Feeling the beat in the US
Reggae City USAMonday, March 01, 2021
BY HOWARD CAMPBELL
WHEN most reggae fans think about the music in the United States, New York City and California. Those areas have been the most receptive to Jamaican music for over 45 years.
The Big Apple, with its vast Jamaican communities in Brooklyn, the Bronx and Queens, is home to numerous independent reggae labels and radio stations who mainly pushed dancehall music.
In California, the hippie movement embraced The Harder They Come, Bob Marley, and Rastafari from early. It remains the foundation for roots-reggae.
The Jamaica Observer looks at other centres for Jamaican music in the United States.
Singer JoJo Mac has lived in the United States for nearly 40 years, the last 10 in Philadelphia. She told the Jamaica Observer that finding reggae action in the City of Brotherly Love can be tough.
“The reggae scene in Philadelphia is not quite as vibrant as years past. Venues are limited and I think the quality of the events has been diluted into something less palatable,” she said.
“There are no really hot reggae venues at this time. There are halls you can rent but these places are not specific to reggae. People are taking this thing for a joke...they just want to 'eat a quick food'. It's sad. For some reason we seem to keep losing reggae venues not just in Philly, but all over the USA,” JoJo Mac stated. “Calabash is one of the more popular spots right now, The Bainbridge is another spot. There was a venue called Wall Street, really nice but I don't think there was much going on there long before COVID. I performed at The Bainbridge as an headliner and was one of the acts at a Black Uhuru-headlined show at Calabash. I performed at Calabash a few times. Most of my shows are outside Philly.”
WKDU 91.7 FM at Drexel University plays some reggae on Saturdays. We can also hear a little reggae on WRFY 102.5 FM from nearby New Jersey and we have a community station in Germantown that plays some reggae on Sunday nights.
O C Roberts has lived in the Motor City since 1979. Raised in Maverley, he developed his vocal skills at the Bohemia Club in Kingston. Roberts has been part of the Detroit reggae beat as an artiste, broadcaster, and emcee.
He pointed to The Majestic Theater and Club international as main venues for reggae. Koffee, Toots, Beenie Man, Sizzla, Capleton, Steel Pulse, Beres Hammond, Marcia Griffiths and Yellow Man are some of the acts who have performed at those locations.
“Reggae has grown but after 9/11 the station that used to play a lot of reggae changed their format. That station was 90.9 FM WDET on which I had a four-hour show every Saturday from one to 4.30 pm. It was number one and used to have the city under lock and key. I don't market myself in Detroit anymore; I look behind the wall. It's just not as strong as before. Most of my supporters are out of state or foreign.”
Disc jockeys The Notorious Kool G and DJ Matches were born in the United States to Jamaican parents. They help keep the reggae vibe alive in Chi Town which has a rich history of soul music and the blues. They host The Hottest Dancehall Reggae Mixshow in the Universe! which airs simultaneously on WZPP 96.1 FM and WZOP 92.7 FM in Florida, Thursdays to Saturdays from midnight to 6:00 am.
The Notorious Kool G: “There has not been any noticeable change in the Chicago reggae scene. There is no current radio station that is supporting our reggae music. You might hear the occasional Sean Paul hit song but that's about it. I give respect to all in Chicago that help to keep the music alive. We do have some very popular festivals and fetes yearly. Unfortunately, most of the popular 'sounds' focus more on dancehall and Afrobeat than reggae. Our sound system, Innovation International Sound, is sometimes ridiculed for not catering completely to a younger crowd or playing too much foundation music. This does not bother us because we know that you can't build a house without the foundation. We are looking forward to being a voice of change through our Innovation Muzik Company record label, showing that we can help to support the promotion of authentic Jamaican reggae music to the world out of Chicago. We intend to do this by keeping very close ties to Jamaican artistes, Jamaican culture and our Jamaican roots.”
DJ Matches: “The scene has changed drastically. Not only the lack of venues but the price of artistes vs the amount of patrons plays a huge part. Chicago's Caribbean scene is not as big as New York, Florida, California or some of the other states that have huge crowds and even radio stations that endorse reggae. Therefore, a lot of the shows we get are during the week at some clubs where majority of your nine to five people that have weekends off can't attend. A lot of promoters are scared to take on reggae events because the return is not profitable. The fight against reggae is real and until the whole music fraternity comes together and pushes for a change for the better then it will continue to change for the worst! We need artistes to work with producers and get our music on mainstream radio. We need patrons to support the music and events. Reggae or I should say Jamaican music and culture is one of the biggest and most duplicated cultures in the world, but yet still get overshadowed by every other genre.”
Carl Malcolm had a solid career in Jamaica, hitting the charts in the 1970s with humorous songs like No Jestering and Fattie Bum Bum. He has lived in the American capital for over 40 years and is one of reggae's elder statesmen there.
“After leaving Jamaica in 1977, I came to live in the Washington DC area. Reggae music wasn't as popular as it is today. However, the bands that were around had a lot of small venues to play. I used to do shows with various groups all across the USA and Canada. I formed my own backing band called Positive Vibration Reggae Band,” said Malcolm, whose latest song is Deeper Pocket.
“ WPFW with Tony Carr. This Is Reggae Music on Sundays from 10 pm to midnight and from midnight to 2 am Monday.
Tuesday nights, Tony Carr is on Ablazing Radio from 8:00 pm to 11:00 pm. Neil Matia is on WEEA in Baltimore on Saturdays. Papa Wabe, Jammy's Super B, Genise, and Fadda Hollywood are also contributing to the upkeep of the reggae scene in Washington DC.”
An unapologetic roots-reggae artiste, Milton Blake recorded a number of songs for different producers in Jamaica before settling in Cleveland, Ohio just over 10 years ago.
Lead singer of the River Nile Band, he has performed throughout the Midwest, pushing hardcore songs like his latest, Abuse of Power.
Blake said there is a huge bias toward dancehall in Cleveland.
“Di roots music in Cleveland is lacking, di scale goes up an' down. People here more into dancehall,” he said.
Pre-coronavirus, the industrial city hosted acts like Beenie Man, Sizzla, and Mavado who play venues such as Caribbean Vibes and Calaloo Cafe.
Blake bemoans the disparity between traditional reggae and its colourful derivative.
“They (disc jockeys) have di good music to play but they don't want to play it because their mental capacity is low,” he said.
Blake hailed the Kent N Angelica Show on Newstalk 1490 AM as the most consistent reggae presence on Cleveland radio.
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