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.


‘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.


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

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.


  • 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 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’,, and Nurse, Keith et al (2006). ‘The Music Industry’, in ‘The Cultural Industries in CARICOM: Trade and Development Challenges’, 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.

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.)

Convicted: The ‘Exceptional’ Werl Boss and the Dilemma of Social Responsibility

Self-styled the ‘Werl Boss’, Vybz Kartel aka Adidja Palmer, got himself in what my father (a former police officer) would call a ‘shit pot  load of trouble’. But, how does one choose to imbibe and then get a gastronomic forward offa di vomit they flush? This question has taunted me for days. As I was asked to write about the verdict, asked where are my comments on the Kartel matter, I could only think of this question. So here we go.

GuiltyFirst of all, I do not have a practice of spending my energy on anything that my spirit rejects. This explains why I did not publish the paper I wrote years ago entitled ‘Gully vs Gaza: Theorizing Violence, Factions and Fandom in Jamaican Dancehall Performance‘, the refusal to associate with the now infamous UWI lecture (I was not in attendance and chose not to offer my book Dancehall: From Slave Ship to Ghetto), and I hesitated to comment in any medium whatsoever on anything related to Vybz Kartel. Some appearances over the years for commentary on the Gully / Gaza feud, or other aspects of dancehall that relate to social responsibility can be found, but in the main, I have completely stayed clear of the Werl Boss and his musical empire.

Confession is always good for the soul

I am the first to admit one thing. The return of the word ’empire’ to common usage in Jamaica because of Kartel’s reference to the Gaza Empire was immediately welcomed. It is very true that many of us have forgotten how to build empires, and this is a travesty when postcolonial societies such as Jamaica are badly, and indeed, sadly in need of the commitment, hard work, spirit and leadership required to build empires.

VyBZ KaRTEL (Emergency)

Let me add, that ‘Emergency’ on the Siren Riddim, and ‘Turn and Wine’ on the very infectious DNA Riddim are two of my favourite Kartel tunes.

Vybz Kartel – Turn N Wine

‘Rampin Shop’, ‘Clarks’, ‘Dollar Sign’ (Money Pon Mi Mind), ‘Beyonce Wine’, and ‘Weed Smokers’ will always get me dancing.

Vybz Kartel – Weed Smokers

Vybz Kartel – Dollar Sign

They absolutely rock!! So yes, I have been listening. I pay attention to what rocks my spirit and not what’s rocking others. For one who has dabbled in phenomenology, existentialism and the value of the human experience as a metaphysical phenomenon, and knowing well that the act of confession for the purpose of ultimate empowerment, integrity and personal / collective growth is crucial, beginning this post at the personal level is extremely significant. Writing for writing sake is meaningless. If I can’t speak my truth as I write, whether for academic or personal purposes, I am not moved to write. Consequently, this post which I have chosen to write had to begin with the personal, the confession and yes, it must highlight what I see as hypocrisy at the heart of many of the commentaries about the Werl Boss and his conviction.

My account here is not intended as a remembrance or chronological accounting of Kartel’s musical sojourn. I am much more interested in contributing to a rarer fare, an enterprise that is less attractive, requiring integrity and akin to the Peckian ‘road less travelled.’ All the same, a nuh every ting good fi eat good fi talk’ so I am very aware that the cause of reliving the concluded trial is not productive and neither is pronouncing on the numerous statements about the Werl Boss’ character and alleged notoriety. Those are for the court. Official or unofficial. Heavenly or earthly. What I will say is that Jamaicans have always said, ‘if it nuh guh so, it guh near suh’, which might explain why he was judged first in the ‘court of public opinion’ that had been receiving accounts of killings, feuds, controversies, beatings, threats, fear, deep deep fear, and traumatic encounters because of the Werl Boss. Those things did not find their way into the justice system but the recent charges certainly brought a lot of ire, praise, appeal, and formidable fanaticism on the part of Jamaicans and ‘dancehallites’ at home and abroad in particular.

