taking music of the region mainstream
By Howard Campbell
Observer senior writer
When Jesse Serwer was a 'beat' reporter, he covered the reggae/Caribbean scene for mainstream publications such as Rolling Stone and The Fader. Yet, he never thought entertainers and events from the region got their just due.
As editor/writer for the website LargeUp.com, Serwer, founder/publisher Dave Susser and chief photographer Denmark-born Martei Korley have sought to correct that imbalance by focusing solely on Caribbean entertainment.
The site was recently named among British magazine Style Of Sound's 100 Most Influential blogs and music publications. Their list included Pitchfork Media, an influential Chicago medium which covers independent music in the United States.
For New York-born Serwer, SOS' recognition is proof LargeUp.com has come a long way in five years. It also shows more people are tuning into Caribbean trends.
"LargeUp has created a place where you can come and read about Caribbean music just about every day and it's presented with the same high-quality writing and photography that you'd get from a Rolling Stone or another top-tier publication that only covers reggae a few times a year," he told the Sunday Observer.
Susser, a New York-reared musician and sound system selector known as DJ Gravy, agrees. LargeUp, he noted, goes one step further than American magazines who usually publish token Caribbean content.
"What we try to do is show a different side to the artistes or producers, not just the music. We're always looking to connect the dots," he said.
Sizzla, Chronixx, Addis Pablo, Jesse Royal, Popcaan and Mr Lexx are some of the reggae/dancehall acts who have been featured on LargeUp.com. So too Bunji Garlin, the Trinidadian soca star who is on the verge of a commercial breakthrough in the United States.
The site has also covered major shows such as Sting, Reggae Sumfest and Rebel Salute.
Much of LargeUp.com's content is Jamaican dancehall which has struggled in recent years to gain a foothold in the US due to controversial incidents, and pronouncements, by several of its leading artistes.
Serwer says the site deliberately stays away from news of that nature including the recent Vybz Kartel murder trial which got extensive international coverage.
"It's been said that reggae is the most popular music worldwide, but you wouldn't know it from the way it's been covered by other music magazines and media in general," he observed. "One change we've seen lately is less negative publicity for reggae and dancehall, which was a major concern for us when LargeUp was started."
In the pre-Internet age, top American urban magazines like Vibe and The SOURCE gave dancehall artistes and news adequate space. Older, more established 'monthlys', such as Rolling Stone favoured older acts.
Susser says 20 "consistent contributors" maintain LargeUp's daily updates. He estimates over 200 persons have worked for the site since it was launched, working from diverse areas including the US, Caribbean, Europe and the Middle East.
Data shows most of their readership is from the Caribbean Diaspora, in cities like New York and London, which have always been receptive to the region's pop culture.
LargeUp.com is diversifying its product. They were co-producers of SummerStage (featuring Chronixx and Junior Reid) at Central Park in New York and according to Serwer, there are plans to get more involved in show promotion with a proposed event scheduled for Jamaica.
The site also hopes to premiere new music from artistes, starting on Thursday with My Story, a mix-tape from deejay Screechy Dan.
CAPTION: Principals at LargeUp.com chief photographer Martei Korley (left) and founder/publisher Dave Susser.