The biggest dance craze across the world, Go Down Deh has spawned multiple choreographed videos all over YouTube. Another hit from Jamaica's hottest Reggae and Dancehall Stars.
Beres Hammond performed in a live virtual concert from Harmony House studos in Kingston, Jamaica. A virtuoso performane from the Reggae Icon you will watch over and over again. Beres performed hit after hit and had had some special guests who underscored the richness of Jamaican music. I watched it live and it was simply on fire!!!!!!
When former Miss Jamaica Davina Bennett landed the part as the love interest in a Maluma music video, she thought she’d be taping a regular four-minute music video. Instead, she was cast as the Colombian star’s muse in #7DJ (Siete Días en Jamaica – Seven Days in Jamaica), companion film to the seven-song EP of the same name that tracks Maluma’s trip to Jamaica, in search of a spiritual rebirth.
And Bennett’s role became something far more significant than mere screen time or high-profile exposure.
“There are other music videos, but few consider, ‘Let us merge cultures, let us merge Black and white,'" says the 2017 Miss Universe runner-up. "To see Latin, reggae, dancehall, Black and white come together and create something epic like this is a whole other level."
For Bennett, proudly representing Caribbean and Black culture is not new. In 2017, she made headlines when she took the stage at the Miss Universe pageant with an afro, her natural hair, becoming the first Black woman to be crowned among the top three to do so. In “7 Días,” she wears dreadlocks, emblematic of Jamaica, and is a constant player in a visual work that went to great lengths to stay true to the island’s roots and traditions.
“She’s not just beautiful, but a big ambassador of her own culture,” says Maluma.
Davina Bennett and Maluma
Bennett spoke to Billboard about the significance of Black presence in a Latin music video, especially coinciding with Black History Month. “I hope we become a domino for others to follow,” she says.
I’m making an effort to think of videos where you have a white Latin superstar with a beautiful Black woman as the model, and I can’t think of many…
I’ve never seen it. I think that’s why social media is eating it up. It’s an immense sense of pride. It’s also very overwhelming, because sometimes I think, "Is this real?" I’ve been in this position once before, representing Jamaica in Miss Universe, and being the first woman to rock my Afro -- and that was a big thing for my country, and for Afro and brown girls. To be in the same position, rocking another hair style and showing unity between two countries and two cultures… I don’t have words to express it.
You’re opening a big door. It’s amazing there haven’t been more instances, right?
It feels the same as when I did Miss Universe. This pageant is over 60 years [of history] and you’re telling me there has never been a Black woman with an Afro in the top three? And there are other music videos, and they have never considered: Let us merge cultures, let us merge Black and white. It’s mind blowing. But, someone has to do it first. Someone has to be the first domino on that table.
Every Song on Maluma's '#7DJ (7 Días En Jamaica)' Ranked: Critic's Picks
The album is called 7 Días In Jamaica, and it truly is an homage to Jamaica, showing so much of the island. Did it surprise you to see how prominently Jamaica is featured?
What makes it even better for me is there’s the combination of two cultures: Latin from Colombia and reggaetón and dancehall from Jamaica, and that makes it even greater. Maluma incorporates people like Ziggy Marley, Charly Black. For you to not just come to our country, but also use Jamaican creatives, a Jamaican girl, Jamaican artists -- it’s not cultural appropriation, but literally paying homage. It’s not, “I’m coming to your island, taking credit and leaving.” It’s about us. It goes in-depth in terms of our culture, how we portray ourselves. Even down to the drink we have in our hand, Red Stripe, is unique to the Caribbean.
Your hairdos are incredible. Tell me about them?
We decided to do locks [dreadlocks], which is a great representation. We are Rastafarian. Mellisa Dawkins, my hair stylist, would come up with these ideas on the spot. This woman just transformed each look into something amazing. It was such a great representation in my country. Locks are discriminated [against] in many places. And to show locks can be styled, they can be elegant, flirty -- it’s something I’m extremely proud of.
There was a highly publicized case of locks and discrimination in Jamaica recently, right?
Last year there was a discrimination case in Jamaica, because a little girl went to school with her locks and she was sent home. This is a big slap in the face. We are known for our locks. If you’re going to send a girl home for wearing locks, you might as well spit on us. So to be able to be on a [major] platform and use locks is a big deal, not just as a Jamaican woman but as a Caribbean woman. I hope this will tell people: “It’s not OK to discriminate against natural hair.” Because it is natural hair. And it’s a disgrace that today you would tell someone you can’t wear your hair like that.