Looking back to the early days, when I think about it, there couldn’t have been any accident in the choice of his first stage name in the moniker Addi Banton. As he mirrored the great Bantons of dancehall such as Buju Banton, a certain destiny seemed to have been written because Kartel’s productivity at number one hits and significance to the dancehall genre rivalled Buju Banton’s record. It also seemed to rival Buju’s reputation of being the bad man, the gun toter, drug dealer, wife beater, and bigot who has now been convicted on drug charges in the USA.

Buju Banton aka Mark Myrie

Buju Banton aka Mark Myrie

Buju has been sentenced to ten years in prison and frankly I am consistently touting the well used slogan – ‘Free Gargamel’. Afterall, when I became clear that dancehall music was my music of choice on hearing the likes of Shabba Ranks and the mighty Buju, there was hardly any turning back from the melodious drum bass tones with which they communicated in a sort of verbal divinity. I am waiting patiently for Buju’s next concert. Mi a guh deh deh pon mi ears, just like I was present for Busy Signal’s return to the stage at Sting 2012 after a brief incarceration in the USA. Yes many of our musical stars have fallen afoul of the law in various jurisdictions. And, various of our stars have enjoyed increased popularity with incarceration. Jah Cure is a classic example. image

Now, my Buju aside, gun and drug charges are quite different from murder charges. Afterall, the Werl Boss was dealing with another kind of ‘devil’; there are certainly no reports of him cavorting with any ‘white devil’. Additionally in a weird way they both have been charged with serious crimes and are facing several years behind bars. As a mega-fan of Banton (I write about my experience of Buju in Dancehall), I totally understand how Gaza and more particularly, Kartel fans must feel. Afterall, a load of trouble has befallen their ‘idol’ and as Dutty Berry has quipped ‘who a guh tell [di girls] how [dem] body good from mawnin’? (Via @duttyberryshow

Well beyond the enterprise of fandom, academics such as myself have the burden of asking relevant questions, and it seems to me that to ask whether the court and the general public were able to decipher the Werl Boss’ mask / entertainer persona from that of Adidja Palmer’s is about the biggest load of bovine excrement I have heard in a while. Please excuse this another reference to excrement, but we really must examine these matters carefully. According to Cooper in her commentary of March 16:

“..we…refuse to concede the possibility that, ‘Vybz Kartel’ is a persona, a mask worn by an actor to project a fabricated character. As a consequence, it is not Adidja Palmer who has been on trial for murder. It is Vybz Kartel. I wonder if the media’s insistence on calling Adidja Palmer by his stage name may not have been prejudicial. Has Adidja Palmer’s right to be presumed innocent perhaps been violated by the constant assertion that his ‘real’ identity is actually Vybz Kartel? Has Adidja Palmer been proven guilty beyond reasonable doubt? Or is it the cardboard cutout, Vybz Kartel?” (Cooper)

Who is this “we” who “refuse to concede the possibility that, ‘Vybz Kartel’ is a persona…?”  As if the question about whether Adidja Palmer’s presumed innocence was compromised by Vybz Kartel the mask isn’t bad enough, here’s the statement that leaves me befuddled:

“But, in all seriousness, I keep asking myself if Adidja Palmer has been convicted beyond reasonable doubt – in the modern sense of the legal term. I also wonder if he’s really innocent.” (Cooper)

Such questions are reasonable considering the history of failures of justice in Jamaica and our seeming lack of commitment to reforming a system that consistently targets the marginalised and, in particular, disenfranchised among us. Yes, the rich buy their way out of imprisonment by affording good lawyers and rarely are corrupt politicians brought to justice. So our people have no trust in the justice system, and neither do they have any trust in the people placed to maintain law and order. On the matter of the Werl Boss’ innocence however, a court of justice has now ruled with the help of a jury that saw evidence to which the public was not privy. It has been said that evidence presented was overwhelming in its proof of guilt. The fact is throughout the trial the public did not hear of the evidence because it was not viewed by those who could give us coverage via written or multi-media news reports. So without seeing the evidence in the court room presided over by Judge Lennox Campbell, innocence was thrown out the door in the court of  ‘John Public’ and also in Campbell’s court.

