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)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZqgWuMcHc3g
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.

‘Putting Music First’: Etching Jamaica’s Road Map to a Viable Industry

By Sonjah Stanley Niaah, Ph.D.

Steppin Razor Book Cover

Did you know that Jamaica is the only country to have given the world eight distinct genres of music in the latter half of the C20th? I move around my home country asking this question in a variety of fora and many still don’t know. ‪Did you also know that there is no genre of music since the 1960s which has not been influenced by Jamaican music? ‬It is awareness of the enormous wealth of Jamaica’s musical contribution through mento, ska, rocksteady, reggae, dub, nyabinghi, dancehall and EDM, buttressed by aesthetics and technological innovations of the sound system (Jamaica’s national instrument), which has sustained my intent to educate people about this musical legacy. Regrettably, the investment in the preservation and development of this musical wealth is in direct opposition to the way in which Jamaica has stamped its creative work in music on a global scale. There are serious challenges therefore, and Jamaica cannot truly say it has creative industries. Rather, it has creative sectors which have at various points competed on an international scale. These include film, fashion and music. But there is much more to be done. 

In March 2014, I had the opportunity to speak to industry insiders at a University of the West Indies (UWI) shaped initiative under the theme – State of the Music. The inaugural symposium was organised and well attended by music sector professionals. It was conceptualized based on a number of conversations over the past three years with Jamaican music business insiders about development of a music industry based on an urgent need to address negative factors including emerging music and artistes, lack of standards, lack of an effective governance structure and current research. The time has come for Jamaica to put music, its most impacting and largest export, first. The need for key players to be involved in the process of charting a course and building a vision for this sector was therefore seen as crucial. The rationale for staging the symposium, and the proposal for a ‘Way Forward’ based on presentations and discussion over two days, are thus documented below.

KingStitt

Additionally, the State of the Music symposium was conceptualized as a means by which to identify and document the current status while highlighting clearly the markets, players and partners to grow the music industry. As an annual two-day event to close the Reggae Month calendar for reflection, visioning and forecasting, the State of the Music Symposium is intent on bringing private and public sector to the same table, ultimately toward capacity building and transformation of the business using the workshop model. The organizers acknowledge that growth has to take place based on solid local efforts with a focus on generation of research, dissemination of information, education, and partnership, without stifling creativity, and while nurturing income generation. UROY

While the Caribbean Export Development Agency, International Labour Organization, Inter-American Development Bank, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, United Nations Development Programme and United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, among others have funded projects for advancement of either the Jamaican or Caribbean music industries, there is much more funding and work that is needed. One immediate goal is the update of research done by Witter (2002) and Nurse et al (2006)[1]. More importantly some of the lessons learned from past initiatives include the fact that there has been inadequate follow up on many projects which has led to frustration and fatique among stakeholders; lack of a coordinated and sustained approach taking intersectoral linkages to sectors such as tourism and education into account is lacking and compromises the success of vital initiatives; as well as the legal and policy frameworks lag behind real developments in the business of music thus reducing the capacity for developing an enabling environment.

Among other things, the dialogue over the course of the State of the Music Symposium revealed that a holistic approach is vital. Comments on best practices from other sectors have lead to inquiry about whether initiatives within the sporting industry can offer building blocks or solutions for music business development. For example, what’s stopping Jamaica from having ‘music championships’ that draw on primary and secondary school talent? Could a combination of the early talent shows such as Vere John’s Opportunity Hour, Jamaica Festival Competition, Teenage Dance Party, Rising Stars and the Tastee Talent Show give Jamaica a viable model for implementation of music appreciation / participation as a key component of the education system? Could music become a catalyst for social transformation, purging a crime-ridden society of the ‘gun over girls’ mentality? Can Jamaica replace guns with musical instruments in the minds of Jamaica’s youth? One of the strong sentiments from the Symposium was the need for censorship the content produced important especially for youth. Why don’t we have a music industry for the youth in Jamaica? Could artists be seen as mentors for youth instead of a bad influence?

We identified in that Symposium key components of a way forward:

1. The Jamaican Music Economy (Old/New Creative Economy Initiatives)

Need for Research – On what basis do we put Music first?

  • Demonstrating the importance of putting music first requires research and the use of existing research to generate new research. Studies such as that of Witter (2004) and Nurse et al (2006) need to be updated as a matter of urgency.