Normally, how do you prefer to wear your hair?
Afro. It’s more relaxed. I’m someone who doesn’t comb her hair every day. So my Afro is my every day hairstyle.
Ky-Mani Marley, Davina Bennett, Julian Marley & Rohan Marley
Courtesy of Davina Bennett
You also shot in Colombia, in Medellín, but also in Barú, a beautiful beach close to Cartagena. How was that experience?
I’ve never experienced anything quite like that, where they appreciate Black beauty [to that degree]. It had nothing to do with being Miss Jamaica. In Barú, people would walk up to me and say, “We have the same skin. We’re family. We don’t even speak the same language, and just because of our skin there’s a connection.” I was in awe of the fact that these people were appreciative of who I am, my beauty and my color.
Did you talk to Maluma about these things?
I asked Maluma why he decided to do Jamaica. And he said, "Our cultures are so similar. There is a lot of diversity in Colombia. Our cultures intertwine." He just wanted to connect the two. And it’s amazing someone as big as Maluma can come to small Jamaica and find the uniqueness and the things that make us one. To be able to create an entire album paying homage to that is an iconic and very brave move. And it was executed in a way that both sides should be very proud of. I am, anyway. It’s a white guy from Colombia falling in love with a Jamaican woman with dreadlocks.
How did you meet Maluma?
I first met him in Jamaica. I was a little bit nervous. But I think it’s because I had to kiss him. It was in the script. I thought, "Oh Lord." I don’t want to make a fool of myself. But, yes he’s a very good kisser. And the kissing scene was quite a delight.
Jamaica’s first reggae radio station, IRIE FM, debuted on the island’s airwaves in August 1990. In Jamaican Rastafarian parlance, “irie” means good, cool, nice, and the station utilized a simple jingle to announce its content: “Reggae in the morning, reggae in the evening, reggae at nighttime on IRIE FM.” Thirty years on, IRIE still plays the original jingle. But it’s no longer quite true.
Some of the biggest stars featured on IRIE FM are playing a hybrid style that would’ve been unrecognizable as reggae when the station began. To many fans, it’s unrecognizable now. The new sound of Jamaica owes as much to trap, EDM, Afrobeat, and contemporary R&B as it does to dancehall or the original roots of reggae. It’s a style that doesn’t have a name yet, at least not one that’s stuck (although it’s sometimes referred to as trap dancehall) and you can hear it all over Jamaica.
“Reggae and dancehall continue to influence and contribute to the birth of various genres, as we’ve seen with hip hop, reggaeton and tropical house; now we are experiencing the birth of trap dancehall. Listeners to IRIE hear reggae and dancehall but also their offspring in a bid to further propel the art forms,” comments Kshema Francis of IRIE FM.
Three marquee names—Tarrus Riley, Protoje, and Dre Island—released outstanding albums this year that embody this evolutionary sound. All have incorporated influences and teachings from their Rastafari way of life, yet numerous tracks on their new albums bear little resemblance to the reggae of a generation ago. “I love the authentic reggae and dancehall sounds, but there are mixtures of other influences within those sounds,” Tarrus Riley, whose album Healing dropped on Aug. 28, told The Daily Beast in a recent Zoom interview.
Tarrus, 41, is an unlikely poster child for this new movement. He ascended to reggae stardom in 2006 with “She’s Royal,” a beautiful roots tribute to women and one of the decade’s most popular Jamaican singles. Tarrus’s breakthrough was part of the ‘00s mid-decade resurgence in roots reggae. Another roots movement appeared in Jamaica in the early 2010s, referred to as the Reggae Revival, which saw the emergence of several charismatic young talents including Chronixx, Jah9, Jesse Royal, and Kabaka Pyramid. Tarrus sees himself as the middle child in the reggae family.
“Buju [Banton] and Sizzla were before me in the 1990s and Chronixx is after me so, I understand the roots and I understand the youths,” he explains. “When I was young, me and my father (the late Jimmy Riley whose singing career began in Jamaica’s mid-’60s rocksteady era) never liked the same music. It’s a new decade now, new things are happening so while the people from before want to hold on to music that had its time, the youths want to give you something new.”
Tarrus’ impressive catalogue showcases his finely tuned expressive vocals, which are adaptable to a range of styles from soft rock (“Jah Will”) to traditional Rastafarian Nyabinghi drumming (“Lion Paw”) to energetic dancehall (“Good Girl Gone Bad”). Then there’s the EDM power ballad “Powerful,” a certified gold single produced by Major Lazer, featuring Tarrus and Ellie Goulding.