Not only did conflict follow the Werl Boss but so did controversy. That is always a sign of personal trouble. The psychologists with tell you that the inability to foster, maintain, and nurture meaningful relationships reveals that something is outside the norm. For me the break from the Alliance fraternity was a first sign of this which continued with other music personalities including producers, investors, managers, colleagues, Gaza hopefuls and even friends. Also, it seemed after a while that ‘Vybz Cartoon’ became completely animated by people who allowed him to levitate on the hot balloons of sunshine they blew religiously up his proverbial derrière.

You see, the opportunity to write articles on justice for Adidja Palmer might be used to take account of prevailing conditions and circumstances. Such an opportunity might be used to take an honest account of how little we know of Adidja Palmer, Vybz Kartel, Werl Boss or Vybz Cartoon for that matter.

Perhaps Ninja Man said it best. It is definitely time for  some among us to ‘stop watching gangster show and start watching Law and Order’, but right or wrong, Kartel has become the example the Jamaican police have been trying to find in order to convince notorious law breakers that they are serious about ridding Jamaica of crime and violence. Whether you believe this or not or, believe this can be achieved in the ways being currently pursued such as the recently launched ‘Unite for Change‘ campaign or zero tolerance being applied for various misdemeanours, is another matter entirely.

NINJA MAN INTERVIEW part 1 – Onstage March 15

Intelligence questioned

If anything, I question the intelligence that was poured into the barrage of solid lyrical incisions Kartel made in the dancehall music universe to the neglect of personal wellbeing. Afterall, witty wares peddled after being recorded on cutting edge equipment does not intelligence make. Equating coherent, cogent speech with intelligence in the overall unfolding of one’s daily life is simply not intelligent. When one provides the evidence for their own demise, blow by blow, digit by digit, then one has missed something important about the idea of the tipping point.

The tipping point is crucial. We can’t just be firing in this turbine called Jamaica, living unstoppable, invincible ‘tallawahcity’ in what has become a crime-ridden, scarred, yet paradisiacal place. Education is challenged, industry is challenged and leadership is challenged. Culture, particularly music, is one of our saving graces, yet some are content to ignore the evils that befall it. I am not and have never said dancehall is to be blamed. I am not and would never say dancehall is dying. Instead, I say we are at a moment of transition. We are either going to take the opportunity now, or continue to self destruct in the powerful turbine of ‘tallawahcity called Jamaica.

So many have said it in so many ways, but the profound irony is that I choose to close with Buju Banton and Ninja Man, two dancehall artistes who are themselves convicted / charged with various crimes. Their profound invocations speak for themselves:

“…music is a spiritual ting, and when yaah do music, there’s a demonic force weh surround music enuh, weh fighting the spirit of the almighty enuh, because music is love and music is God enuh, music mek people unite enuh and music mek people be together, music mek people learn fi communicate..suh is a ting weh keep a godliness and a togetherness within people which di devil nuh like that, suh…the devil tek set pon di most powerful people,  him choose fi draw you out inna every way him can.” (Ninja Man, OnStage interview, aired March 15 on CVM Television)

“…bible? we never even into that, we go a road go play music and no know seh spiritual wickedness out there a wait pon we…” (Buju Banton on the occasion of the Rasta Got Soul album launch, April 22, 2009, UWI.)

I beg the singers, players of instruments and fellow Jamaicans too – take heed. Social responsibility is collective responsibility. We must rebuild the proverbial village, become our sisters’ and brothers’ keepers, and ‘unite for change.’ A suh di ting set an’ wi affi tun up di love to fight against spiritual wickedness in high and low places.

I leave you with an account dubbed The Kartel ‘Kronicles‘ compiled by Richard Johnson, published on Friday, March 14, 2014 in the Jamaica Observer; and a blog post from @anniepaul which contains very telling tweets of the pre-/ post-verdict atmosphere.

