As we rock on, moving closer and closer to post #1000, it is my pleasure to share an interview that I held back just for this week. A few weeks back I posted my personal copy of ‘Reggae Inna Dancehall Style,‘ the classic photo book about the Jamaican dancehall scene in the early 80s. The book was given to me by our good friend Doctor Dread. Well, I asked for contact info for the authors, and several righteous bredren stepped up, including our new friend Steve Barrow.
Pekka Vuorinen and the late Tero Kaski AKA ‘Daddy T-Roy,’ a couple of young and inspired Finnish reggae fanatics, visited Kingston in 1983 armed with a camera and a tape recorder. What they surely never fully appreciated at the time was that they were documenting for future generations reggae at perhaps it’s most exciting era: the emergence from the serious and politically charged roots sound of the 1970s (the “golden” era) and the transformation of the sound by Henry ‘Junjo’ Lawes, the Roots Radics, and a handful of hungry “yute” at Channel One.
How did the initial idea for a book on this new “batch” of dancehall artists come about?
“Standing in Kingston dancehalls in September 1983 was really a revelation. Hot night, starlit sky, massive speakers with heavy but gentle bass, girls dancing the latest dance craze, a professional crew and a nice selection of music – a totally new dimension to what we thought we knew. We were no newcomers, we had ten years experience in reggae. Had visited London many times, been in concerts, experienced the Bob Marley phenomenon. But we didn’t know the Jamaican soundsystem!
For three or four years we had published the Finnish reggae quarterly Cool Runnings. The purpose of out first Jamaican trip was to get new material for our readers. But this Jamaican dancehall thing was so exciting it should be reported to a larger audience. So we did two kinds of interviews, the usual ones for our Finnish readers and the Volcano dancehall story for the international reggae audience. Junjo Lawes had good connection with Greensleeves, so we of course knew his productions. He had just moved into soundsystem business, and we were lucky to get in touch with his crew at a right time. We of course new the live sound system records which had just come out – Live With Aces etc. – but you didn’t really understand it until you were standing inside a dancehall.”
Cool Runnings Magazine
Alton Ellis, Tero Kaski & Dennis Alcapone in Black Star shop in 1989
Were the artists reluctant to allow you access to photograph and interview?
“I have great respect to the artists, all we met were most co-operative. When going to the ghetto areas with our local guide – Lickle Burro – many warned us: it’s dangerous! But when they heard what our business was the response was: oh, in that case it’s safe, everybody know you! Nobody refused of a photo or interview, many wanted to be photographed. Some asked if there’s any money involved – like Devon Russell who spent half a day with us – but we were on a very tight budget so everything was just PR work. On the streets though you had to be careful not to take photos of any particular person without permission of course.
Jackie Mittoo who seldom gave interviews was in a good mood at drummer Lloyd Knibb’s nice bungalow at Harbour View. Skatalites had just been reunited and starting to tour, Mighty Diamonds had a big hit with Pass The Kouchi - based on old Studio One riddim Full Up – and Jackie was for the first time collecting royalties, and at the same time Musical Youth – which he was helping – were high on the British charts with their version Pass The Dutchie. We had a nice chat but Jackie didn’t like to be photographed, so I took photos of Lloud Knibb’s photo album!”
Lickle Burro, guide extraordinaire
Jackie Mittoo in Lloyd Knibb’s photo album
Of the artists in the book, was there any one of them that just stood out above the rest?
“All were nice, we tried to preserve everybody’s personal touch and not to master or direct the interview too much. Tero Kaski was a professional English language interpreter, and spoke patois like a Jamaican. When we agreed an interview by telephone the artist might ask ‘where’s the Jamaican with whom I just been talking‘.
My favourite meeting was with Sassa the poster master, Denzil Naar. He was very articulate, businesslike and a master designer. Never have I seen a talent like his, although I’ve done some layout work myself. He asked what the details were – when, where and who – and then started drawing the poster which was finished in a few minutes, ending security nuff! He designed the cover for our book charging modestly. His art will probably be presented in Paris in an exhibition later this year, at least I‘ve sent copies of his posters from our collection. I tried to contact Sassa when visiting Kingston in February this year, but had no luck.