Jamaica went into its coronavirus lockdown in late March. Tarrus abruptly ended his touring, returned home, and began writing and recording the songs that would become Healing, produced by Tarrus with co-production by Shane Brown and legendary saxophonist Dean Fraser.
Several tracks offer what Tarrus calls “experimental sounds”: over spatial dub and trap effects, Tarrus and rising trap dancehall artist Teejay trade quickly rhymed bursts referencing current racial and political sparring on “Babylon Warfare.” “Connect Again” with dancehall star Konshens anticipates a post-quarantine world and offers trap with a subtle reggae reverb while the spiritually fortifying “My Fire” (featuring singer Dexta Daps) is quintessential trap-R&B. The album’s biggest hit “Lighter” blends trap, EDM and dancehall into a catchy pop nugget, featuring female dancehall powerhouse Shenseea and is produced by (Jamaica born) Rvssian, well-known for his dancehall hits and Latin trap and reggaeton international chart toppers. The “Lighter” video has received over 32 million YouTube views since its release on Sept. 6. A fearless creative, Tarrus says the only thing to expect from his music is empowering messages.
“Don’t watch the tempo,” he cautions, “because I like doing new things. People are concerned with names, labels, trap, rap, hip-hop, dancehall, I can’t bother with them things. I have always been doing different kinds of sounds and I will continue. Music is going through a change right now, people are blending and fusing, everybody wants to call it a name, but I just call it good music.”
Reggae, like its direct Jamaican forerunners, ska and rocksteady, is an amalgam sound. In the late 1950s the ska beat was developed in Kingston recording studios by singers and musicians influenced by American doo wop, early rock and roll, gospel, rhythm and blues as well as Jamaica’s mento and Trinidad’s calypso. Rocksteady followed in 1966 with a slower tempo that allowed vocalists to fully showcase their talents while the basslines grew steadier and more pronounced. In 1968, the drum and bass led a faster, more complex rhythm called reggae. Experimentation on reggae tracks by Jamaican engineers and producers led to the birth of dub shortly thereafter. Dancehall reggae, reggae’s digitized strain, was created in 1984.
Over the decades, reggae has undergone organic stylistic changes and intentional adaptations aimed at reaching wider audiences. Island Records founder Chris Blackwell strategized marketing The Wailers’ 1973 Catch A Fire as a rock album, overdubbing guitar riffs and keyboard flourishes on the trio’s Jamaican recordings. Seeking to connect with an African American audience Bob Marley incorporated disco influences on his 1980 single “Could You Be Loved.” Esteemed rhythm section and production duo Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare brought the aggressiveness of the rock influences they absorbed while touring as members of Peter Tosh’s band opening for Santana and The Rolling Stones.
“As we did a couple of tours with these rock bands, we were wondering, how can we get that power, that energy, behind the reggae groove?” Dunbar told The Daily Beast. “So Robbie and I changed the sound of what we were playing, it was reggae but with a different attitude. The first experiment was (vocal trio) Black Uhuru, one of their first songs was “Shine Eye Gal” and people were like what is this?”
Sly and Robbie’s modernizations earned widespread attention, yet some protested they were changing the music too much. In the 21st century their sonic advances continue to inspire another generation of artists and producers. Stephen and Damian Marley sampled Sly and Robbie’s production of singer Ini Kamoze’s “World-A-Music” for Damian’s 2005 Grammy winning blockbuster “Welcome to Jamrock,” a profoundly influential consolidation of hip-hop, dancehall and reggae elements. In 2012, Protoje, deeply inspired by Marley’s “Jamrock,” sampled Kamoze for his provocative hit “Kingston Be Wise,” written about the Jamaica Defense Force’s incursion into the city’s Tivoli Gardens community in search of wanted drug lord Christopher “Dudus” Coke, which resulted in an estimated 100 deaths.
Earlier this year Protoje sampled another Sly and Robbie rhythm for his production of singer Lila Ike’s single “Thy Will.” “Sly personally sent me the Baltimore riddim,” Protoje shared with The Daily Beast via Zoom, “and he told me, I love how you sample and lick over these riddims but now I want you to add something and move it forward.”
