Champion sound! When Huddersfield ruled the British reggae scene

Stephen Burke
Stephen Burke, founder of the Huddersfield sound system Earth Rocker, with his system. Photograph: Stephen Burke/One Love Books

It came late to my attention but as they say, better late than never. The full history of reggae is fascinating and somewhat unknown to many.  David Simpson (2014) reminded us that in 1970s and 80s, “big cities such as London and Birmingham [were forgettable and that]…this West Yorkshire town was the unlikely capital of UK sound system culture.” He further shared the following gems of information:

Reggae fans didn’t need to go to Jamaica to hear the best music in the 1970s and 1980s. They didn’t even have to live in big cities such as London or Birmingham. In Huddersfield, West Yorkshire – the hometown of Harold Wilson – it was once possible to see international stars performing live at the West Indian Club on Venn Street, or skank the night away to one of 30 or so sound systems from the town.

“Gregory Isaacs, Burning Spear, Jimmy Cliff, Sugar Minott, Desmond Dekker … everybody played at Venn Street,” remembers Claston Brooks, aka Danman, who ended up getting a job at the West Indian Club so he could see the gigs for free. “The artists might do one other show in Birmingham or London, but more often than not they would come from Jamaica direct to Huddersfield. They’d stay at the George Hotel, which is still there, play their show and boom, back to Jamaica. Sound systems would come over from Kingston to play Venn Street. That’s how big it was.”

The influence of sound systems on British music, from trip-hop to dubstep, is well documented. However, Huddersfield’s role in this culture has been largely overlooked. Now, a new book is paying overdue tribute to the town’s achievements. Part of a heritage project put together by historian Mandeep Samra, Sound System Culture: Celebrating Huddersfield’s Sound Systems, compiled by Al Fingers, is filled with beautiful archive photography and includes a detailed written history of the scene.

“Artists would come to Huddersfield because people were friendlier and more broad-minded than in many areas of Britain in the 1970s,” explains Paul Huxtable, builder and operator of the Axis sound system, who wrote the main text of the book. “People would say to [reggae superstar] Dennis Brown: ‘We’re having a christening tomorrow. Why don’t you come along?’ I heard of people putting stars up at their houses. You didn’t get that in the cities. Every town with a large black community had a sound system scene, but Huddersfield’s was vastly out of proportion to the size of the place.”

Reggae sound systems are mobile discos on which selectors (DJs) play popular records on huge speakers, with vocal accompaniment known as “toasting” provided by deejays (MCs). They originated in Jamaica in the 1950s and were brought to Huddersfield in the 1960s, when the first wave of Caribbean immigrants arrived to work in the town’s textile mills.

The first sound systems in Huddersfield were simple affairs, playing rocksteady records at all-night “blues parties” held in people’s houses. Then a younger generation began using a similar template to play heavier dub and reggae tunes.

 Heritage HiFi speaker boxes, custom-built by Paul Huxtable. Photograph: Elliot Baxter


As the first black boy to be born in the town’s Princess Royal hospital, Stephen “Papa Burky” Burke of the Earth Rocker sound system found himself at the vanguard of this changing culture. “I built my first boxes [speaker cabinets] out of cardboard when I was 16,” he says. “It sounded brilliant in my bedroom, but when I took it into a bigger hall the amplifier started smoking. I realised there was a bit more to it …”

The sound systems that evolved were complex feats of engineering. Because commercially available speakers were prohibitively expensive and could not provide the bass needed to fill a large venue, kids such as Burke learned joinery in order to build their own. Then came the electronics. Earth Rocker’s electrical work was carried out by local man Pete “Woody” Wood, who went on to work with Ultravox and a number of other 1980s bands.

However, other sound systems were less professional. Brooks is full of tales of system builders stealing wood from timber yards or loudspeakers from garage forecourts. He even claims to have forgone wearing underpants and socks to save the cash for electrical cables. “To get big you need to build,” he says. “Once you’re big enough, you don’t need to do dem things.”

The rush to keep ahead of rival sounds systems often meant driving in the dead of night to Nottingham, where the latest Jamaican reggae imports or pre-releases were exchanged at clandestine meetings held in car parks. Once they were safely back home, the sound system operators would scribble over the record labels with marker pens so their competitors would not be able to see what they were playing.

“It was all about having the freshest records and the biggest sound,” says Huxtable. “So they’d have echo chambers, syn-drums, wardrobe-sized cabinetswith 18in drivers. Everything was geared to getting the maximum power from the amplifiers. Reggae sound systems always run in the red, so things have to be highly engineered so you don’t burn things out.”

Although every system sounded different, a common link could be found in shape of the Matamp. Hans Alfred “Mat” Mathias was a Holocaust refugee who started an electronics shop on King Street. Eventually, he found himself hand-building amplifiers for the local sounds, who preferred valve systems to transistors because of the warmer bass they produce. Pictured in the book, wearing a crisp white shirt and tie, Mathias looks more lab technician than reggae man, but his company became internationally renowned.

“Mat was a German Jewish man making amplifiers for West Indians in Yorkshire,” says Ian Smith, whose band the Inner Mind recorded in a tiny studio that Mathias operated near his shop. “You couldn’t make it up. He sold chocolate, cigarettes and amplifiers.”

A white man, whose reggae band were happily accepted in Caribbean clubs, Smith typifies the era’s cheery openness. Although racism did exist in Huddersfield, anyone – black, white or Asian – was welcome in clubs such as Venn Street and Arawak. The reggae clubs even accepted punk bands: Burke remembers curiously venturing in to see Adam and the Ants at Venn Street.