The variables to add to the value of Research

  • Sales
  • Festivals and Events
  • Market Share for and of Jamaican Music
  • Geographical Distribution and Spread
  • Corporate Investment
  • Viability of the product as it relates to heritage, economic value, social value

The Role of the Interpreter

  • Bridging the Gap between the Creative Worker and the Policy Maker
  • Distinguishing between the viability and the crucial indicators
  • Identification of the differences and the gaps

Collate existing documentation from, among others

  • Vanus James
  • Sonjah Stanley Niaah
  • Donna Hope
  • Dennis Howard
  • Carolyn Cooper
  • Keith Nurse
  • Michael Witter
  • JIPO / WIPO

2. The State of Music Education

Development of a music business in Jamaica needs to be buttressed by solid music education. While the music business is much more than playing music, there is need for support in the form of dedicated music teachers at the primary and secondary levels, as well as the focus on music being used to mobilize community arts centres throughout Jamaica, alongside in-service training for music students.

Methodology

  • Use of Jamaican Music Forms to teach
  • Activating systems of apprenticeship
  • Additional research into Musicology
    1. Defining periods
    2. Defining genres
  • Curriculum Development generally and around audio engineering and sound technology specifically.
  • Greater music integration into school curricula mandatory in early education
  • Innovation
  1. Professional Recording Facilities, Home-Studio Technology and Music Production –

The Studio as a living space

  • Studios are living spaces, each having their characteristic ‘sound’. Among factors such as audibility and decipherability, a major challenge has been sound engineering which has impacted the quality (among others) of music productions. There’s a space for, and continued relevance of, traditional recording studios. There is a difference in tools used across studios.
  • There is space for both professional and home studios, and with recording now democratized, processes of apprenticeship have been somewhat removed while appreciation and experience have been severely compromised.
  • It is believed that the instances of artistes sending sub-standard products, including demos, which are not properly recorded or mastered, will be reduced, and ultimately record sales would be impacted if the role of studios, apprenticeship as a fundamental training mechanism and quality sound engineering are understood and / or achieved.

Representation for Studios

  • As a music business, studios have no associations and are not strongly represented in any degree, in the current music associations including JAVAA, JACAP, JARIA and JFM which all need a stronger voice to be effective.

The Multi-format Person

  • The multiformat person is now most suited for music as a zone of work. The value chain for activating a song is vast, hence the need to fully understand the creative process around social authorship, primacy of the instrumental riddim or beat, pursuit of the hit, and a ‘singles’ oriented market.

3. The State of Legislation: Media and Music

Who is responsible?

  • Everyone is responsible for ensuring that the content of music produced is disseminated via appropriate channels and the vulnerable are protected.

The Effect of Payola

  • Payola is of great concern, a matter on which artistes are divided, but ‘pay to play’ is generally not seen as right. Payola affects the industry in many ways including in the making of hits. Based on billboard data Jamaican music is selling in large quantity from mature, overseas and deceased musical acts from Jamaica and not young or emerging acts. Radio station standards are also compromised by pay for play. Fines beginning at JA$5 million have been proposed by the Broadcasting Commission, Jamaica (BCJ), reflecting the seriousness with which they think this phenomenon should be treated.

Legislative reform / other recommendations

  • The preparation of playlists to be made available for collection by the regulator, and rights collection agencies.
  • Management of all music played on air being facilitated through a music library from which music is properly assessed and approved for broadcast.
  • A mechanism for establishing charts should be available for inspection.
  • A quota system for local music to preserve music and reverse outflow of royalty payments.

Does criminalizing payola really help?

  • There is a view that ‘pay for play’ without disclosure is the real problem and that criminalization of payola will not solve the problem. There is need for sensitization about the role of radio as it is not for selling songs made by artistes but rather advertising as a major revenue stream.

4. The Business of Music Events, Festivals and Promotion

Concept, Budget, Team

  • Festivals are expensive ventures which need facilitation from government in respect of venues and funding. Sponsorship is an area that has become increasingly challenging in a context where no good festival, costs anything less than $20 million.
  • Promotion of live events has to be seen as driving force in the music business and Kingston has taken a leading role with Kingston Music Week and other initiatives around locations such as Wickie Wackie, Countryside and Puls8. As a means to drive employment, live music needs to be seen as central generating its own calendar and culture for renewal in the music business.
  • There is need to focus on live music as part of music tourism and heritage tourism.
  • Corporate sponsorship is crucial, as much as roles of event managers, and promoters, in maintaining integrity of event and sponsor brands.