Protoje, 39, was born Oje Ken Ollivierre, the son of Jamaican lawyer (and former singer) Lorna Bennett and Mike Ollivierre, a former calypso king from St. Vincent. He was a core member of the Reggae Revival movement of the 2010s; since his initial impact on Jamaican music with the 2011 single “Rasta Love,” delivered in his mesmeric spoken/sung/patois-rapped vocals, Protoje has made tremendous strides in moving the island’s industry forward. He has signed three young female singers (Lila Iké, Sevana and most recently Jaz Elise) to his Kingston based label In.Digg.Nation Collective and made history as the first Jamaican artist to have his label contracted to an American major, RCA Records. In Search of Lost Time, released on August 28, is his premiere album through that deal. Throughout the album’s 10 tracks, Protoje’s broad based influences including classic dub, 80s dancehall, grunge guitars, trap, hip hop, and electronica are intricately woven into a multi-layered sonic.
The album opens with “Switch It Up,” blurring hip hop, R&B and a touch of roots, as Protoje and 20-year-old Jamaican sensation Koffee (who cites Protoje as a significant career influence) impressively change their flows, singing together then trading blistering verses. Incorporating a mash up of classic dancehall and hip-hop, Protoje reimagines the 1991 hit “Strange” by veteran Papa San into “Strange Happenings.” “Weed & Ting” is an unexpected take on a ganja song that also muses on life’s blessings and is set to a transcendent trap-one drop reggae fusion; the album’s other marijuana tune, “A Vibe,” featuring Wiz Khalifa, is straight up trap. Protoje wrote the motivational “Like Royalty” (featuring dancehall superstar Popcaan) after attending the 2019 Grammy Awards (he was nominated for Best Reggae Album for A Matter of Time); wreathed in hip hop, funk and soul, the song’s complex patois rhymes acknowledge the sacrifices made by a few close friends and especially his mother to advance his career.
Working alongside a stellar cast of Jamaican producers including Iotosh Poyser, Supa Dups, Ziah Roberts, Natural High, The Grei Show, Stephen McGregor and longstanding collaborator Winta James, Protoje incorporates live instrumentation, samples, dub reverbs and various effects into a sophisticated tableau that’s beyond genre classification yet retains many distinctive Jamaican elements: the heavy reggae bassline and signature Wailers’ percussion on “Deliverance;” a bassline sampled from renowned (British) dub producer/engineer Mad Professor on “Still I Wonder” and a sample of veteran singer Freddie McGregor’s “I’m A Revolutionist,” that’s flipped into the sultry neo-soul influenced love song, “In Bloom,” featuring Lila Iké.
“When Bob Marley dropped Exodus people probably said it wasn’t real reggae,” Protoje offered. (Recorded during Marley’s exile period in London, some critics balked 1977’s Exodus was unrelated to what was happening in Jamaica then, rather than applauding the album’s sonic innovations; Exodus was named Album of Century by Time Magazine in 1999.)
“I always incorporate indigenous Jamaican elements, but music evolves, and our generation is responsible for what the sound is now. It’s the youths them me check for but me want the elders to respect my music. Freddie McGregor, Papa San, Sly, all them people say them a love what me a do so me nah listen to the others. I just keep making music how it sounds in my head.”
Dre Island’s debut album Now I Rise combines Rastafarian roots reggae’s denunciations of societal injustices underpinned by atmospheric genre-defying beats. Released in May, the Now I Rise Deluxe Edition dropped on July 24, with Dre writing, singing and producing most of the album’s 20 tracks. Born Andre Johnson, Dre, 32, is a classically trained pianist who worked as an engineer/producer before stepping in front of the mic. He made his initial impact with such singles as the jubilant “Rastafari Way” and the poignant commentary on the disparities between “Uptown/Downtown;” Dre’s fan base was further expanded through acoustic performance clips uploaded to the internet and posted on social media showcasing his keyboard expertise and raspy, emotive vocals. His biggest hit to date “We Pray,” featuring Popcaan, a widely embraced hymn of spiritual strength (its video has received over 32 million YouTube views) was released in 2017 and is included on Now I Rise.
Dre skillfully explores a range of styles including EDM (“More Love-Dub Fx Remix”) exuberant funk pop (“Four Seasons”) Afrobeats (“Calling”) and several trap-influenced tracks such as “Run to Me” featuring Alandon. Raised in the volatile Red Hills Road area of Kingston, it’s Dre’s gritty firsthand observations that provide the album’s most riveting moments. Over a hazy trap-inspired rhythm track, Dre’s melancholy, deeply affecting vocals on “My City” deliver a bittersweet love letter to Jamaica’s capital, “where politicians every day dem import a strap and dem no care about the issues weh the voters got.”