Earth Rocker
 Members of the Earth Rocker sound system, with their speakers. Photograph: Stephen Burke/One Love Books


As the scene expanded, shops including Steve’s Records and Music City sprung up. Local band Jab Jab provided backing for Dave & Ansell Collins on Top of the Pops in 1971, when the Jamaican duo reached No 1 with the classic Double Barrel. When another Huddersfield group, the Groovers, recorded a cover version of Bob Marley’s Bend Down Low during a trip to London, the man himself paid them a visit in the studio.

But, for many young black men, sound system culture provided something deeper than entertainment or the chance of financial success. It offered empowerment, education and a voice.

“With a sound system and a microphone, you can become a history teacher,” says Armagideon‘s Donovan Brown aka D.Bo General. “You can tell people things that aren’t on the television. It’s about identifying yourself and waking people up to what they can achieve.”

Today, there is little left of this vibrant scene. Venn Street was demolished in 1992 to make way for a car park, and more sound systems faded away with the closure of other key venues.

However, Huxtable has recently shipped a custom-built valve system from his Huddersfield workshop to Jamaica. Meanwhile, some of the scene’s originators are stringing up their speakers once again.

“When Gregory Isaacs played in Venn Street supported by a sound system, so many girls fainted that they had to call ambulances,” says Brooks, who now performs as an MC for the Leeds-based Iration Steppas. “When that club closed, it was like part of Huddersfield had died. If I had a piece of land, I’d build it up again.”

Read more here from the article by writer David Simpson on 31st July 2014 in the Guardian.


Global Reggae Conference – Call



FEBRUARY 9 – 11, 2017


 Call for Papers

The Institute of Caribbean Studies and the Reggae Studies Unit at the University of the West Indies, Mona Campus announce the fifth bi-ennial Global Reggae Conference  under the theme “Dancehall, Music and the City”. This conference is being staged at a time when we celebrate Bob Marley’s birth and the very foundation, the space – dancehall – through which the world has consumed seven distinct musical genres in mento, ska, rocksteady, reggae, nyabinghi, dub and dancehall. This conference also comes at a time when Kingston celebrates its designation as a creative city for music by UNESCO in December 2015. 

The conference intends to open discussions about contemporary considerations for Jamaican music spaces, genres, cross-fertilization, production and economy using Kingston as a backdrop for discussing the foundational space of the dancehall as a main theme.  

The conference will also honour the work of Professor Carolyn Cooper, CD, founder of the Global Reggae Conference, Bob Marley Lecture Series and the Reggae Studies Unit. Her contributions to the field of cultural studies have paved the way for researchers and practitioners, often bridging the gap in research and practice for Jamaican popular music genres, reggae, and especially dancehall. 

Slated for Reggae Month 2017, the conference will provide a platform for timely updates on discussions, research and development in reggae and dancehall locally, regionally and internationally. GRC2017 offers academics, researchers, artistes, musicians, scholars, cultural practitioners, entrepreneurs and music lovers from around the world a warm and welcoming environment to share their research, experiences, perspectives and passion for Jamaican music. 


Conference themes include but are not limited to the following:

·         Researching the Dancehall: Lessons from Carolyn Cooper

·         Kingston: Creative Music City

·         Dancehall as Space and Place

·         Dancehall: From Then Till Now

·         Sound Systems, Sonic Innovations and Performance

·         Popular Jamaican Music and Economic Development

·         Creativity and Economy: Appropriation or Cross-Fertilization?

·         Dancehall, Social Media and Jamaica’s Influence

·         Dancehall, Sound Regulation and Entertainment Zoning

·         Dancehall Culture, Violence and Governance

·         Dancehall Music, Rites, Rituals and Celebratory Practices

·         Movement and Dance in Dancehall

·         Dancehall: The People’s Church?

·         Dancehall, Sexuality and the City

 Abstract Submission and Presentation Guidelines

Abstracts should not exceed 250 words for individual presentations. For pre-organised panels, include one abstract for each presenter. Each abstract should include the following information: name of author/authors; email address/es; name of associated institution; and keywords of presentation.


We welcome innovative uses of technology and creative session formats as well as traditional paper presentations.




All participants will have to register by January 1, 2017 in order to have their papers included in the final programme.

Contact the Global Reggae Conference 2017 Secretariat with queries at:

Institute of Caribbean Studies 


Tel: 1 (876) 977 – 1951 |  970 – 6228

The Changing Role of Jamaican Radio: My Two Cents

I started taking note with some anxiety a few years ago, regarding the changing role of radio in Jamaica and the fact that many didn’t seem to understand the major implications for our music business. I attempted to have some discussion on this at the first State of the Music Symposium (SOMS) in 2014 but it didn’t quite go as I had envisioned it. By year two of the SOMS, the matter was again raised but we remained on the outskirts of the issue while speaking from the perspective of the disc jocks who today are themselves producers and promoters.


A few days ago while listening to a particular station, I had to ask – who is the programme manager?!? I received a response and decided for the first time to air my concerns which I have expanded here.

For the purposes of confession, let me state here that I am an academic, have been involved at various levels of research on Jamaican music and culture and now serve in various capacities within government run entities based on my expertise. It is important to confess all this because, as many of you may have realised, in spite of all that, I use this blog (and social media accounts) as a space to say it as I see it, unencumbered even by my academic / social image and biases. So here we go.

When I was growing up, radio was a huge part of my experience and pattern of music consumption. It was radio that introduced me to Tappa Zukie’s ‘Rocksteady’, Half Pint’s ‘Greetings’ and Air Supply’s ‘All Out of Love’. As I grew older and delved into the history of radio in Jamaica the following became clear. Access to radio period was limited and stations from the USA were periodically available so much so that U Roy told of listening to disc jock, ‘Jocko’ Henderson from whom he learned a few announcing techniques. Further, Jamaican music didn’t always have a space. Producers had to buy expensive radio slots to have their music aired. By the 1980s therefore when I became a real consumer and began listening to favourite artistes such as Madonna, Michael & Janet Jackson, Peter Tosh and Whitney Houston, we had entered a different, and more democratised radio era.