What I also liked very much was the way the dances were organized. Early in the evening the apprentices – youngest were hardly 10 – could hold the mike until pushed away. No matter, they went back to the end of the line waiting for a second chance. Later when the stars came out to perform it was also admirable how everybody got his or her time to perform. Very good team work.”
Of those featured, how many are still living today?
“Quite many have passed away. Prince Far I was murdered at his home a few days after we had interviewed him at Harry J. Gunmen broke into his house and shot him dead. We met his protégé Reggae George at North Parade next morning and he told us what had happened. It was a sad morning, for him especially. King Tubby was murdered in 1989 near his home. Junjo Lawes moved to U.K. to start a new life, one day in 1999 he was shot dead from a bypassing car. Billy Boyo was also brutally murdered in 2000 probably by his ex-girlfriend’s gunmen. Jackie Mittoo died in 1989 in cancer, he was a heavy smoker. Jackie was only 42, Tubby 48, Junjo 39, Billy Boyo 30. Devon Russell and Brent Dowe passed away more naturally in 1997 and 2006 respectively. My travel companion and friend, Tero “Daddy T-Roy” Kaski, had a heart attack in 2001 and die only 50 years old. It was a sad day for Finnish reggae lovers. A long and sorrowful list, but luckily many are still alive and well!”
Reggae George after learning of Prince Far-I’s murder
How many are still touring and recording today?
“Most are alive and well after 30 years. Some have become big stars like Barrington Levy, Horace Andy, Earl Sixteen, Josey Wales. Some have made a nice career like Tony Tuff, Hopeton Lindo, Robert Ffrench. Some have disappeared with Volcano: Shadowman, El Fego Bacca. And after many years some have started a new carrer like Lady Ann and Roland Burrell – that’s something!”
Have you kept in touch with any of them over the years?
“Soon after Reggae Inna Dancehall Style was published Junjo Lawes contacted Tero - from jail I think – and asked if the profits already are flowing in so he could have his share. Unfortunately the book was slow but steady seller so at the time we still had the printing costs to cover!
Tero and his Black Star shop were the clearing house of all artist contacts at the time. Tero also visited Jamaica in 1986 and met for instance King Tubby. When his company Black Star was 10 years old there was a big concert in Helsinki where Alton Ellis and Dennis Alcapone were guest stars. After Tero’s business moved away from Helsinki the contacts were more limited, and stopped in 2001 when Tero died.
Visiting Kingston this year I met Bongo Herman at Bob Marley’s 68th Earthday celebrations at 56 Hope Road, and Brent Dowe’s daughter Sonia Dowe at Trenchtown Cultural Yard. Bongo Herman was ashtonished and delighted to see his interview in the Volcano Revisited book. Sonia Dowe Works at the Cultural Yard, which has a very nice little museum, worth a visit definitely.”
I know Doctor Dread told me recently that he ran into Charlie Chaplin in Jamaica and that he runs his own business now. This kid was a mega-talent. Does this speak to the difficulty of maintaining a career in the business?
“I just visited the King Sturgav & Volcano concert in Brixton Academy where U Roy, Yellowman, Brigadier Jerry, Little John and many other veterans from the Eighties were performing. What I missed most were Burro Banton, Charlie Chaplin, Josey Wales and Barrington Levy. In 1983 we were at Harry J when Charlie was voicing his first big hit Diet Rock. Charlie was an intelligent and determined young artist, we expected him to do far, as he did. But today, standing in the audience for hours in the middle of the night, thirty years older, I also wondered how people like Daddy U Roy manage to get out an immaculate performance night after night, year after year. Changing profession is also a sign of versatility. Myself, I’m an architect but after a few years practice went to the world of computers and never regretted it. Really hope Charlie is happy with his choice.”
Burro and Danny Dread
Little John, U Roy, Frankie Paul
It seems that these artists in particular began the “exodus” away from the ideals, teachings, and order of the Rastafari movement. They began singing about life in the ghetto, love, struggle, day in the life-type stuff. How did this evolve? Was it a conscious effort, or was it just the natural progression of the music?