5. Artiste Management and Music Business Personnel Development

  • The artiste is not an individual but a corporation. Personnel and product development are therefore important, as well as managing the artiste as product for consumption, which needs to be packaged.
  • The business of artiste management is about understanding the artiste as selling not only a product but a way of life, a brand, and therefore a need to manage and develop personnel holistically.
  • Understanding ‘who consumes reggae and how do they consume?’ becomes an important part of the equation in the product development.
  • Management team cannot be haphazardly chosen, it is a hub with various dimensions including the business manager, artiste manager, booking agent, tour manager, lawyer, publicist, accountant etc. The manager is leading a team.
  • Some artistes have made themselves unmanageable and this is also an area of concern. There is need for training and development in the area of artiste management.

6. Operations and Associations: How to make them more efficient and effective?

Organizations need revitalization to gain a strong voice

  • Organizations such as JAAMS, JACAP, JFM, JARIA, JAVAA, JIPO, and RIAJAM now defunct all implicate music. JARIA for example arose as a call from industry insiders to deal overall with industry matters.
  • Public education is necessary in terms of relevance of organizations as people are ignorant of the laws which exist, either to protect them or for sanctions in relation to the music business.
  • It was strongly felt that the time has come for us to stop discriminating against the five indigenous music forms we have created at international standard and which are internationally accepted. When compared with Europe which has only produced the waltz some 100 years ago.

7. The State of Music, Film and Publishing

  • There is little protection for people in film. Understanding Issues around rights and legal ramifications are crucial in order to move forward. For example, there is need to resolve the issue of rights where filmmakers get nothing from play of music videos in perpetuity.
  • The fact that Jamaica doesn’t have a film school challenges the capacity of the country to produce highly skilled filmmakers.
  • Paucity of local content, especially entertainment at the turn of the millennium led to the emergence of entities such as Hype TV when Television Jamaica’s ER was the only solid 30mins of entertainment journalism on local television.
  • Online platforms are open for exploitation and organizations such as Jamaicansmusic.com engaged in digital distribution of the music experience give people the service and train people to do this themselves. They are also launching a new app as well as games through which artistes and their products can be distributed via such platforms.
  • Music memoirs are selling very well but there is a disparity because there are 100,000s produced internationally versus 3000 for Jamaican bestsellers. It is important that we begin to tell our stories especially as many of the pioneers have / are transitioning.
  • Artists are brands who don’t have books as products and this is an area to be exploited.

8. Creation of a template for structure – Hybrid Template

  • An organic structure currently exists but needs infusion of a relevant structure;
    • One which identifies ways and means to get into an arena that isn’t traditionally ours, but will allow us to shine;
    • One which develops ways and means to do what it takes to be functional in an international context;
  • Creation of standards at all levels –
    • Production
    • Writing
    • Sound
    • Marketing
    • Promotion
    • Publishing

Some clear programmes which are to be initiated –

  • Professional and Extended courses on
  • Sound Engineering
  • Music Production
  • Music Business
  • Digital Production
  • Packaging and Marketing the Music Product

There are some additional topics to be explored to solidify some of the work already done –

  • Corporate Support of Jamaican Music
  • Venue Assessment and Needs
  • Changing Business Models
  • Role of Radio
  • Payola and the streamlining of broadcasting legislation
  • Roll of other media forms
  • Media Regulation and Broadcasting
  • Role of the recording Studio

What should emerge from this for continuity?

  • Immediate update of the studies done on Jamaican music by Nurse et al (2006) and Witter (2002)
  • Professional Training / Workshop Series on writing / singing / performing / sound technology / digital distribution and promotion, artiste development among other areas to move to at least three other locations islandwide
  • Talk Series – telling the Jamaican stories
  • Legacy of Jamaica’s Music
  • State of the Music Book Series
  • Support for establishment of an artiste registry / artist guild and certification of artistes
  • Support the work of the Jamaican Music Museum and its drive to establish a formidable Jamaican music collection / archive

Target Audience

  • Performers
  • Entertainers
  • Technical Personnel
  • Promoters
  • Producers
  • Marketers
  • Attorneys
  • Agents
  • Programme managers
  • Radio disc jocks

The way forward has to be engineered through partnerships including JAMPRO, the UWI, JARIA and the Government of Jamaica more broadly. The implementation phase will see the development of a State of the Music Talk Series as well as intervention regarding music education and capacity building within studio spaces and formal programmes developed by partner organizations.