But there was something important about what was and was not being played on radio. In the period around the early 1970s to 1980s there was little opportunity to hear on radio Jamaican music which had not made its mark in a dancehall first via live performances. Whether it was U Roy, Yellow Man, Josey Wales, Lt. Stitchie, Shabba Ranks or Lady G, touching the dancehall stage and making a mark there was important success for transitioning to radio. Radio disc jocks therefore played music which had currency inside the dance and therefore among the populace. My grandfather’s shop with the Juke Box he bought after returning from England was one such space, redubbed Shanty Town soon after the song ‘007’ made Shanty Town a popular nomenclature. Records cut were acquired and played ad nauseum inside the shop as patrons came to dance and celebrate. This was before radio became a space of consumption for Jamaican music which still had not received the respect it deserved by the 1970’s.

Shanty Town (1967)
With that as a simple background, there is a huge difference in what obtains today. I tune in periodically and get discouraged like many others from listening radio. First, what plays on radio comes directly from an artiste or his/her team to the disc jock and often these tunes go unvetted without any intermediary to determine their suitability for radio. This is what results in complaints to entities such as the Broadcasting Commission, Jamaica, which has been making attempts to regulate the anomalies  of radio. But let’s focus on the intermediary for a moment and ask why such a person/s would be necessary. Many stations operate without programme managers. Where there is a programme manager, that person is unknown or does not have a substantial role that he/she can hold any sway in the organisation with disc jocks. Programme Managers often exist as de jure operants while de facto disc jocks are in charge walking in when slated with laptops afforded by the technological shifts which have made playing the domain of an individual and not a radio station.

Secondly, there are no repositories systematically organised for accessing selections, or playlists used by disc jocks, and where they exist access to them can take months. This has become such a challenge for rights holders and collective management organisations such as Jamaica Music Society that software is used to determine play in order to fairly calculate royalties for rights holders. I have identified a problem in the management around radio play and the way in which music is accessed beyond the domain of a ‘dancehall tested’ system. That is not all.

On occasion I have during particular slots tuned into radio and heard consistent play of anywhere from 6 – 11 tracks from one artiste as if there was an attempt at promoting such artistes while in some cases using tired playlists repeatedly, same format, no variation. Most critically, you can’t hear or develop an appreciation for what is being played because it is not announced or back announced, and as I explained earlier in some cases already removed from the dancehall because the radio disc jock has been entrusted with the task of breaking the tune.  This makes for radio that is not even as useful as a YouTube mix, and certainly not one which is interested in the promotion of Jamaican music.

Radio’s distinctiveness is partially defined in the ability to communicate with an audience, take them on a journey through music or whatever means. To achieve this it cannot become monotonous by repeating playlists and playing certain artistes without even as much as meaningful interaction around what is being played and why. Where did the possibility for engaging with the audience about the provenance, distinctiveness or quality and reach of a song go? This is the 21st century. Not all disc jocks use the same style but whatever the hour there is just as much potential for engagement of an audience. That is radio’s effect. I dare say it is not being effectively used in Jamaica. I might as well listen to a YouTube mix. 

While there is an understanding that radio is about a particular sound, number of spins and making of hits today, with structured playlists determined by strategists who are interested in increasing appeal consistent with the business of music of which they are apart, Jamaican radio which forms the source of my concern because it highlights so much of what is currently wrong with radio, has to rethink its role. Radio has taken over as a space for artistes to ‘get a buss’ whether through payola or not, for some artistes to be promoted over others, instead of a space for sharing the rich repertoire of music available from Jamaica first and then elsewhere. Radio has eclipsed the dancehall as the space to break artistes and their music, while disc jocks are sometimes the very persons producing such music. 

Sadly, there are destinations inside and outside the Caribbean such as Bermuda where Jamaican music which is not played in Jamaica, somewhat forgotten or not accessed by our disc jocks, is heavily consumed. This is a travesty considering the seemingly unlimited repertoire of Jamaican music, even before we get to pop generally, which is available to disc jocks. These and other challenges also explain why within periods such as Reggae Month visitors to Jamaica wonder if they have landed in Malibu or Kingston.

I was the chair of the subcommittee that worked on the submission to UNESCO for Kingston to be designated a creative city for music. That application’s success had less to do with the application than with the facts about Jamaica’s contribution to a global music landscape. Kingston was already on the map and assessors had to contend with other city presentations  that used reggae even while Kingston was a contending city. The projects within Kingston’s submission did not identify radio but it is no less significant in the scheme of Kingston’s entertainment culture. Something is wrong if people are choosing to consume music via YouTube while radio stations continue to push at the limits of what is viable in an era made for millennials who are not interested in radio.  What we do with music on radio and elsewhere is of great concern to me especially because we are the nation that has given the world seven distinct genres of music in the latter half of the 20th Century.

We must get it together and the ball is certainly not solely in the regulator’s court.

Let’s Do the Rocksteady

I have become a regular reader of Heather Augustyn’s work. This fascinating piece on rocksteady is worth a read so I republish it here for those with an interest in Jamaican music and performance practice…

A few months ago I shared the advertisements that Ronnie Nasralla had made showing how to dance the ska. These advertisements pictured himself with Jeannette Phillips along with dance steps, five of them to be exact, and they appeared on the back of Byron Lee & the Dragonaires’ albums, and in the Jamaica Gleaner and the Jamaica Star newspapers for five sequential weeks. These dance steps were also demonstrated at the 1964 World’s Fair in New York and at various events in the United States during that year, by Ronnie & Jeannette, Sheila Khouri Lee, and other dancers who brought the ska to the world. You can see these advertisements and read about them here.