Vybz Kartel found guilty of murder

The Kartel ‘Kronicles’


VYBZ Kartel, who, along with three of his associates, was found guilty of Clive ‘Lizard’ Williams’s death, is no stranger to controversy. From his early days as a member of Bounty Killer’s Alliance, the artiste (born Adidja Palmer) has been under public scrutiny for his songs, tatooes and bleached skin. Splash tracks some of those controversial moments.

Sting 2003

The annual Boxing Day show is an arena for lyrical clashes between deejays. 2003 saw veteran Ninjaman squaring off with the up-and-coming Kartel at Jamworld Entertainment Centre in Portmore, St Catherine. Days later, both acts appeared at a press conference to denounce their actions.

Gully vs Gaza

By 2006, the feud between Kartel and rival deejay Mavado was at its peak. Their fans aligned themselves to Gully (representing Mavado’s Cassava Piece community) or Gaza (name given to Kartel’s Portmore community). This feud resulted in gangs and school groups which also declared loyalty to the feuding artistes.

In December 2009, both deejays were ushered into a meeting with ministers of government to resolve the tense situation. They agreed to a five-point plan in which the artistes would participate in a peace treaty and concert; a ‘paint-out’ day to remove Gaza/Gully graffiti from walls in communities and schools across the island; the creation of T-shirts bearing the images of both artistes, and record a song together.

Defecting from Gaza

Cracks began to appear in the Gaza Empire in late 2009 with the departure of female deejay Lisa Hype from the camp. This followed the release of explicit photos of her on the Internet. Fellow Empire members Gaza Kim and Blak Ryno also left.

Sting 2008

Six years after Kartel was involved in a fracas with Ninjaman, he was back on the Sting stage. This time as a bonafide headliner and clashing with his nemesis Mavado.

Despite a truce, elements of the feud lingered. The jury is still out as to who won this clash, but promoters certainly benefited from heightened patronage.

Ramping Shop

Thanks to a rhythm sampled from Miss Independent by American R&B singer Ne-Yo, Kartel, along with female deejay Spice, captured the airwaves with Ramping Shop in 2009. A clever marketing ploy got the buzz going. Photos of a shirtless Kartel and a scantily-clad Spice were ‘leaked’ on the Internet. A sanitised version of the song was released and momentum reached fever-pitch.

The single entered the Billboard Top 100 Singles chart.


Wallabee, Desert Fox or Bank Robber. Leather or suede. Original or imitation, Jamaicans have always had a love affair with the British shoe company Clarks.

Kartel was able to tap into that bond with the 2010 release of the catchy Clarks. The track also introduced his protégé, Popcaan.

Clarks was popular in the United Kingdom and North America.


It became clear that Kartel was bleaching his skin by 2010. He would pass it off in his hit track Cake Soap, in which he attributes his lighter skin to washing his face with the laundry detergent bar. This ignited a firestorm of comments.

Sumfest 2010

The promoters of Reggae Sumfest had anxious moments in July 2010. It was uncertain if Kartel, their headline act for Dancehall Night, would make the show.

Kartel and five other men were named as persons of interest in relation to criminal gangs operating out of Portmore, St Catherine. The deejay was released just in time for Sumfest and appeared on stage, handcuffed and wearing a orange jumpsuit.

UWI Lecture

On March 10 2011, there was pandemonium at the University of the West Indies Mona campus. At the centre of the frenzy was Vybz Kartel who had been invited to speak on the topic: Pretty as a Colouring Book: My Life and My Art.

His presence at the high seat of learning raised eyebrows. Many felt the university lowered its standards by inviting the deejay to speak to students as part of a reggae poetry class by professor Carolyn Cooper.

Teacha’s Pet

Local TV station CVM made a bold move along with telecommunications company LIME and backed Kartel’s very own reality show, Teacha’s Pet. It saw 20 women vying for the artiste’s affection. The show came to a halt in September 2011 with his arrest on murder charges.

Kartel Book

In July 2012, while incarcerated, Kartel released his book, The Voice of the Jamaican Ghetto. Written with the assistance of Michael Dawson, the image on its cover bore a stiking resemblance to an iconic photo of Nation of Islam leader, Malcolm X.