“Kingdom” was written in 2014 about the Tivoli Gardens incursion, its sparse martial beat underscores the lyrics’ galvanizing spiritual call to arms: “I was living in a community that was affected dearly by that, a lot of innocent youths died, so I approached the song as we Rasta coming forward with Jah message,” Dre recalled. Equally haunting and likewise rhythmically stark, “Still Remain” remarks on the continual gang war in Kingston’s Mountain View community: “shotta spray like how the fountain spew, your door police will squeeze round ten through, stand over three man and found them blue.”
“Many artists speak on these kinds of things but because of where I come from, it’s only a few that strike it and let me see that harsh reality where me say, this is what really happen, him not lying,” Dre offers. “That’s why today I can say ‘it was all a dream, I used to read Word Up! Magazine,’” quoting lyrics from Biggie Smalls. “I felt I lived that too, Biggie. Biggie’s long gone in the flesh, but his soul will forever live on because he never lied, he struck in that reality. That’s what Bob Marley did too, he never tried to pretty it up: ‘man to man is so unjust you don’t know who to trust,” Dre adds, quoting from “Who The Cap Fit.” “Bob never tell no lie, that is exactly how it goes today, too.”
Wyclef Jean recruited Dre for the remix to his song “Justice” a tribute to slain jogger Ahmaud Arbery, then offered Dre the remix for Now I Rise. “Bang Your Head” pairs Dre’s mother’s wise encouraging words with producer Winta James’ futuristic EDM meets hip-hop infused rhythm. The impressively sweeping musical scope of Now I Rise won’t outwardly be identified as roots reggae although Dre’s impassioned delivery and provocative statements extend the music’s revolutionary spirit with a sonic update for a new generation. “I don’t watch genre because reggae is not a beat for I,” says Dre, who like Tarrus and Protoje resists categorizations. “Reggae is the music that Rasta use to deliver the message of His Majesty (Ethiopian Emperor, Rastafarian Savior Haile Selassie I) and as a Rastaman, I message say burn (condemn) division, burn segregation, we are one people: I say no race, no color, so how am I going to say genre? As long as the message is speaking righteousness and love to the people, then the music is reggae for I.”
At the halfway mark of Lovers Rock, the new Steve McQueen film set at a blues party in 1980, at least a hundred partygoers calmly sing an a capella song for five minutes straight. It is hypnotising and, like other moments in McQueen’s Small Axe film series, which centres around British Caribbean communities in the 1960s to the 1980s, time feels momentarily like it has been stretched. Every person in that jam-packed room patiently sings the slow song from start to finish, and everyone knows the words: “But I’ve got no time to live this lie / No, I’ve got no time to play your silly games / Silly games!”
When the film aired on Sunday night on the BBC, watching the characters sing the 1979 hit Silly Games felt very close to home, in part because Janet Kay, who sings the song, happens to be my “auntie” – a lifelong friend of my mum’s, rather than a blood relative. Silly Games was therefore a staple of my childhood; when I was growing up, Auntie Kay could always be persuaded to sing her former chart success at any birthday, christening or holy communion.
The song was part of the lovers rock genre, the post-Windrush lovechild of reggae and soul born in 1970s Britain. Silly Games was a hit at family parties when I was growing up, but it was only when I was much older that I learned the song wasn’t just a cultural touchstone in my family – it was one of the most famous lovers rock singles in history. As an adult, I started to understand its reach: I would meet Caribbeans who had grown up in Manchester, Birmingham or Scotland who had all sung the song at their family parties, too – with everyone’s mum, uncle and auntie trying to hit the notoriously hard-to-reach high note at the end of the chorus. I grew up on fables about the blues parties my nanny hosted at her house
Many Caribbeans remarked on social media that seeing such a cherished tradition on screen felt personal – as did the setting of a legendary blues party. Usually hosted in someone’s basement, blues parties sprung up in the 1970s as safe refuges from Britain’s racist clubbing scene. As McQueen depicts, they were a mixture of an underground rave and a house party – any cash that changed hands was generally just enough to cover the costs of the makeshift shebeen. Lovers rock music like Auntie Kay’s often provided the soundtrack to these ritualistic house parties, which were all about sensual slow dancing rather than blowing off steam to pop or disco.
I grew up on fables about the blues parties my nanny hosted at her house in Hackney, east London, and those at other people’s homes that my mum spent her teenage years and early twenties attending. It would all begin in the morning: the host would spend the day painstakingly clearing out rooms, cooking for guests and getting a mammoth sound system in. The speakers were of crucial importance – and, after the party kicked off at midnight or 1am, attendees could find the right address by following the vibrations that crept along the street.