So when I saw the back of this Byron Lee album, I realized that a similar approach was taken a few years later with the rocksteady, and it got me wondering about the dance steps for this genre that came in 1966 to 1968.

Ronnie Nasralla is this time photographed with a different female dancer, perhaps because Jeannette Phillips had gotten married, although I am not sure who the new dancer is, so if anyone knows, please comment below.

The dance steps are as follows:

















































The dance steps are described on the back of the album, so put on your dancing shoes and get ready.

One step shuffle — completely relax then sway your body from right to left sliding on your feet, allowing your hands to sway from side to side (A) following your hip movement. The shoulder must be raised and tucked under the chin. This shuffle is done all around the dance floor with couples swaying in and out of each other.

Stamp one foot at the same time bending both knees (B). Come up wriggling the body very loosely, then extend the foot which you did not stamp to the side (C). Repeat using other foot going to other side. This is done facing your partner. A variation of the step is shown in (D) where the leg is placed forward then backward instead of to the side. The girl does the reverse by placing her leg backward when her partner places his leg forward. When the leg is placed forward you lean back, and when the leg is placed backward, you lean forward. Remember: loosely wriggle your body when coming up on each stamp.

A bouncing one step action like marching with the body bobbing at least two beats to every step (E). The whole body is loose with the hands very limp up about chest high. This is a continuous action with the partners “marching” and bobbing all over the dance floor.

A variation to this step is when the right leg is placed across the body (F). Then you press back by placing the left or back leg further behind at the same time, leaning forward from the waist (G). You continue by stepping to the right, then left, then ready to repeat. The same marching action is continued during this, only with the hands swinging alternately to maintain balance.

The “Rock Steady” dance is probably the most relaxed dance ever done — the whole body at all times must be loose & “oily” and partners never touch each other. They get on and leave the floor together but once on the floor, everyone dances with everyone, getting into the spirit of the Rock Steady beat which is sensuous, heavy and throbbing. The lyrics are so catchy that they are sung by everyone while dancing.

Alton Ellis recorded his hit “Rock Steady” for Duke Reid in 1967. The lyrics gave a few tips on how to dance the rock steady, whose steps were more smooth and fluid than the ska since the tempo and energy were more subdued as well.

Better get ready
Come do rock steady, ooh
You got to do this new dance
Hope you’re ready
You got to do it just like uncle Freddy
If you don’t know

Just shake your head, rock your bodyline
Shake your shoulders, ev’rything in time
Then see

You got to shake your shoulders

Better get ready
Just to do rock steady, yeah
You got to do this new dance
Just like Freddy
You got to do it just like uncle Freddy
If you don’t know it

Shake your head, rock your bodyline
Shake them shoulders, ev’ry thing in time
Then see

You got to shake your shoulders

Now you’re ready
Let’s do rock steady, yeah
You got to do this new dance
Now that you’re ready
You got to do it just like uncle Freddy
Now that you know it

Shake your head, rock your bodyline
Shake your shoulders, ev’rything is fine
Now see

Ev’ryone, oh dance

Hopeton Lewis’s “Rock Steady,” recorded in 1967 for Merritone, also offers a few instructions for the rock steady dance:

People get ready
This is rock steady
Keep those dancin’ shoes on
Keep those feet movin’
People are you ready?
This is rock steady

Shoulders jerkin’
Heads are movin’
Hear the beat now
Move your feet now
Then go steady
If you’re ready
People are you ready?
This is rock steady

Shoulders jerkin’
Hips are movin’
Hear the beat now
Move your feet now
If you’re ready
Go rock steady
People are you ready?
This is rock steady

People get ready
This is rock steady
Keep those dancin’ shoes on
Keep those feet movin’
People are you ready?
This is rock steady

Although it offers no actual dance steps, Dandy Livingston’s “(People Get Ready) Let’s Do Rocksteady,” recorded in 1967 for King Edwards’ Giant label told us, “When you’re feeling blue, you know just what to do, do rocksteady, uh-huh.” There’s the Uniques’ “People Rocksteady” where Slim Smith sings, “Out in the moonlight we will dance.” And there were plenty of other songs that referenced the genre but not too many that gave us the dance steps we needed to do the dance, possibly because the era of the twist and mashed potato and stroll were now passé.

Share your thoughts on the rocksteady dance below, especially any memories from the days when it originated.

Reggae Pioneer Miss Pat Chin of VP Records Celebrates 35 Years in the U.S.

As the annual State of the Music Symposium (SOMS) draws near I feel compelled to republish this highly informative article on VP Records principal, Miss Pat Chin. It is one of the best articles I have seen and thought readers who missed its publication in Billboard would appreciate it. VP records will be represented at the SOMSII by Randy Chin and Richard Lue who will be talking about music sales and, music and film respectively. Now in its 2nd year, the SOMSII will see topics such as artiste management, music education and artiste welfare being tackled by stalwarts in the business. Stay tuned for more on the Symposium. For now read about Miss Pat Chin….

When Patricia Chin, cofounder of Queens, N.Y.-based reggae indie VP Records, ponders the changes in the music industry since she started out six decades ago, she exudes a spirited resiliency that is inextricably linked to VP’s survival for nearly 60 years in a competitive marketplace.

“We are still selling music, but we are just doing it in different ways now,” says Chin, 77, affectionately called Miss Pat, as she surveys VP’s cavernous 10,000 square foot warehouse in Jamaica, Queens, once stocked floor to ceiling with vinyl and CDs, now housing a fraction of that inventory. “I am fascinated to have seen music sold as 78s, 45s, then 8-track tapes and cassettes, CDs and now digital — we don’t have to manufacture anything to have our music reach around the world.”


