AS I sat down at my computer on a hazy, sunlit Sunday afternoon with rose-coloured glasses on, sipping a glass half full of unsweetened ice tea, I started to think of a talented young man from Cockburn Pen who would change my life forever.
I'm a 60s-born baby, shot into life and baptised with the love of all things music even before I could speak. Lover of 70s light rock, 80s new wave, George Michael and Tom Jones, my life was just one big theme song.
My thoughts started to drift to the summer of 1992, curious, headstrong and fearless, this blue-eyed, blonde-haired girl from Michigan decided on a whim that in order for a dream to come true, you must travel to that dream. With thoughts full of the time-told tale, “If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere,” in I walked, down the hard and grimy streets of Manhattan, full of seedy, soon-to-be-untapped tourists' areas and pre-Disney-owned porn shops. “Yes, I'm home!,” I screamed
I started to reminisce on the first time I heard the early 90s Sunday night New York City radio airwaves which were all abuzz with this music I had vaguely heard before, but quickly infiltrated my blood and sent my head rapidly spinning into a drunken frenzy. From that day forward my new life's theme song, on any given day, was a love-filled one drop, or an infectious island drum machine masterpiece.
But it was that chance meeting, on a fall Monday night in 1992, that would solidify my life's work. This was my first mentor. He spoke of a place so sacred and meaningful, and of its music, so infectious, groundbreaking and rich with history that I so badly wanted to live vicariously through his eyes as this sounded like paradise. And I did just that. Within a year I found myself smack dab in the middle of the place and the music of which he spoke: Jamaica, the Home of Reggae Music.
Now, my life truly began. It had a sense of real purpose. It was showtime!
I started relentlessly and fearlessly fighting for the artistes and the music I had come to love. I would move up the music industry food chain swiftly and precisely, eagerly quenching my thirst for continued knowledge and persistently protecting my newfound reggae family, at all cost. The world was my oyster and reggae was my engineer that navigated me through a world of continuous, inexhaustible unopened doors. It felt like I truly arrived.
For decades I stayed on my carefully calculated charted course through major labels, hit singles, gold records and Grammy nominations and wins — flying that green, yellow and black flag so high as a true ambassador for this wildly creative and compassionate community that invited me in with lovingly open arms and no prejudices. My cup was truly full and running over.
My thoughts returning in the moment, as the day is ending and the sun starts to set in these warm, southern skies, I reflect on my glory years, basking in all the successes, hardships, life lessons but most importantly, the music. My mind then begins to focus on what matters most, especially in these current trying times, to my reggae music family.
I know the world has been turned upside down by COVID-19. With all its deaths, hospitalisations, conspiracy theories, contradictory medical information, fear, loneliness and frustration, this pandemic has left so many of us in the reggae music community wondering “What's next for us?“ It feels like the world came to a screeching halt over a year ago, and it did. Many of us found the daily struggles of feeding our families and paying bills completely overwhelming, and the creative avenues we pathed and maintained for years seemed to be lined internationally with never ending “Road closed” signs. With limited world and government resources available to us, it became apparent, very quickly, that the current battles we were fighting, just for a seat at the global music table, didn't matter anymore. What matters is to keep reggae music alive.
And that we did! I watched my community of God-fearing, hard-working, resilient, trendsetting, global-influencing, creative players reinvent themselves and continue to keep the world entertained via social media, live-streamed events and even continue to break global barriers and records through alternative marketing opportunities like Verzuz. Once again, reggae music holds court as the most substantial and powerful music in the world.
And the little girl from the American Midwest with dreams of only music, couldn't be any prouder.
So with that, I say to you, my reggae family, with all my undying love and devotion: Thanks for my life, my world, my everything. You will get through this! We will get through this. Stay strong. It's showtime.
Cristy Barber describes herself as a true reggae renaissance woman. She is a Grammy-nominated music producer and 29-year music industry veteran. She has produced music for artistes such as Jay-Z, Pharrell, Big & Rich, Larry Gatlin of The Gatlin Brothers, Damian “Junior Gong” Marley, Stephen Marley, just to name a few, earning herself several Grammy nominations and wins as well as gold- and platinum-selling records. Barber has also served as co-chairman of the Reggae Grammy Screening Committee (12 years). She has held positions at several record companies including Capitol Records, Columbia Records, Island/ Polygram, Elektra and Def Jam/ Universal, where she was the president of the Marley family owned labels, Tuff Gong and Ghetto Youths International and a former vice-president of marketing and promotions at VP Records, the world's largest reggae label. Since embarking on her career in 1992 Cristy has mastered almost every aspect of the music industry. including publicity, marketing, radio promotions, A&R and artiste management. She attributes her decades of success to an abiding love of music and tireless commitment to the artistes she has developed and promoted to an appreciative global audience.