Dubbing it in South KoreaWednesday, September 15, 2021
BY HOWARD CAMPBELL
ON August 30, as news circulated that Lee “Scratch” Perry had died, organisers of the Gwangju Design Biennale in South Korea were preparing to mount an expose on dub, the idiom he helped make an art form.
The two-month event launched on September 1, with the history of dub and its impact on contemporary music being one of the main topics.
Roger Steffens, the respected reggae and Marley historian, gave a presentation on dub and the characters who made it famous, including Perry and Osbourne “King Tubby” Ruddock.
The Gwangju Design Biennale is held in the city of Gwangju, known for a bloody uprising against the autocratic South Korean Government that had ruled since the 1950s. Over 600 people died in the May 18-27 1980 battle.
Unlike neighbouring Japan which has had a fruitful reggae scene for over 40 years, there is limited knowledge of the music in North and South Korea.
For Steffens, who has given exposes on Marley and reggae in Japan, Australia and New Zealand, South Korea was virgin territory.
“This is a way to introduce reggae, Jamaican culture and Bob Marley to Korea because the Koreans don't know much about Bob. So, I'm pleased to be doing my part,” said Steffens whose virtual presentation also comprised a tour of the famous archives at his Los Angeles home.
That is where he first met Simone Carena in the mid-1990s. An Italian, Carena was an architectural student at the College of Arts, Science and Technology (now University of Technology, Jamaica) in 1989.
Six years later, while attending Southern California Institute of Architecture, he contacted Steffens who gave him a tour of his archives. A resident of South Korea for the past 20 years, Carena teaches digital media design at IDAS Hongik University in Seoul.
He helped plan the Gwangju Design Biennale and invited Steffens to give an introductory presentation on Jamaican music, focusing on dub.
Carena, who is originally from the city of Turin, wanted Steffens' dialogue to complement the thrust of the festival.
“Design history is rich with examples of brands that started by copying, often ignoring copyrights. 'Made in Korea' is now a quality statement but in the beginning it was synonymous of copy, cheaper but less valuable. Also 'Made in Italy' started like that, long time ago. The global impact of dub and reggae music is a great inspiration and one of the marvelous exports of 'Made in Jamaica', especially turning around the stigma that 'Nothing good can come out of Trench Town,' “ he explained in an interview with the Jamaica Observer.
In addition to Steffens, there were dub presentations from Poland, England, Singapore and Qatar. Cedella Marley also highlighted facets of the Marley brand as well as her fashion designs and children's books.