A petite, effervescent woman of Chinese and Indian ancestry, Miss Pat along with her late husbandVincent “Randy” Chin, set the foundation for their US based company in Kingston, Jamaica in the late 1950s. Fleeing the island’s escalating political violence of the l970s, Vincent and Pat migrated to New York, establishing their U.S. reggae distributorship in Queens in 1979, designated by the initials of their first names, VP Records.

“Vincent’s brother had opened Chin Randy’s Records in Brooklyn so he went to Queens which was fortuitous because the borough was then home to several music distributors and he was in that overall mix,” notes Aaron Talbert, VP Records’ vp of sales and marketing. Eventually VP took over the space belonging to Raymar’s Memory Lane Distribution and retained their longstanding employee, Rhoda Bernstein, who helped the Chins learn the rigors of the US music industry, as they sold to reggae shops in Brooklyn and the Bronx.

Thirty-five years later, the VP Records empire, run by Vincent and Pat’s sonsChristopher (CEO) and Randy (president) Chin, encompasses the flagship record label (established in 1993, named Billboard’s Best Independent Record Label in 2002, 2003) subsidiary imprints Dub Rockers and 17 North Parade; a digital distribution arm VPAL (VP and Associated Labels, available to independent artists), the Riddim Driven merchandise/clothing line, a touring/live events division, an online record store, and an online radio station (Randy’s Radio), which broadcasts from VP’s primary retail store also in Jamaica, Queens; a second retail store in Miami is run by the Chins’ daughter Angela and her husband Howard Chung. With their 2008 acquisition of former competitor Greensleeves Records and its publishing arm (which administered more than 12,000 songs), VP Records became the world’s largest reggae label/publisher and now has satellite offices in Johannesburg, Kingston, Rio de Janeiro, London, Tokyo and Toronto.

VP celebrates its 35th anniversary in the U.S. with a special edition of their annual two volume (singers and deejays, i.e. toasters) compilation series Strictly The Best, inaugurated in 1993. Both volumes (numbers 50 and 51, released on Nov. 25) include bonus discs featuring classic reggae and dancehall tracks from VP’s exhaustive catalogue. The most successful edition of Strictly The Best, Volume 31, released in 2003 has moved nearly 93,000 units according to SoundScan including tracks by dancehall stars Sean Paul and Wayne Wonder, both of whom were signed to Atlantic Records via joint distribution deals with VP as well as Hot 100 charting dancehall hits by Beenie Man “Dude” and T.O.K.‘s “Gal Yuh A Lead.”

A traveling, commemorative 20′ x 40′ pop up exhibition depicting VP’s decade by decade achievements, VP commissioned artwork by Michael Thompsonalongside photos of artists representing the label’s impressive roster over the years including Beres Hammond, Marcia Griffiths, Maxi Priest, Shaggy andYellowman, will be displayed at the inaugural One Caribbean Festival (December 13, 14, headlined by Sean Paul), Broward Regional Park, Fort Lauderdale, Fl, and at the Jamaica Jazz and Blues Festival, in Trelawny, Jamaica, Jan. 28-31, 2015. “We are talking to sponsors now because our ultimate goal is to have this exhibition become part of a reggae museum in Kingston, which honor the artists, producers and studio operators that were there when everything started,” explains Miss Pat.

Everything started for Pat and Vincent Chin in the mid-1950s with Vincent’s job supplying the island’s jukeboxes with the latest 7″ records, predominantly American R&B hits. Chin decided that selling the jukeboxes’ redundant discs provided a viable business opportunity. In 1958 the Chins opened their first record store in downtown Kingston, Randy’s Record Mart and established the imprint Randy’s Records, so named for Vincent’s enthusiasm for the (influential) late night American radio program of that era, Randy’s Record Shop (hosted by Randy Wood, founder of Dot Records).

With their move to the centrally located 17 North Parade in 1961 and the construction of a four-track recording studio (Studio 17) above the record shop, Chin emerged as a ground-breaking producer in shaping Jamaica’s nascent musical identity. His early successes included Trinidad-born, Jamaica based calypsonian Lord Creator‘s “Independent Jamaica” (a celebration of the island’s independence from England in 1962) the first single released in the UK on Chris Blackwell‘s then fledgling Island Records.

Chin’s productions also gave early exposure to legendary Jamaican acts at the dawn of the island’s ska era including The Skatalites, The Maytals, Ken Boothe, the late Alton Ellis and the recently deceased John Holt. In the early 70s, the studio was upgraded and Chin’s eldest son Clive took control of the production sessions with the in-house band Randy’s All Stars. Clive is probably best known for his 1971 production of the late melodica master Augustus Pablo‘s influential single “Java.”

Miss Pat, meanwhile, handled the company’s business affairs working with producers who sought distribution and singers desirous of music business knowledge. “Back then I saw the need for a one-stop record store where people could buy everything. Producers Prince Buster, Duke Reid, Coxsone Dodd had their stores nearby on Orange St. (also known as Beat St.) but they just sold their own productions, there wasn’t a middle man (or woman) selling everybody’s records; I wasn’t biased or into politics, I bought from everyone.”

For her pioneering efforts as a female running a distributorship Miss Pat encountered some resistance, experiences she has used to empower a subsequent generation of women, including VP artists, within a male dominated business. “Miss Pat told me when she started out some men only wanted to speak to another man even though they knew she was an owner. But she said, as a caterpillar comes out of a cocoon, you can’t force people’s acceptance, it takes time; that’s why I promote everything she does in anyway that I can,” shared VP artist Etana whose soulful roots reggae album “I Rise” topped Billboard’s Reggae Album chart for the week of Nov. 8 the first female to reach the tally’s pinnacle position since Diana King‘s 1997 release “Think Like A Girl” (Columbia).