Once people arrived at the house, they would have to pay a small fee to get in, but it was worth it to find the sounds, smells and flavours of the homesick blues: curry goat, Red Stripe, wallpaper dripping with sweat and a syncopated bass line blasting from an 8ft speaker. Blues parties were places of celebration and togetherness – and crucially, the only place you could hear reggae and lovers rock, except perhaps for David Rodigan’s slot on Capital Radio.
Of course, Black spaces have always been threatened by forces outside our control. Blues parties eventually petered out, increasingly falling foul of the police due to noise complaints and licensing issues, while the mainstream clubbing scene opened up to Black audiences. By the late 1980s, they had come and gone – and today, their ghosts haunt areas like Dalston, which were once popular for blues parties but whose large basements are no longer home to Black families.
My mum disputes some details of McQueen’s retelling – notably the accents and the tactile dancing: “The art was to dance as close as possible without touching,” she told me as the film progressed. Others felt that sometimes stereotypes got the better of McQueen, who was only 11 at the time of the story. But it seemed that the millennial generation of Caribbeans in particular relished the plunge into nostalgia; and for those who have grown up on the stories of their parents, it was perhaps validating to see a lifelike depiction of historical tradition deeply mythologised yet under-documented in British history.
While it may not be perfect, McQueen’s film is a solid contribution to the ongoing project of archiving our histories, which – although it is easy to forget – are characterised by joy as well as struggle. In fact, blues parties perfectly illustrate how the two were intrinsically intertwined. Emerging from an era of “no Blacks, no dogs, no Irish”, Caribbean people carved out meaningful underground spaces to dance their blues away. Although these parties are no longer, the blues spirit lives on in oral histories, in films like McQueen’s, and in a room full of aunties reaching for that high note at the end of Silly Games.
• Micha Frazer-Carroll is a columnist at the Independent
Talking Heads drummer Chris Frantz’s new book, Remain in Love, is a billet-doux to his bandmate and wife of more than 40 years, bassist Tina Weymouth, as well as documenting the couple’s musical journey together — first, as part of the most critically acclaimed New Wave band of the late 70s and early 80s, and later as co-founders of The Tom Tom Club, which topped the charts in 1981 with “Genius of Love.”
But there’s another ongoing love affair that Franz and Weymouth have been carrying on all these years, too, and that’s with the Caribbean — the Bahamas, in particular.
Talking Heads are sometimes described as a “world music” band, and Frantz’s introduction to Caribbean beats and rhythms began early: his parents had lived in Puerto Rico and traveled to the Virgin Islands and Trinidad, bringing home 78-rpm records of calypso and mambo songs that Frantz rediscovered as a young musician.https://3j0grh44ocny4a6kcn288izx-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/bahamas-talking-heads-jamaica-2-768x624.jpg 768w, https://3j0grh44ocny4a6kcn288izx-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/bahamas-talking-heads-jamaica-2.jpg 1200w" alt="" width="1024" height="832" /> Chris Frantz writing at Compass Point in Nassau.
When Jimmy Cliff helped introduce reggae to the United States with the 1972 film, The Harder They Come, it caught the attention of Frantz and Weymouth, who had recently met and fallen in love as students at the Rhode Island School of Design (where they also would meet Talking Heads singer David Byrne)
As a drummer, Frantz — who counts The Mighty Sparrow, Toots and the Maytalls, and “Funky Nassau” performer Ray Munnings among his favorite Caribbean musicians — incorporated the syncopated beats of Caribbean music into his playing for Talking Heads, particularly after the band traveled to Nassau in 1978 to record their second album, More Songs About Buildings and Food, which included the hit song, “Take Me to the River.” The Brian Eno produced album was the first to be cut at Compass Point Studios, established by Island Records founder Chris Blackwell.
Everyone from AC/DC to David Bowie and the Rolling Stones would end up making albums at the studio, which operated from 1977 to 2010, but, “I think we recorded more albums there than any other artists,” said Frantz. In addition to Talking Heads’ More Songs About Buildings and Food and 1980’s Remain in Light and 1983’s Speaking in Tongues, Frantz and Weymouth utilized the studio on the west end of New Providence Island to make the first three Tom Tom Club albums.https://3j0grh44ocny4a6kcn288izx-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/compass-point-bahamas-jamaica-talking-heads-768x432.jpg 768w, https://3j0grh44ocny4a6kcn288izx-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/compass-point-bahamas-jamaica-talking-heads.jpg 1200w" alt="" width="1024" height="576" />
The Tom Tom Club was loosely inspired by Peanuts Taylor’s Drumbeat Club, a nightclub in downtown Nassau. The band included members of the Compass Point All Stars, the de facto house band at the Nassau studio.
