a book of his illustrations and some of the lyrics to his songs.