Miss Pat is now chronicling her unique challenges and triumphs in an as of yet untitled autobiography, which spans the evolution of popular Jamaican music from its initial dismissal in its birthplace to a flurry of major label interest in dancehall in the 90s and 00s and now a renewed wider interest in one drop reggae. Despite the changes, Miss Pat’s objectives “to see young artists develop their talents, learn to produce and sell their music” have remained the same.


Did Sting Lose its Bite? Ninja Man, Gully Bop and the Politics of the ‘Clash’ 

Sting2014 poster

By Way of the Bible and a Little History

Let he who hath successfully planned and executed an annual show over 31 stagings on the same date, rain or shine, stand up now and cast the first stone! My remix of that well known biblical injunction is useful here because I’ve observed a ‘certain’ lack of sustained focus on Kingston’s entertainment product and the way, in a real sense, we forget the responsibility we all share for how that product is nourished and sustained. Though some would like to think otherwise, the fact is we as a people are far better at ‘casting’ stones than using them to build strong foundations.

I like to have the dust settle a bit after the usual news mongering and racing for quick stories. Afterall, I am not a reporter. I have over the last few years however written reviews of Sting, Jamaica’s premiere clash event, and for some, the ‘university’ from which every aspiring dancehall artiste must gain credentials. Well, after the 31st staging, I am yet to see a meaningful review of Sting which puts into context some of the questions I have raised over the years in different fora. Here is the OnStage review (December 27th feature) and the Gleaner’s report which has a few points that I clarify below.

There is a certain shortsightedness in the reviews I have read which I am addressing by way of some observation and history. How many of us recall that Sting, though it has developed a reputation of featuring the most virulent of dancehall clashes, has also promoted peace consistently and in some years there have been no clashes, but rather an emphasis on togetherness? Yes, clashes have been a staple of the event, but the early Sting years look like this in terms of clash highlights revealing that 36% of the shows were not billed as clashes:

Michael Palmer, Half Pint and Junior Reid – 1984
Papa San and Tonto Irie – 1985
NO CLASH featuring Tiger  – 1986
Four the Hard Way with Prof Nuts, Lt. Stitchie, Papa San and Admiral Bailey – 1987 (pulled 21,000 outgrowing the Cinema II venue)
Flourgon and Red Dragon vs Ninjaman and Jr. Demus, the latter being in Laing’s Supreme Promotions camp. Also Four the Hard Way with Sanchez, Courtney Melody, Conroy Smith, and Pinchers – 1988 (in a new bigger venue, National Stadium)
NO CLASH featuring Fat Boys and Jesse West, along with Dennis Brown, Freddie McGregor – 1989
Ninjaman and Shabba Ranks – 1990 (an epic clash signalling Ninja’s rise as a deadly clash artist)
Ninjaman and Super Cat – 1991 
NO CLASH – 1992
Beenie Man and Bounti Killa – 1993
NO CLASH – Togetherness theme promoting peace with Garnet Silk, Luciano, Tony Rebel (in this year Silk’s tragic death came before the show which had moved to its current home Jamworld) –  1994 

And here are some of the memorable clashes, a significant archive afforded us by online platforms such as YouTube.

Papa San vs Lt. Stitchie

Ninja Man vs Shabba Ranks 1990

Mavado vs Vybz Kartel 2008

Kiprich vs Tony Matterhorn 2012

Kiprich vs Ninja Man 2012

Kiprich vs Rhyno 2013

Lady Saw vs Macka Diamond 2013

How many know that the Supreme Promotions outfit has consistently staged events beyond Sting, managed artistes such as Ninjaman, and has contributed to the building of Kingston’s and by extension, Jamaica’s entertainment product in a real way beyond clashes? And, how many recall that Sting’s first attempt at streaming was not in 2013 when focus on pay-per-view for international reach was facilitated by partnership with Downsound Records? How many of us know that Sting, like many other Jamaican shows, has not benefitted from government support in any sustained way? What I am highlighting here is that the event ought to be seen in a larger context of Kingston’s broader entertainment calendar and offering, not as a dancehall shooting star which disrupts our sensibilities once a year with the same ‘tired clashing narrative’.

So What did Sting Bring in 2014?

With some 74 acts, sound system selectors including Sky Juice (Metro Media) and Badda Bling (Flava Unit), dancing sensation Ravers Clavers, and celebrity MCs such as Nuffy and Wally British billed for the show, Sting 2014 raised some important and recurring questions for fans and myself. Chief among them were the quality of the show, that is, the line-up, choice of artistes, and the matter of the seemingly uncontrollable clash.

Ninja Kiprich ClashBeenie Bounti Clash

A show of this magnitude compared with other one night events inside and outside Jamaica has no rivals. Indeed, some may question whether the show isn’t trying to achieve too much in showcasing so many new and emerging acts alongside major stars within spectator-enticing arrangements such as tag teams, and four the hard way. I have commented in previous posts about the art of managing the line-up of a show such as Sting, within a context of volatility emerging often prior to the show in feuds and altercations. I have also commented on the need to manage the energy of the show from beginning to end in skilfully producing that needed climax, and the difficulty involved in such an endeavour. The fact is planning for the next staging begins at the end of each show. This also involves staying abreast of emerging trends, responding to them and making quick / necessary adjustments in the overall plan for the show. There is no simple answer to these concerns as the ever-shifting profit/performer-audience satisfaction/product/sponsorship equation is increasingly harder to pin down in an age of financial uncertainty.

