The Chinese Connection — Part 2

The Chinese Connection — Part 2


Sunday, February 16, 2020

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A large number of music aficionados, local and foreign, were in attendance to hear Herbie Miller deliver an informative and entertaining lecture on the role of the Chinese in the development of Jamaican music.

The presentation, which took place last Sunday at the Institute of Jamaica, is part of the annual Grounation Symposium and Exhibition series presented by the Jamaica Music Museum (JMM) under the theme: 'Black Head Chiney Man — The Chinese Contribution to Jamaican popular music'.

Miller, who heads the JMM, introduced his large audience to some little known facts about the contribution of the Chinese to Jamaican culture, particularly through music. It is fairly well known that the Chinese were very close to the dispossessed Jamaicans of African descent among whom they often lived and so they were able to sense the pulse of the urban streets.

As I noted in my article of last week, and Miller pointed out in his presentation, the city of Kingston was dotted with numerous Chinese corner shops. The Chinese often lived atop or behind their places of business and were integral parts of the communities in which they operated.

A number of the Chinese, who became involved in the music business, were able to finance their ventures through funds they had acquired from their ice cream parlours, grocery, and betting shops or other similar sources of revenue.

Unlike some of the other pioneering owners of record labels and studios, including Sir Coxson Dodd and Duke Reid — who first used their recordings to provide material to be played exclusively on their own sound systems — the Chinese produced music discs, which were to be purchased directly and taken home by members of the public. The Hoo Kim brothers, who became the owners of the famed Channel One Studio and label, did, in fact, own a sound system which bore the name of their other music-related ventures.

Among the notable figures of the Chinese community, who had a significant impact on the development of Jamaican music, was Karl Young who was principal backer of the phenomenally successful, IRIE FM. What is less known is that Karl operated a sound system (Strand) which was quite popular on the Jamaican North coast. It should also be noted that Karl also established the Grove Recording Studio which was a state-of-the-art facility. The Grove Recording Studio was host to some memorable projects, including the production of The Little Mermaid soundtrack.

The Grove Studio had some of the finest Jamaican engineers, including Barry O'Hare , Stephen Stewart and Andrew Thomas and was chosen by such artistes as Steel Pulse, Third World, Burning Spear, Toots Hibbert, Ernest Ranglin, Scratch Perry, Jimmy Cliff and the Foundation, among others for their recording projects. Grove was the pick for a young Tanya Stephens who recorded some of her earliest works there.

One of the most memorable projects from the Grove Recording Studio was the comical Two White Girls Pon Di Mini Bus which featured writer Maureen Sheridan and her daughter Tash relating an experience of what was a popular mode of transportation in the 90s.

It should be remembered that Karl Young was also the owner of the JAH Regg band, which had a number of vocalists who would go on to outstanding careers. Among them were Ed Robinson, Mikey Spice and Richie Stephens. Bob Clarke, whose mother is of Chinese descent, was also a vocalist with the band.

Young provided great food and entertainment for visitors to the island at White River, Dunn's River, Coconut Grove Great House (home of IRIE FM) and Great River. Some of the instrumentalists (Gizmo and Beezy) from Karl's band JAH Regg would go on to play for notable Jamaican artistes, including Rita Marley and her children.

Karl was also the promoter of the popular White River Reggae Bash which was held on the western banks of that famous waterway dividing the parishes of St Ann and St Mary. Reggae Bash patrons were able to see rare performances from artistes such as Sugar Minott, Burning Spear, Bunny Wailer, and Rita Marley.

At the end of Miller's comprehensive presentation, Copeland Forbes pointed that the Vincent Chang-founded Tastee should be included among the outstanding examples of the Chinese contribution to Jamaican music.

According to Forbes, the Tastee's Talent Contest had been responsible for launching the careers of such Jamaican musical notables as Yellow Man, Paul Blake, and Nadine Sutherland.

There are a number of performers of Chinese descent who have had successful careers either as vocalists or instrumentalists. The Chin sisters, Tami and Tessanne, readily come to mind. Most people will remember Tessanne's triumph on The Voice but Tami had quite an impressive run working at times with the likes of Lady Gaga. Some older Jamaicans will have fond memories of Keith Lyn, who was one of the voices of Byron Lee's Dragonaire's. Many will fondly recall Lyn's rendition of Empty Chair and Portrait of my Love.

There are many other persons of Chinese descent some of whom bore western type names who must also be recognised for their contribution to Jamaican music. Among these, we would list legendary guitarist/arranger Ernie Ranglin and international superstar Sean Paul.

Clyde McKenzie is founding general manager of reggae radio IRIE FM and a principal of Shocking Vibes Production.

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