Grounation ends on high noteMonday, March 09, 2020
BY CLYDE MCKENZIE
The 2020 staging of the Grounation Symposium and Exhibition series ended on a high note last Sunday at the Institute of Jamaica in downtown Kingston.
This year participants/observers and music history buffs spent four consecutive weeks interrogating the contribution of the Chinese to the development of Jamaican music under the theme 'Blackhead Chineyman: The Chinese Contribution to Popular Music'.
Last Sunday, Keith Lyn, Neville Hinds, and Derrick Morgan shared their experiences working with Leslie Kong and Byron Lee on a panel moderated by Dionne Jackson-Miller.
The large audience was treated to some memorable moments in the history of Jamaican music, including the musical rivalry between Prince Buster and Derrick Morgan. As with any discussion on Jamaican music, the issue of politics was bound to intrude. The relationship between Edward Seaga and Byron Lee sparked intense debate between members of the audience and the panellists.
There were some members of the audience who contended that Seaga had excluded “the more deserving” Skatalites for consideration to the 1964 World Fair and had instead chosen his business associate, Byron Lee, who they claim was not an authentic exponent of ska.
Some argued that Seaga overlooked the Skatalites due to their perceived association with the People's National Party and what they considered to be his discomfort with Rasta. Others claim that the Skatalites were dysfunctional and that the group was dissolved a year after the World Fair, justifying Seaga's decision not to include the group for the assignment.
The fact is that Seaga did invite Byron Lee to Chocomo Lawn in West Kingston to familiarise the bandleader with the ska. Seaga wanted to introduce the music to an uptown audience and thought Lee would be a good vehicle for achieving that objective. Seaga also wanted to internationalise the Jamaican sound, hence his choice of the World Fair. Whether there was a hint of malice in Seaga's decision, we might never know. What is clear is that emotions still run high despite the fact that this decision was made nearly 60 years ago.
The discussions were topped by first-class entertainment provided by the JAMM Orchestra, which saw Keith Lyn and Derrick Morgan taking those in attendance back in time with renditions of some of their popular hits. Lyn thrilled his large audience with his reprises of the supremely popular Empty Chair, Portrait of My Love, and Ska Ska Ska.
Morgan was in fine fettle belting out some of his memorable hits, including some from Prince Buster. Culture Minister Olivia “Babsy” Grange, who was a teenaged member of the delegation to the World Fair, could not resist the strains of the Jamaican classics and drew on her considerable dancing skills for the occasion.
I was honoured to be a part of a panel which examined the role of the Chinese-owned Randy's and its affiliate VP Records. The audience was in for a treat from pioneer Pat Chin whose initial constitutes the “P” in VP. The affable Miss Pat, as she is affectionately called, is a commanding presence in her petite frame. Her wit and impeccable memory are defiant of her 80-plus years of existence. She mesmerised those present. What a gem? She traced the involvement of her family in the music business to her husband Vincent “Randy” Chin, who was employed to service jukeboxes across the island. She noted that they started a business from records her husband would retrieve from the jukeboxes when he provided replacements.
She explained how she and her husband started Randy's Records on North Parade, and how they adopted a business model which was different from the other record producers who were selling their own products exclusively and often in limited editions. Many studio owners were originally sound systems operators who produced songs which were designed to be played exclusively by their deejays. Miss Pat noted that anyone who wanted records to buy or sell could come to Randy's.
In my presentation, I noted that in the early 90s consumer electronics giants such as Phillips and Sony were acquiring content producing companies such as record labels and film studios. This decision was part of a strategy not only to own the companies which produced the electronic entertainment devices, but also to control the underlying content which they delivered. Through this approach, the electronics companies believed that they could dictate what types of formats would be viable.
The record companies, which were now flushed with cash were looking for sources of new music and Jamaican music was fertile territory. American record companies (including some of the majors) went on a spending binge resulting in the signing of a number of Jamaican acts. The labels soon dropped almost all the Jamaican artistes claiming that they were not getting any traction in the market.
This development left a breach and VP, which was primarily a record distributor, became a full-fledged label with enormous implications for the promotion of Jamaican music internationally.
Chris Chin, president of VP Records and a son of Miss Pat, was gracious in acknowledging some of the success which we shared through his label and Shocking Vibes Production through which I represented such artistes as Beenie Man, and Tanto Metro and Devonte. Chris and his unflappable manner has been a critical part of the VP success. He has been able to diffuse tense situations with his calm and understanding approach.
Chris and I both recalled a discussion we had in New York—which included his younger brother, Randy — which would prefigure a most important development for Jamaican music. Tanto Metro and Devonte had a huge radio hit Everyone Falls in Love with VP. Unfortunately, although the song had crossed from its urban roots and was experiencing significant response at crossover radio, there was not a correspondent movement in sales at retail. This, we reasoned, was as a result of VP managing to conquer the radio narrative but not being able to penetrate the crossover retail market. The answer to this dilemma was for VP to partner with an entity with the retail muscle to capture the crossover market.
VP immediately partnered with Atlantic Records, through Craig Kalmann, which resulted in the building of the capacity to launch Sean Paul's phenomenal Dutty Rock album and one of the most significant careers in reggae and dancehall.
Wayne Chen skillfully moderated the panel and managed to have Clive Chin, another panellist and stepson of Miss Pat, take credit as a pioneer in dub music. As Chen pointed out, Clive Chin was producing dub music with Augustus Pablo before the artiste began working with another Chinese producer, Herman Chin-Loy.
Herbie Miller and his Jamaica Music Museum should take a bow for the production of this informative and entertaining event. For many, there were few better ways to spend a Sunday afternoon over the past four weeks. I am one of them and I certainly look forward to Grounation 2021.