“Yeah man! Bless up man!” This is the Jamaican greeting I am met up with each time I come across a brother here in Montego Bay, Jamaica.
with Fred Zindi
With only two weeks to spend on this big little island, after a long, noisy and exciting Virgin Atlantic flight, I had to look up fast for the places where musical events were happening.
Being summer in Europe, all my favourite artistes have left the island, to go on tour: from Morgan Heritage, Chronixx, Tony Rebel, Shaggy, Jah Cure, Raging Fyah, Inner Circle, Beeny Man to Alkaline and Richie Spice. Most of them are advertised for December (six months away from now) for the Wickie Wackie Festival in St Thomas, Rebel Salute Festival in St Anne’s or the Reggae Marathon Festival in Negril. Chronixx are to perform on December 1 and 2 in Kingston and Montego Bay respectively.
The rest of the bands which are currently in session are mostly dancehall groups which include Sanchez and Charlie Chaplin.
Having no desire to see these as I am oriented towards conscious roots reggae, I decided to call an old friend, King Sounds, who gave me direction. “Come to Kingston and I will take you to contemporary roots reggae places,” he said.
The next day, I drove the 135km journey from Montego Bay to Kingston.
I had not suspected that I would find it difficult to find roots music to be so distant from its birthplace. Other visitors to Jamaica had expressed the same sentiments. They couldn’t find roots music of the 70s, 80s and 90s anywhere on the island.
Fortunately for me, King Sounds took me to one spot in Kingston’s vibrant night life. Here, the poster read: Mojito Mondays, Boasy Tuesdays and Weddy Weddy Wednesdays. We went in there on the Boasy Tuesday night and straight away, the music was intoxicating! Roots music which had been marginalised by dancehall all of a sudden came to life.
Apparently, a DJ (or selectorman in Jamaican parlance) known as Gabre Selassie had spent five years looking for a place to play roots music, but in vain. Then he decided to open the gates to his home which is nestled in the hills overlooking Kingston and established what he termed Sunday Night Cultural Reggae Sessions. These became so popular that his house became known as Kingston Dub Club.
We found Gabre at the controls in an open-air DJ booth after descending the winding, steep concrete steps leading to his expansive yard . The DJ booth was covered by a sturdy tent top-like roof, adorned with Ethiopian and Jamaican flags, and, of course, a majestic rendering of Rastafarian Deity, Emperor Selassie.
Gabre did some amazing performance tricks while singing over the selected records and he would dazzle us with spontaneous dances some of which I had never seen before.
In the audience were about 200 locals and visitors to Jamaica.
Gabre was out to conquer as he delivered a thoughtfully curated play list consisting of contemporary roots reggae, classic Jamaican tracks and some powerful dub mixes. Throughout the session, I did not hear one single dancehall track. None of the people in the audience requested for one either. All this music pulsed through a towering assemblage of colourfully painted (red gold and green) speaker boxes which were approximately 10 metres high.
In the Kingston Dub Club Mountain Bar area, business was brisk as the bar sold freshly pressed fruit juices, alcoholic beverages such as Appleton Gold rum, rum punches and Red Stripe Beer. It also sold, mainly for the tourist market, jerk chicken, jerk pork and Ackee and saltfish.
Jamaican vegan food was also available for sale there.
The Kingston Dub Club is different from the highly-acclaimed Rebel Salute show at Plantation Cove in St Ann, which is situated a few kilometres from Kingston and boasts no meat, no alcohol, but lots of smoke.
Souvenirs such as T-shirts and Rastafarian books and flags are sold at both venues.
As Gabre said later after being asked why he had chosen to keep this style of music going, “I don’t want to disrespect anyone or any music form but Jamaican music kind of dropped off the heights it once reached, especially during Bob Marley’s time. Visitors that have been coming here have gone to all the parties in Jamaica, but they can’t find roots music. That saddens them heart, so when they learnt about what I am doing, they were encouraging and that helped me create this market along the way, seen!”
Kingston Dub Club is now a bona -fide tourist attraction centre. Tourists now tell each other where to go and party when in Jamaica. Gabre has also inspired a lot of young local musicians and selectors who visit the Kingston Dub Club just to check out the scene and learn a few tricks of the trade from the master.
Many promoters in America and elsewhere in the world have in the past tried to invite Gabre to perform at different festivals, but have failed to do so. As Gabre himself puts it, “If I go to these places, the Kingston Dub Club would suffer. I have worked too hard to let that happen. It’s not like I don’t want to travel and see the world but until I can gather the people who can continue to make this happen when I am not here, I am not going anywhere.”
Indeed business is booming for Gabre Selassie. I tried to persuade him to visit Zimbabwe, but he would not hear of it.
This week, I am hoping to meet Ziggy Marley at his residence and will also venture into persuading him to come and perform in Zimbabwe. I am yet to meet my other good friend, Neville Garrick, who worked as Bob Marley’s graphic artist and is a close associate of Ziggy. I am sure to score highly in the negotiations. What with my two friends, King Sounds and Neville leading the negotiations?
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