References / Additional Reading

[1] See Witter, Michael (2004). ‘Music and Jamaican Economy’, http://www.wipo.int/export/sites/www/about-ip/en/studies/pdf/study_m_witter.pdf, and Nurse, Keith et al (2006). ‘The Music Industry’, in ‘The Cultural Industries in CARICOM: Trade and Development Challenges’, http://www.acpcultures.eu/_upload/ocr_document/CRNM_Cult%20Ind%20in%20CARICOM_2007.pdf pp. 28-52.

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.

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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:

 

 

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B

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D

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F

G

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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
Oh-oh-oh-oooh-oh-ooh

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
Oh-oh-oh-oooh-oh-ooh

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
Oh-oh-oh-oooh-oh-ooh

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.”

Related

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.

Source: http://www.billboard.com/articles/business/6327824/reggae-miss-pat-chin-vp-records-35-years-america

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.

Demarco

MasickaB20141227AM

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 

http://youtu.be/Xz4_ZGX0JeQ 

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

http://t.co/qDj20LlVvs  

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 http://t.co/AMpgKAUTxP

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” http://t.co/oPs7dcAoy8 

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

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=368lj6MKIqs

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.)

Who Was The Real Rhyging? Heather Augustyn Tells.

As one interested in Jamaican culture, its creative products and popular culture more broadly, I was pleased to see an expose on Rhyging (more popularly rendered as Rhygin), a legendary Jamaican badman. Rhygin was immortalized as a result of Ivanhoe, the character played by Jimmy Cliff in the film The Harder They Come. Read more below as I repost Augustyn’s extensive and informative entry.

 

The Real Rhyging

Jimmy Cliff as Ivanhoe "Ivan" Martin in the classic movie "The Harder They Come," 1972.

The movie “The Harder They Come,” written and directed by Perry Henzell in 1972, made popular the story of Ivanhoe “Ivan” Martin, a fictional character played by Jimmy Cliff which further solidified his iconic status in Jamaican music. Ivan may have been fictional, but was largely based on the real-life Ivanhoe “Rhyging” Martin who lived from 1924 to 1948. Rhyging, sometimes spelled Rhygin, was born in 1924 in Linstead and through his gunslinger, desperado, rude-boy-on-the-run image, he became a folk hero—the subject of not only Henzell’s movie, but referenced in Miss Lou’s poem “Dead Man,” Bim and Bam’s comedy show “Rhygin’s Ghost,” Bob Marley’s song “Keep On Moving,” and plenty of other lyrical forms that celebrate the working man, the wronged regular guy, the rude boy.

The real Rhyging

Here is a four-part series that ran in late 2000 in the Jamaica Gleaner, written by freelancer C. Roy Reynold that reveals the real Rhyging.

C. Roy Reynolds writes in the November 3, 2000 Jamaica Gleaner:
Seldom in the history of Kingston has there been such a time of acute fear and tenor as in early September 1948 when the infamous Ivanhoe “Rhyging” Martin was shooting his way into legend. He was indeed the city’s first gunman desperado. But before rehashing his exploits as chronicled by The Gleaner, a little explanation is in order.

The word “Rhvging” does not appear to have been a noun as much as an adjective. In fact it was a distant forerunner to the latter-day “irie,” and was used to describe someone or something stylishly out of the ordinary or daring. So the name really meant Ivanhoe Martin who was rhyging.

Like many other killers who were to follow his footsteps, Martin was an escapee from the General Penitentiary. He had escaped by jumping from one of the windows of the prison in early April. He had been serving a five-year term for burglary and larceny; and in spite of an island-wide manhunt he managed to elude the police until that fateful night of August 31 when acting on a tip, the police thought they had at last cornered their man in the Carib Hotel on Regent Street, Hannah Town. According to The Gleaner of September 2, shortly after 10:00 o’clock that Tuesday night a group from the Criminal Investigation Department went to the hotel to make the arrest.

The two detectives, Earle and Lewis, must have been surprised when they were greeted by gunfire which they returned arid the fugitive was seen to fall to the floor. Before they could take cover there was another burst of gunfire.

