Rich and 'rootsy' Reggae Month


Rich and 'rootsy' Reggae Month

Jean Lowrie-Chin

Monday, February 10, 2020

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For those of us who danced through the transitions of ska to rocksteady and then rocksteady to reggae, this Reggae Month has special meaning. The music that had you singing along and livened your gatherings dances forever in your memories.

My husband, Hubie, has great stories of the artistes he met while working as an engineer at Total Sounds (later Sonic Sounds). He recalls the dictionary and notebook that were Jimmy Cliff's constant companions. The legendary singer explained that whenever he heard or read a new word he would look it up, write it down with the meaning, and try to use it several times until it became a part of his vocabulary and enriched his lyrics.

One day Hubie took home a record; his boss, Herman McDonald, wanted my opinion — I was a theatre reviewer for Daily News — because Bob Marley had requested a sizeable deposit before they could distribute. The only thing I could say after he played it was, “Tell Mr Mac he should give him double.” So Bob's request was granted and the record was number one for six straight weeks. It was Rat Race.

Neville Garrick, who was creative director at the Daily News, designed album covers for Bob Marley, creating striking images to match the enduring legacy of Marley's music. And so our lives reverberated with sounds from Bob, Cliff, Toots Hibbert, Alton Ellis, Dennis Brown, John Holt, Delroy Wilson, Byron Lee, Gregory Isaacs, Hortense Ellis, and the amazing I-Three (Rita Marley, Marcia Griffiths and Judy Mowatt) — I wish their song Neighbour was more popular; we should use it for community building. Later we were thrilled by Third World, the Marley children, Buju Banton, Nadine Sutherland, Cynthia Schloss, J C Lodge, Carlene Davis, Queen Ifrica, Tony Rebel, Cocoa Tea, Freddie McGregor, Beres Hammond, Fab 5, and Bare Essentials. How beautiful the story about Bob Marley's mentorship of Nadine Sutherland carried in the Jamaica Observer last week (

I have been close to the Sisters of Mercy almost all my life and so I knew the late, great Sister Mary Ignatius Davis, principal of Alpha Boys' School. You can imagine my surprise when I was watching a music programme on television and there was Sister Ignatius featuring in a Leroy Smart music video. I called to tease her, but she was not amused. “My dear,” she said. “That boy Leroy called to say he wanted to visit me, and when he came in I saw these cameras! I had no idea.” Sister Ignatius, her predecessor Sister Marie Therese Watson (aunt of Merrick Needham), and successor, Sister Regine Isaacs, loved those students like their own and encouraged them to create their own sounds. Thus the school became the cradle of ska. Now, former Alpha student the great Sparrow Martin continues to guide the young musicians. Dr Joshua Chamberlain, founder of Alpha Boys' Radio, supported by I-Heart Radio, has overseen the collection of music featuring Alpha graduates played on that station. You would be amazed at their range and reach.

And so, this past week, as we celebrated the 75th birthday of Bob Marley, and also Dennis Brown's birthday earlier in the month, we are again overwhelmed by the richness of the music with which we have been endowed.

Fitting tribute

Last Wednesday, the Ghetto Youths Foundation, the brainchild of the Marley siblings Steven, Damian and Ziggy, and headed by philanthropist Eva Silverstein, opened the Cornerstone Learning Centre in Trench Town. This is one of the best tributes to their father who sang out the tribulations of the poor in his community.

“Gratitude is a must”

There are many reasons to toast Koffee, our youngest and only woman solo Reggae Grammy-winning artiste. Give thanks for her mother, Jo-Anne Williams. Check her Instagram page @jojothekoffeemaker and imagine the unique upbringing of her daughter.

“Gratitude is a must” from Koffee's lyrics is her constant hashtag — a phrase now well woven into virtually every vote of thanks.

We enjoyed Koffee's introductions on YouTube videos by Chronixx, her Spanish Town neighbour, on a British Broadcasting Corporation special, and Cocoa Tea at Rebel Salute. It is heartening to see the mentorship and collegiality among our musicians. The young star's return to Jamaica was a bright spot in a week which had some heart-rending news. Can we try to reach those cold hearts with our music?

Music connection

We met the generous Patricia “Miss Pat” Chin, co-founder of VP Records with her late husband Vincent “Randy” Chin, at an event hosted by Ambassador of France to Jamaica Denys Wibaux, last Tuesday. The couple is credited for guiding emerging stars on their rights regarding copyright and royalties. Starting with Randy's Record Store in 1958 in downtown Kingston, the couple moved to New York in the 70s, opening up new marketing opportunities for Jamaican music. Now the VP Group has offices in New York City, Miami, Kingston, London, Tokyo, Rio de Janeiro, and Johannesburg.

Pat Chin, a Convent of Mercy Academy 'Alpha' alumna, is currently writing her book, 60 Years of Jamaican Music. That will be a keeper!

Ambassador Wibaux and Senator Tom Tavares-Finson, chair of the National Gallery of Jamaica, urged us to visit the Jamaica Jamaica! music exhibition at the gallery. We met the gifted David Cairol, a Bob Marley devotee from France, who has been linking high school students in Jamaica and France. His music video shows the unifying power of music: A song about togetherness with the French verses sung by students of St George's College and the English sung by French students.

Farewell, inspiring ones

We must record the passing, last year, of Daphne Hewett, a founding director of the Stella Maris Foundation, whose generous intervention allowed us to make a down payment on the headquarters in Grant's Pen, which was on the verge of being sold. Additionally, she equipped the Daphne Hewett Sewing Centre in the building and funded start-ups for ambitious young people in the community. She was a woman of joy and grace and her legacy endures in the many opportunities which continue to be offered by the foundation.

We also lost Whylie “Chunky” Lopez Jr last November, a marketing whiz who made his indelible mark on the growth of Life of Jamaica. We have great memories of the grand opening of the chain of high-rises on Dominica Drive, complete with the massed bands of the military and police. Chunky navigated the challenges with good humour, resulting in a smooth and memorable occasion. One learns so much from the understated diligence of our veterans.

Last week came the news of the passing of the internationally renowned Barbadian poet Edward Kamau Brathwaite. His strong and repetitive lyrics made music in our souls. It was a privilege to interview the great man and have my feature as recommended reading on his philosophy and poetry.

My friend, Jamaican poet Christine Craig, shared that Brathwaite was an active member of the Caribbean Artists Movement in London in the 60s, and that he went out of his way to encourage young poets, including herself.

Condolence to the families of the unforgettable Daphne Hewett, Chunky Lopez, and Edward Kamau Brathwaite.

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