“This Rasta dimension is quite extraordinary. Most of the artists we met were some kind of rastas, and in the dancehalls many artists would smoke a huge chalice pipe. But for instance Hopeton Lindo, who had a regular day job, was a Rasta but wearing no locks. He didn’t have to, it all was inside. He wrote and performed very intelligent and moving lyrics like Sidewalk Traveller. Nowadays many are bobos, then we saw just one bobo with a broom, of which I luckily took a snapshote when passing by on Roy Cousin’s pick-up. I think the Rasta philosophy and lifestyle was in the background although not always in the lyrics. For instance Volcano sound system was definitely a Rasta oriented sound with Burro Banton voicing every now and then: Jah know… Selassie know… Just listen to the sound tapes.
Black Music Month in Kingston this year had a Grounation, a Rasta seminar organized by the Music Museum in Kingston. After a panel discussion – where one participant was Count Ossie’s son – there was a concert with Mystic Revelation Of Rastafari, Ras Michael, Bongo Herman, Big Youth and Junior Reid. Seems like the huge impact of Rastas on the society and especially music is now widely accepted.”
Hopeton Lindo Sidewalk Traveller
What was a typical day like at Channel One during those years?
“Channel One was the place where all the musicians met. In front of the studio was a huge crowd of hopefuls. On the small door there was a gateman who let in only the lucky ones: the staff, the artists and us visitors. We were in company with Roy Cousins who had hired the studio to record backing tracks. With him we went inside the studio and watched Roots Radics play and engineers Bunny Tom Tom, Soljie Hamilton or Scientist on the mixing board.
Channel One was the hot spot and meeting place of musicians. Most of the artists we met we interviewed and photographed in the backyard behind the studios. There we met ‘everybody’: Johnny Clarke, Horace Andy, Al Campbell, Earl Sixteen, The Viceroys.
Roy Cousins took the Channel One backing tracks to Harry J for voicing, the atmosphere was more relaxed, maybe it was also cheaper, and there was ’The Original Scientist’ Sylvan Morris on the mixing board. And then the tracks were maybe carried to King Tubby’s for dubbing or dubplates.”
How did you go about publishing the updated and expanded version?
“The old Cool Runnings magazines from 1980-85 documented a crucial era in the development of the music and how we understood the happenings in Jamaica and elsewhere. It’s also a prime example of copy machine esthetics of the time. We compiled the book with graphic designer Petri Aarnio, it was published in 2008. The old out-of-print Reggae Inna Dancehall Style book should also have a face-lift, suggested Petri. Okay, but then we must also update the contents. Dsome interviews were published only in Finnish and some not at all. Today all the interviews we conducted give a unique picture of the music scene as a whole. Not that ‘everybody’ is in the book – Coxsone had just left to New York, Yellowman was touring with Gemini, Sugar Minott we met but had no chance to interview – but that’s part of the reggae business, isn’t it. Someone is always missing, but the picture you get is Quito like it was.
Jamaican dancehalls were then new to us. If I today reflect what made the greatest impact to me it must be the short feedback from the audience – the dancehall patrons – to the actual production of the music. You create new lyrics in a live dancehall situation using old riddims or new dubplates, get the immediate response and develop your style and fashion until the product is ready for recording and marketing. The golden era of ’pres’ in record business.
Volcano Revisited book starts with the dancehall thing, then moves on to recording studios and further to marketing problems with Roy Cousins, Jackie Mittoo and Sassa, and then to veteran interviews. Between every chapter there is a Sassa poster of the timein 1983. Kingston was covered with Sassa posters!”
How can the fans obtain a copy of the new expanded edition?
“Reggae Inna Dancehall Style was all about the new phenomenon, new kind of dancehall music which we thought should be reported outside Jamaica. Now, after 30 years, the perspective has changed, the music scene as a whole deserves a snapshot, a report how things were when the music was taking the first steps towards modern dancehall music.
Volcano Revisited is easy to get, just send a message to Pekka Eronen and he’ll sort out the best way to deliver it: http://www.dubjazzsalsa.com/“