The fugitive then emerged from the hotel, his two guns blazing away in a scene The Gleaner described as reminiscent of “Chicago gangster days.” Though he managed to escape into a block of tenements bounded by Regent Street, Trinity Lane, Blount Street, and Dumfries Street, police were confident that he would not much longer elude them.

After he had escaped from the hotel wearing only, an underpants and ‘barefooted,’ how far could he get! A bullet also struck an ex-Sergeant Gallimore who had been roused from his bed to give assistance. The three, policemen hit were taken to the Kingston Public Hospital but for Sgt Lewis it was too late.

The police cordoned off the area and continued their search into the morning but the fugitive had eluded them and his reign of terror was just beginning. While the police were pursuing ;their empty hunt the gunman had already taken another victim.

REVENGE
According to reports he had reason to believe that an erst-while friend, Eric Goldson. Had informed on him and he now sought revenge. At about 1:30 a.m. he managed to enter a home at 257 Spanish Town Road where Goldson lived. Goldson’s friend Lucilda Tibby Young answered a knock on the door and was confronted by the gunman. She informed him that his quarry was not there, where upon he is alleged to have declared that, if he couldn’t get Goldson he would get her. He fired a bullet in her chest killing her on the spot.

Now the whole city was in a state of fear and the police intensified their search, especially after they received a letter purportedly written by the desperado in which among other things was a declaration that he “had ten bullets left and would make at least nine of them count.” The letter also declared that “I have made crime history,” and went on to name a number of detectives he intended to kill.

As if to lend credence to the police assertion that he had been hit the letter ended: “I am hurt in the shoulder, and I can’t write anymore. Detective Sgt. Scott of the Half Way Tree police created much apprehension among the police to the extent that one office in the station barracks and alleged that he had been awakened by martin who turned the light on and spoke to him, then turned off the light and disappeared. Speculation was that this was all a dream or a hallucination.
But by then many including the police had come to believe that Martin could do almost anything. He had escaped from the Carib Hotel when police had occupied several of the rooms adjacent to his and according to The Gleaner his daring escape from that secondary storey room was even more dramatic than had been his escape from prison.

Almost- simultaneous with the alleged letter from him to the police was a phone call purported to have come from him. In that call made to the Espeut Avenue home of a Government minister Martin was said to have threatened the life of both him and then Chief Minister Alexander Bustamante.

Daily Gleaner, September 5, 1948

ON SEPTEMBER 9, 1948 the beleaguered police thought they might have their man at last, (it wasn’t due to any direct action by them but by then they would welcome assistance from any source. Rumour ran through the city that the dreaded Rhyging’s body had been found in Hunt’s Bay. Dead or alive it wouldn’t have mattered and for a police force which had faced off with the fugitive before and come up short, dead would have been a more welcome state.

But, as The Gleaner of September 10 reported “Upon discovery of the body sub-inspector H.M. Wellington and CID fingerprint experts rushed to the scene took fingerprints and comparing them with those of the wanted man found that the dead man was not the two-gun killer for whom the police and volunteer vigilantes have been looking for since last week, Tuesday. Thus while height and other physical features of the body matched the dreaded Rhyging James Baker of 170 Spanish Town Road had not found the body of Rhyging as was so fervently hoped for.” Whatever Ivanhoe “Rhyging” Martin might have been, he also seemed to have been a man of letters, and be used the medium to give his alleged side of the story.

On September 12 The Gleaner published the contents of a letter supposedly sent in by him. The letter was addressed to The Gleaner Office, Kingston. That letter contained a chilling warning for several people including Eric “Mosspan” Goldson who Martin alleged had betrayed him to the police; Detective Sgt. R.L Scott Selvin Maxwell and a photographer named Brown who was alleged to have furnished the police with a picture of the fugitive.

The letter said. ‘Sir, I have all kin’ of statement in your paper. I just seek to let the public know what has taken place on 31.7.48. I went to the hotel. I reached there 920. At around 10 I saw a flashlight from the other room over the gablin. I called out who is that and the answer was the sound of a gun. I called again. Another shot was fired, still no answer. I then know what has happened. I decided to make a dash. I ran to the door with my pistol in my hand. I did not even have time to reach for my close [sic.]. I looked outside. I heard the sound of another shot- I see the men mean to make the end of me tonight, but I intend to carry someone with me. At that time I only had five shots with me. I can’t say which hand but I took them out of my pocket and put them away. I put myself outside. I was hit on my right shoulder. That did not mike much. I made my way for the airway. Reaching there I saw a lot of people. I just could not say if they were men or women ([Gleaner]Editor’s note: Some of the detectives present at the Carib Hotel had been dressed as women). One shot fired from the crowd struck the gun butt of my gun. I fired back.’

