Entertainment

The independents

UNSUNG

Howard Campbell

Friday, October 05, 2012    

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In commemoration of Jamaica's 50th anniversary of Independence from Britain, the Jamaica Observer's Entertainment section recognises 50 persons who made significant, yet unheralded, contributions to the country's culture. This week we feature the independent record companies.

INDEPENDENT record companies have championed Jamaican music for 50 years. Small labels like Island and Trojan carried the flag in Britain, marketing the sounds of Desmond Dekker, Bob Marley, Burning Spear and Ken Boothe.

The 'indies' (as they are known) were most effective during the 1990s, particularly with dancehall. VP Records was largely responsible for taking the genre to the mainstream in the United States, releasing solid albums by Beenie Man, Beres Hammond, Shabba Ranks and Garnet Silk.

VP used their street 'cred' and worked with major labels like Atlantic Records and EastWest Records to introduce dancehall music to a hip-hop audience. Beenie Man's 1997 album, Many Moods of Moses, was their most successful project, returning sales of over 250,000 units.

As dancehall's profile grew in the US, a flood of indies jumped on the bandwagon. Companies like Priority, Profile, Pow Wow and Tommy Boy all signed dancehall acts.

In terms of roots-reggae, Washington DC's RAS Records led the way. With founder Gary 'Dr Dread' Himelfarb at its helm, RAS kept the careers of Culture, Inner Circle and Israel Vibration alive with quality releases.

The reissue market was also vibrant, thanks to Massachusetts 'indie' Heartbeat Records which successfully showcased the rock steady era of the 1960s through compilation albums from the vaults of Studio One and Treasure Isle.

Declining music sales have resulted in the closure of many independent labels, but VP is still in the game, working with several of the artistes that helped make them a powerhouse in the 1990s.

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