I arrived at the venue around midnight to few patrons. This is characteristic of Sting as the ‘clashists’ know what they want and when to turn up.  I had to see Capleton who was expected to touch the stage at midnight. The show was running late and I arrived at just the right time. The reggae show was a hit, with smooth band changes, entertaining breaks and meaningful performances. I saw Nature, Ikaya, Kukudoo (with his signature line ‘you neva go a Obeah man from yuh born, hallelujah), along with Droop Lion, Exco Levi, Iba Mahr and Kabaka Pyramid who signalled that the reggae revival had infected even Sting. While some may see it as an insightful departure on the part of the Supreme Promotions team to have included a reggae segment, it also made good sense by virtue of trends over the last two years in particular, not just locally but internationally.

Then it was time for Badda Bling from Flava Unit who sounded the system straight to my veins with his selections from the Mighty Buju Banton, among hits from Kartel, Popcaan and more. I was pleased to see short band changes and the way the transitions were used to give space to advocates, dancers, and selectors to spice up the night.

Declaring he would be burning unconcerned, Capleton was next with a solid, fiery and energetic set including hits such as No Lotion Man, That Day Will Come, Jah Jah City, Everybody Needs Somebody, and Number One Pon Di Look Good Chart. With his own brand of pyrotechnics the fire man burned the stage for a day when good will be victorious over evil, and in him, the crowd was well pleased.

“Dem tink dem reach di ultimate but nuh reach no weh yet..Seh di wickid man will have to fall… a long time wi a warn dem an dem nuh waan listen…”

With declarations that he had plenty things to incinerate Capleton went about his set with precision calling on the crowd in standard dancehall ritual character to participate in the highest of (moral) purification touching all especially the oral sex ‘taboo’. Capleton is one of a dying breed because the truth is, oral sex is only taboo in Jamaica on a dancehall stage occupied by few, and one has to think hard about whether the performance translates into any kind of reality nowadays.

“I will never stop always keep the fire burning “

Tarrus Riley did it for me too. My favourites – Push it to the Limit, She’s Royal, My Day, Good Girl Gone Bad, and One Drop – were skilfully executed with the backing Black Soil Band. Riley declared “we naah rush, we a sing over Sting.” And that he did.

Weh Gully Bop Deh?

Well, the Sting crowd is one of the most rabid so whispers of ‘a weh Gully Bop deh’? could now be heard. The clash fever was rising and the crowd was getting impatient. As excitement backstage built with anticipation front stage around 4.00am artistes such as Sean Paul and Elephant Man rolled in to witness the bite of Sting as did members of the Downsound team. There were still performances from Japanese duo Ackee n Salt Fish, Kalado, Ishawna and Demarco who touched the stage around 6:00 a.m. With Puppy Tail and Good Book, Demarco represented but it was the backstage fracas about which he will be most remembered. While he was not directly involved, members of his entourage clashed with those of Masicka’s leading to gunshots and stampeding.



Later on it was time for Gage and Tommy Lee. This is what Curtis Campbell of The Gleaner reported. 

 “After that melee, so disappointed were the patrons and even some of the other artistes that Tommy Lee Sparta and Gage decided to cancel their highly anticipated clash and called for peace. Both acts embraced onstage and performed songs from their budding catalogues, in an attempt to show their supporters and critics that recording artistes possess the ability to co-exist without animosity.”

Black Rhyno vs Kipprich and Tommy Lee vs Gage 

This needs clarification. Sting’s Intention to call for peace in 2014 was not publicised (same in other years) and it needs to be revealed at this juncture in light of the history I mentioned previously. Ninjaman’s pull out was a spoke in the wheel of a plan on the part of the organisers to call for peace with artists Tommy Lee and Gage in particular. I was in the process of interviewing the Sting boss and was part of the discussion about the show on Tuesday, December 23rd at the Pegasus Hotel when Junior ‘Heavy D’ Fraser and Isaiah Laing revealed the plot twist that would turn the anticipated clash at the end of the show into a call for peace. Gage and Tommy Lee had agreed to do exactly what they did and it was not precipitated by the backstage happenings which only provided an opportune moment.

The plan came out of a concern for the high rate of violence leading to Jamaica being named the 3rd most murderous country in the world. The team explained that Sting could be a platform to bring peace to Jamaica using artists who have a powerful influence through music. In other words, while seen to be flirting with volatility of clashes, the organisers have consistently been concerned about the social ills manifesting in for example violence and have tried to promote an internationally appealing product without profanity, hate lyrics or violence from musical clashes on stage.

In the end, it was the altercation between Kiprich and Black Rhyno which ended the show prematurely, and for which the critics gave their harshest words.

Video of altercation between Rhyno and Kip Rich  

Beyond Gimmicks

gullybopatstingD20141227AMFirst of all Gully Bop emerged as a star, in fact the fastest rising internet sensation in the history of Jamaican music. Having been in the dancehall, experienced addiction and falling from grace, the story of Gully Bop’s rise is phenomenal, and just the novelty that Sting needed to ride the media waves. Indeed, not only did Gully Bop rise but he exhibited his love life and attracted attention for the dental care he is badly in need of. 

@Muta_baruka: Gully bop inna real life is base pon dah breada deh inna boondocks rasta cause a cartoon ting him deh pon

However, Gully Bop is the envy of many as his minimalist catalogue (only 3 recorded songs) has received attention from major producers such as Major Lazer and Walshy Fire who have released an EDM remix of Bop’s Dem Nuh Bad Like Me recording here

Who could have guessed that a toothless gully wonder would be the highlight of Sting? Well, this is Jamaica we’re talking about. A place where people dream on fumes of hunger and the unexpected larger-than-life emerges. Let me put in context for you how Gully Bop is seen. One patron was overheard saying this:

“Him name Gully Bop, mi name Gaza Bop, and mi a guh gi him a Baby Bop.”