The letter went on to give the details of the escape. The letter was judged to have been authentic, either written by Rhyging himself or by someone under his dictation since it included details that were not hitherto made public. But though police followed up this and many other spurious letters the situation settled into what The Gleaner of September 6 had called “a war of attrition.”

That war was to continue into the month of October. The fear might not have subsided but press coverage of the extraordinary police effort faded from the day to day news for the rest of September and into the first week of October 1948. Then on October 8 The Gleaner carried the story of how the fugitive barely escaped the police at the Ferry River swamp. He had been tipped off, the story alleged by “tree top lookouts.”

The story said: “Ivanhoe “Rhyging” Martin, two-gun killer at large for six weeks now flashed back into the news yesterday morning when he barely squeezed through a police cordon which was closing in on him in the treacherous, swampy lands that abound the Ferry River on the road to Spanish Town. When the police reached his lair they found only his provisions and camping gear. He had fled. The desperado escaped in the nick of time, but all through the vigilance of one of his team of spies who was believed to have passed the word around while the police operation was in progress… A man named Clarke and woman have been detained by the police.”

 

Daily Gleaner, 1948

From the December 4, 2000 Gleaner, C. Roy Reynold writes:
NEVER HAD the security forces been under such pressure. Never had they been so frustrated in their effort as that first week in September 1948 when the diminutive Ivanhose “Rhyging” Martin held the people of Kingston in fear and terror.

As sighting after sighting in almost every area of the city failed to yield positive result by police checkout the legend of his seeming ability to appear and disappear at will mounted. He now appeared possessed not only of a murderous malevolence but of supernatural powers.

Among the claims being made to the police was that now instead of a bicycle he was going around in an Austin car. The implication was that nobody in the city was therefore beyond his reach.

According to The Gleaner of September 6 he ‘skulked’ underground most of yesterday. “But he hardly seemed to have been “skulking” by other accounts. Other reports put him in the Tower Street/Fleet Street area wearing ‘iron blue’ trousers, shirt, a black felt hat and a shoes.” And “in a motorcar attended by four women”.

Another story put him in West Kingston and in a 1937 Ford car without licence plates. But frenzied scramble after frenzied scramble by the police turned up nothing.

Suspicious characters
An idea of the mood of the population can be gleaned from a paragraph in The Gleaner of September 6: “Yesterday householders kept round-the-clock watch for all suspicious characters. Telephones in city stations jangled unceasingly as many leads were turned in, some false, some well-meaning. But bypassing no calls police fanned out east and west to Mountain View Gardens, Denham Town and Jones Town. Carloads of detectives and constables combed the crime-haunted west end all of last night slipping through the maze of mean streets and cactus-lined lanes where the gun-mad killer might be hiding out.”

As the magnitude and intensity of the police effort rose they were hard put to find enough vehicles and private citizens tried to meet the deficiency by loaning their cars to the lawmen.

In one operation some 300 policemen cordoned off Springfield Gardens in eastern Kingston while water police craft patrolled the adjacent water. But no Rhyging.

According to The Gleaner, “Another report is that the ever-spitting 5’5″ slayer visited the vicinity of the home of Detective Sergeant Scott on Friday night. Martin is purported to have threatened the life of the officer in a letter received by the police. He did not attempt to enter the house.” The terror quotient had been ratcheted up still further!

Citizens who could, armed themselves and The Gleaner reported that “armoury stores have been broken out and brand new Webley revolvers issued to most of the rifle-armed constables. All leave passes have been cancelled and all stations alerted”.

But apparently Rhyging was not the only threat to the citizens of Kingston at that time. A city clerk travelling on the Stony Hill Road reported having encountered another gunman, but managed to disarm him and took the weapon to the police. Even more ominous was a Gleaner story of September 8 headed: “Underworld Shelters Rhyging, Police Hampered”.

Criminal elements
According to this report the 200 pounds reward offered had brought no result and “the whisper went the rounds in Kingston’s west end yesterday that criminal elements of the city’s population had declared war against the police and were actively aiding the two-gun killer in evading the police.”