Being in the orbit of Blackwell led to some interesting experiences — “We used to live in the same building as Sean Connery, but Joe Cocker kept coming into the driveway and yelling, ‘Sean, give us a drink,’ so he moved,” Frantz recalled — but also some remarkable collaborations, including with pianist Tyrone Downie of the Wailers, percussionist “Sticky” Thompson, keyboardist Wally Badarou, and King Crimson singer Adrian Belew, among others.
Frantz and Weymouth loved the Bahamas so much that they became part-time residents of Nassau. “We bought an apartment (near Compass Point) that we still have, and the roof still leaks,” said Frantz. “That’s part of life down there. We still go down there, and hope to do so again in the not too distant future” — post COVID, that is.
For years, the couple and their family also took extended trips through the Out Islands on their 48-foot sloop, Katrinka, helmed by Tina’s father, a former U.S. Navy vice admiral.
Other favorite stops include Lyford Cay, Cat Island, and out to the Exumas for the annual Family Island Regatta. “We had 22 years of bliss surrounded by a few hours of sheer terror,” laughed Frantz — a sentiment that will be familiar to anyone who sails.
Frantz and Weymouth’s Caribbean travels aren’t limited to the Bahamas: the couple traveled to Barbados in 1991 to produce an album with the British band Happy Mondays, explored the mountains of Jamaica during a stay at Blackwell’s Goldeneye hotel, and decamped to the legendary Oloffson Hotel in Port au Prince, Haiti on an art-buying trip.
Visitors to Nassau will find little trace of Compass Point Studios or the world-famous musicians who once inhabited its halls, but the vibrant Compass Point Beach Resort (originally founded by Blackwell and sometimes used by visiting stars) still welcomes guests to Love Beach and its popular beach bar. Frantz also is a fan of the National Art Gallery of the Bahamas, located in downtown Nassau.
“We love the easygoing, you-can’t-rush-life attitude of most people in the Caribbean,” Frantz added. “The people of the Bahamas are so happy to see you. It’s all about hospitality and equality’’
Jamaica’s reggae megastar received a hero’s welcome when he came home after seven years in a US jail. ‘No guts, no glory – that’s my genesis,’ he says in a rare interview
At the end of 2018, the reggae star Buju Banton returned to Jamaica after almost seven years in a US prison, and Norman Manley international airport was mobbed. His flight was delayed, the chants of “We want Buju” ramped up, then after a brief prayer huddle in the customs area, he pushed into the arrivals hall to pandemonium. It took a phalanx of hi-vis-wearing airport workers to hustle him through to the waiting police motorcade, a task not helped by the workers’ attempts to get selfies with their charge.
It was a hero’s welcome because, despite being convicted in the US of intention to distribute cocaine, Banton is a Jamaican hero. For his first post-prison concert, at Kingston’s National Stadium, about 30,000 people were packed in with many more enjoying it from outside.
The love Banton gets from the Jamaican people is the sort of deep cultural bond that goes way beyond his considerable achievements. Dennis Brown had this relationship, as do Yellowman and Usain Bolt, because they represent and celebrate the Jamaica that doesn’t make it on to tourist-board literature – as Banton himself drily puts it, “without any redaction or Photoshopping”.
“I don’t know how many people turned out that night,” he says. “The numbers don’t really matter – it’s the celebration that matters, the gathering of the people. I love my people, they know that, just as I know my people love me – they know a grave injustice took place. There was a magnetic energy generated by the people in the National Stadium that night. If you had a meter you could have measured it!”
After two trials – the jury was unable to reach a verdict in the first – Banton was found guilty of illegal possession of a firearm and conspiracy to possess 11lb of cocaine with intent to distribute. He was sentenced to 10 years, reduced by two when the gun charge was dropped. The case rested on recordings made by a Drug Enforcement Administration informant who received $50,000 for his services; one video played to the court appeared to show Banton sampling the drug. He denied any involvement in any drug deal itself, maintaining it was all talk, and the prosecution accepted he had no financial involvement. But conspiracy is talk – it only needs somebody to be talking to somebody else about something illegal.
In the 18 months since his release, Banton has never talked about the conviction or his time in jail. When pushed, he calls it “an improvised hell” he got through by reading, meditating and reflecting on life – his own and in general. “Time and space is relative,” he says. “You have to shield your mind, and as a man of hope and a man of faith I can see the world is right there and I am right there, but can absent myself from the mundane existence.” He seems untouched by the experience, physically and mentally, the same amenable, generous and humorous person I have met on previous occasions.