MC Nuffy did not spare any words in introducing Gully Bop

“People, di brethren rise, first dem a call him seh him a mad man..can a mad man find a man to threaten anedda sober man?…This sound like seh somebody running and somebody forwarding…oonu a wait upon dis…him can freestyle, him know weh a gwaan…Let’s welcome the fastest rising international champion…”

Declaring Ninjaman “last year’s bad man” Gully Bop rode the riddims provided by Ruff Kutt band all the way into the hearts of those who were waiting to experience all the toothless freestyling prowess he promised fans leading from the hype social/ media facilitated.

This is not just gimmicks. And neither is the disrespect that Ninjaman explained to me in a telephone conversation on December 24. How could he consent to clash with a man they’ve taken from the gully? According to Ninjaman, Supreme Promotions hasn’t given him the ratings he deserves as a recording artist and one of the best clash artists Sting, and Jamaica have seen. In this regard, I hesitate to pass judgement on Ninjaman’s feelings which some may add could easily have been dealt with if he had resolved to demolish the ‘non-entity’ of Gully Bop. But alas, a man’s conviction is not something to take lightly. Ninjaman has had concerns for sometime about his place at Sting which has been documented in the media. Further, there is nothing to suggest that a veteran artist such as Ninjaman could be afraid of Gully Bop who needs to be advised now that the clash is over to leave the ‘gimmicks’ behind.

@boomshots: .@RealGullyBop tells @ReshmaB_RGAT “Ninja Man fraid of me bad bad bad” 

With a successful debut at Sting, based on the number of forwards received from the audience as he freestyled his way into solidifying a moment of fame, the toothless one, hurled lyrical insults at Ninjaman, Black Rhyno and Alkaline who was not present at the venue. This is what Gully Bop said of his performance:

“It was a nice experience performing at Sting. Ninja Man run and Black Ryno love run up on stage but him never try that with me because him afraid. The people dem love me and for 2015 Gully Bop career will stand tall. Mi have nuff nice songs and mi nah talk about slackness, mi a talk clean music. A true some a dem song here a dem mi buss wid mi a gwaan do them.” 

Gully Bop at Sting 2014

And the Critics Spared No Words

Harsh criticisms hurled at the show via social media in particular could be seen during the morning of the show and into the day. Some of the comments include the following:

@yardlink254 #Sting2014 101 If You’re An Artist And Nobody Listens To Your Music Pay Laing  And Have A Great Artist Like Capleton Curtain Raise Fi Yuh.

@AllianceJamaica Sting made itself irrelevant this mawnin, thats sad.

@NinaRaZziPR Laing has to.go back to the drawing board and do a complete overhaul and revamp next. Tummy tuck, breast &b*TTY lift.

@DalkeithDawkins Rasta nuh fi mix up in a Bangarang. #MagnumSting2014

@BullyRingo #GullyBop about 25 years late & him still far better than the 4 alleged artist they put on  the late morning together

@MarvinSparks Sting was worse than I thought it would be. Its the lack of professionalism and man taking on the war ting too far that kills it

@MarvinSparks …Instead Laing gives us reggae artists, Capleton > EDHM > Tarrus > nobodies > clashes > nobodies > Demarco > Gully Bop > dead clashes

@MarvinSparks I’m pretty sure Ninja didn’t take kick and box for Sting to be this shit

@7thletterja So both Joe and Ninja abandoned Laing…

@NinaRaZziPR Laing need fi know when Buju a get released and pudding a 3 mill or so and pree book him.

@slunchice1 Gully Bop is NOT another Rosie or Cliff twang.

@1RealMarkus Both clashes were a bluuurrrr

@DJPAULMICHAEL Ima go listen to Shabba tunes right now so I can still love dancehall

@Masakrah #sting2014 The greatest one night chaos on earth!

Let’s be clear, it is not easy to manage the unpredictable nature of what has been at times a highly volatile dancehall arena. We all recall some of the major clashes and how Supreme Promotions has benefitted and in some cases stoked the marketing flames around clashes billed for the show. The anatomy of the show, akin to the anatomy of the dancehall clash as a performance mode, is highly complex.

There have also been extremely positive comments especially in relation to the ‘two shows in one’ concept which saw a battalion of fire-chanting, capitalist-burning reggae acts alongside younger dancehall performers chosen as headliners over traditional and expected veterans. This contributed to the reduction of profanity throughout the show. As one person commented, ‘a nuh big name act mek show’. According to Sting’s management, the event pulled its largest audience in five years since 2008’s highly inflammatory and anticipated epic clash between the feuding Gully / Gaza factions represented lyrically by Mavado and Kartel.

Where Do We Go From Here?

First of all, Sting will continue to be a staple on the Jamaican dancehall calendar for some time. Congratulations to corporate sponsors such as Magnum for consistently associating with dancehall as an authentic Jamaican product. While there is far to go to get to perfection, many have struggled to maintain events with little support from the apparatuses of the State we have called home.

While it was really tempting to quote myself especially on the moral grandstanding I highlighted in last year’s review as a major issue surrounding dancehall, Jamaica’s entertainment culture, and the role of government in this product being availed an enabling environment, I resisted. The role of government as a facilitator in the equation is of paramount importance but we are all ultimately responsible. Whether you believe this or not is another matter, but for the moment, trust me on this. Also trust my intrinsic awareness that the location of cultural response is a critical matter, one dependent on a multiplicity of ‘resources’. Further, one’s ‘location’ determines one’s ability to respond, a matter I touch on in this interview here.

Let us not allow politics, class or creed to occlude our vision and prevent us from playing our part in the music foundation we have built as a nation.

Finally, let me end with this question: Do we have a smoking ban in Jamaica or not?

(Credits: Photos of Demarco, Masicka, and Gully Bop courtesy of The Jamaica Gleaner.)