Acting on this assumption there was a police round-up of several suspects who were taken in for questioning. Then, as now, the police was reported to have had no co-operation.

All day on September 7 the police were kept hopping from spot to spot as they followed up tips.

But if the fugitive had been lying low the reports did not reflect this. The sporty little man was reported to have been visiting several places of entertainment, including a movie theatre. Some of the sightings were remarkably detailed. For instance he was said to have been sighted along Waltham Park Road one early morning, standing by a shiny chrome-plated bicycle at which time he had been spoken to by a friend of his who was supposed to have told him: “Keep it up Rhyging. Don’t let them catch you.”

Then as now gun crime in Jamaica seemed to have had an American connection. Reports carried by The Gleaner said that since escaping prison Rhyging had been in the habit of emerging from hiding at night and only coming out in the mornings to buy a Gleaner and at times an American detective magazine “and reading up on police and crime methods in the United States.”

Piece by piece the police were building a personality profile of the dreaded ex-blacksmith little terror. But finding him seemed impossible.

police-notice_reward

On December 7, 2000, C.. Roy Reynolds continued:
AS SEEN in the last instalment, on October 7, 1948 the police again failed in their attempt to apprehend the escaped criminal Ivanhoe ‘Rhyging’ Martin, in the Ferry swamp where he and a few cronies had taken shelter. A Gleaner report the following day said the fugitives had been warned by a lookout in time to make their escape before the police moved in. The story suggested that Rhyging and company had made it out of the swamp and into the hills in the Ferry-Caymanas area, where they first took refuge in a cave and eventually made their way through the Red Hills area, to Molynes and finally to Greenwich Town.

Then the story took a strange twist, according to The Gleaner, and especially in the light of today’s police attitude… The police, it said, had been observing Rhyging on the night of October 9 in the vicinity of the Greenwich Town bridge, together with a character the newspaper identified only as “The Gleaner’s special photographer-reporter undercover man”.

The story went on: “No attempt was made to hold Rhyging then as the police were under instructions to the effect that Rhyging must be caught but no other person was to be killed or injured. It was dark also and it is difficult to capture a dangerous criminal in the dark.”

Intelligence reports said that Rhyging would have been taken to a cay outside Kingston harbour and from there attempt to board a boat which would take him out of the island or to someplace on the south-western coast of the island. But the police now had a clear drop on their quarry, and as we have already seen the next morning it was all over.

Before the body was buried in a plain pine wood coffin in a pauper’s lot in May Pen cemetery people besieged the mortuary in a bid to get a last look at one who must have been Jamaica’s most resourceful violent criminal. Among those blamed for his downfall was Eric “Mosspan” Goldson. According to The Gleaner, Goldson insisted that he wanted to see him dead, no doubt to satisfy himself that the police had got the right man and he was no longer in danger. The report said that after seeing the body Goldson remarked: “The race is not for the swift. Rhyging you gone at last!”

Then a small detachment consisting of two constables: R.A. Lindo and V.C. Morrison, undertaker Madden and his assistants set off for the cemetery with their grim cargo. To head off the vast crowd at the cemetery the party announced that they were heading for Spanish Town with the body. The body, clad in the same clothes in which he had been killed, was quickly interred without benefit of ceremony and with only a number to mark the spot.

Later, giving his account of the last hours of the chase the so-called “Undercover Gleaner Photographer-Reporter” said that after escaping from the police at Ferry they had crossed the Spanish Town Road into the hills above from which they were able to rest and observe the police activities. They made their way back to Kingston to Cockburn Pen where they separated with Rhyging going in search of a new hideout.

According to this account Rhyging’s friends managed to secure a canoe called “Gloria Again” to take him to the cay. “The boat was drawn up two chains west of East Avenue, Greenwich Town, but on arriving at the beach Rhyging had the boat removed to face East Avenue so that he could see up the street. Rhyging was undecided whether he should take the trip as he thought it would have been difficult for two men to row so far. He remained at the spot for some time not knowing that four pairs of eyes were focused on him.”

In the aftermath of the grim finale, the question on everybody’s lips was, who was Rhyging, this little man who had mocked the efforts of the entire police establishment for so long and who had either coerced or inspired so much loyalty from his friends. Was he truly “rhyging” in terms of the meaning of the word or just an over-dramatised character? The Gleaner would try to answer these queries.