He has long disavowed Boom Bye Bye, the murderously homophobic single he wrote and recorded as a 16-year-old and which was released without his knowledge when he hit big. To remind people, he issued a statement on his release from prison: “I recognise that the song has caused much pain … I am determined to put this song in the past and continue moving forward as an artist and as a man. I affirm once and for all that everyone has the right to live as they so choose.”
Banton shares a background of extreme hardship with so many Jamaicans – “standpipe poverty”, he calls it, as the houses in his part of Kingston had no running water – but his particular affinity with his homeland is due also to his Maroon ancestry. He can trace his roots back directly to the rebel coalition of runaway slaves and indigenous people who, in the 18th century, retreated to the mountainous interior and waged a 10-year campaign against the British. The Maroons’ guerrilla tactics were so successful that they were granted their own land and autonomy from colonial rule. Today the Maroons’ Accompong village remains apart from the government and plays a big part in the black Jamaican psyche: rebels who refused to bow down.
“My Maroon heritage is very important to I, because it kept I close to my roots and my origins,” Banton says. “I think about it every day. It kept me solid through the recent years, because I know how my people suffered long and they fought hard for freedom. It puts my struggles into perspective and shows why every black man have to fight.” In the grounds of his comfortable Kingston home, Banton has a circular Maroon hut. “The tabernacle! It’s built of thatch and wood and it’s a place of meditation and contemplation, a place appropriate to my roots and how I relate to the world.”
On a more prosaic level, Banton’s closeness to the Jamaican people comes from his sound system days in the late 80s, at a time when the island’s dancehalls were assuming fresh cultural currency as a generation of artists prioritised domestic over international audiences. From the age of 15, Banton apprenticed on the Rambo International sound system, which travelled all over the island.
Recording was an obvious next step. “I record my first song when I was 16 years old. [Dancehall star] Clement Irie had taken me up to the Blue Mountain studios in Kingston, I thought just so I could see what a recording studio look like. Straight away I became very nervous because I’m seeing all these people I only know from on record and they’re all wearing gold chains as big as a car rim – or bigger! Then they put me in the booth with headphones on, and told me when the red light comes on, that’s my cue. I started doing the number and I didn’t stop until the three minutes was up.” This became The Ruler. “I couldn’t really remember doing it, I just remember how they was all impressed because they’d never seen someone sing from top to bottom of a tune and not make a mistake.”
Within a couple of years, Banton was the island’s top recording artist; by 1992, he had beaten Bob Marley’s record for Jamaican No 1s, and Donovan Germain, the boss of Penthouse Records, gave Banton the run of the studio. There, together with the producers Dave and Tony Kelly, confidence met musical intelligence to create the Mr Mention album.
This was an experiment born out of “wanting to come to the dancehall with a complete body of work. We was young men fresh out of school and we had the studio at our disposal, our brains bubbling, bursting. We wanted to make music that would work in the dancehall. We had a genuine interest in going on a journey.”
Mr Mention became the bestselling album in Jamaican history. Its 1993 follow-up, Voice of Jamaica, made a broader statement still, shifting between love songs, dancehall bangers, hip-hop flavours (Busta Rhymes features) and social concerns. Then came ’Til Shiloh and Inna Heights, stunningly crafted albums of melodic Rasta reggae conceived during his conversion to Rastafari. “Those were tremendous bodies of work, messages I received when I was going through my awakening: Rastafari and reggae music are together.” The music aimed to “re-educate the masses” about the religion and culture: “We have shared our music with the world and we see many people wearing dreads, but they don’t understand the teachings.”
“You have to move forward – it’s liberation,” he says. “There is no future in the past. Let it serve as a guiding force, but that’s all. Music is in my blood. I can’t lock myself in a single room; evolution is what you’re supposed to do.”
At 46 and free from the hell of the last few years, Banton has earned his place as reggae’s elder statesman, and is a genuine inspiration for the broadminded generation of Jamaican artists coming through, the likes of Chronic Law, Jaz Elise and Leno Banton, son of star deejay Burro Banton, to whom Buju’s stage surname is a tribute. He is keeping reggae’s roots where the ground has always been most fertile: the regular Jamaican people. According to culture minister Babsy Grange, they “would have loved him just the same even if he’d come back in handcuffs”.
• Buju Banton’s new album, Upside Down 2020, is out now.
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