vrijdag 1 februari 2019

Haitian music

I read quite a lot about the country Haiti during parts of my life. This was for a period also in a professional context, as I worked, for years, for an academic, anthropological library, specialized in the Caribbean.


Haiti’s history is of course dramatic, both in horrors and grandeur. The successful slave revolt resulting in an independent Black nation in 1804. The preceding slave regime, which was known as exceptionally cruel and intense. I read that there were relatively high numbers of continuous imports of enslaved Africans, especially since the Late 17th, and throughout in the 18th c., certainly matching the total figures for Cuba or Jamaica. This was due to a specialized focus on sugar cultivation through plantation slavery, as it developed within the French colonial economic system. Even in spite of the mountainous terrain of the part of Hispaniola Haiti is on. This sugar plantation slavery specialization was such, that St Domingue, as Haiti was known during French colonialism, became known as a “slave society”, similar to Jamaica, while Cuba rather was seen as a “society with slaves”; i.e. less dominantly focused on plantation slavery, only in certain parts of Cuba (Matanzas in the West, a bit around Santiago de Cuba, in South East Cuba).

Enslaved Africans in French St Domingue (now Haiti) had to work in a harsh, demanding system related to the profitability of produced sugar. It was the case, that St Domingue became one of the main producers of this cane sugar at its peak in the 18th c., in the region and globally, and the French colonists wanted to maintain this profitability. This led to the increased overworking of the enslaved population and resulting in higher death tolls, shorter lives, and thus the need for continuous imports of enslaved people, directly from Africa, even at a time when in other colonies in the Americas the colonists could more and more largely manage with locally born African slaves.

This, even relatively, harsh, deathly slave regime in St Domingue almost inevitably led to slave revolts. Not unique in Caribbean or American history, but eventually becoming a more concerted, colony-wide rebellion against White colonizers, and an independent country, renamed Haiti (a former Arawak name) in 1804. The interesting historical figure, a definite hero, Toussaint Louverture played an important role in all this. It is said, though, that Louverture at first wanted just to abolish slavery, and not per se become independent from France.

AFTER 1804

Then there is the troubled history since 1804. Of course France not, but neither other European countries, recognized this independence. They were all, after all, deeply involved in colonialism and slavery of Africans in their colonies.

Quite cynically, France demanded of the new country Haiti a large sum of “indemnification” money for former slave-owners end lost profits, in return for this formal recognition, to which Haiti, even if poor, tried to oblige. Scandalous, of course: like having to say sorry to a rapist for not being able to rape you anymore. This large sum (the word “debt” is of course not appropriate) to pay to France of course kept Haiti economically backward, being known today even as “the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere”.

Then there was the political history, including of the Duvalier (father and son) dictatorships between 1957 and 1986, to which much academic literature was devoted. As part of that same scholarly literature, I also read quite a lot about the Vodou spiritual beliefs, and its place in Haitian culture, historically and presently, vis-à-vis Catholicism.

Due to the mentioned history, Haiti is a racially predominantly “Black” country – with a mainly African-descended population - , but with a sizable, or at least disproportionally influential, “brown” population, with some European blood, and related to that generally more wealth and power. Not unlike the situation in Jamaica, where there are also relatively privileged (partly European) “browns”, compared to those of a darker hue.

I found this all very interesting, and having to read about this (I made for the library catalogue even “summaries” of publications for a period) was not bad, for a job. Plus I always liked to learn. There are worse jobs imaginable, let’s say. Some of these I sadly had to encounter later.

I am a trained Librarian, but the work has been decreasing for decades in the Library field, so also for me.


Either way, I have read a lot about Haiti for over 10 years. I learned a lot. Looking back, though, I can recall that some aspects of the Haitian reality and history seemed to get overall more attention in the main scholarly literature on Haiti (often published at university presses in the US, by the way). The political history of the 20th c. and Early 21st c. got a lot of attention (Papa Doc and Baby Doc Duvalier dictatorships, and what followed), the slave revolt and independence (1804) and aftermath, the history of slavery, and Vodou beliefs as important cultural force among the Haitian populace.

Other aspects or phenomena got in comparison less attention, also compared to the literature on other Caribbean islands. One of these is music: both traditional and popular Haitian music.

I noticed this, because I am a music lover, and have by now a long-time interest for both Jamaican music, I am a Reggae fan since my teens, as well as Cuban and Afro-Cuban music. I even went to Cuba several times, and also to Jamaica a few times. It is safe to say that Jamaican music and Cuban music shaped my musical tastes, and even my life. When I started to play more and more percussion instruments about 8 years ago, I started partly with Afro-Cuban patterns, alongside some rhythms directly from Africa. I also listened to percussion in Reggae, or Afro-Jamaican traditions like Kumina. Further, I also let some Afro-Brazilian, Afro-Puerto Rican, Afro-Colombian, or even Spanish Flamenco and Jota influences (from my maternal, Spanish side) slip in.

At times I studied Haitian percussive forms as well, such as the Vodou-derived Yanvalou rhythm patterns, for my composition Apwoksimasyon (Haitian Creole for “approximation”). I remember the bell pattern in it was quite complex and difficult to play, seeing that as a nice educational challenge at that time..

Jamaican and Cuban music remained relatively overall larger influences on me, though.

Nonetheless strange that I got to know relatively less about nearby Haitian music, almost neighbouring Cuba and Jamaica. I travelled several times to Eastern Cuba, where there are some historical Haitian musical/cultural influences, e.g. those known as Tumba Francesa traditions. I heard some of it.

A question that I therefore am going to explore in this post is this one: part of the same African Diaspora: what is Haitian popular music really like, and how can it be compared to Cuban and Jamaican popular music?

A question I want to answer equally for myself – filling a “knowledge gap” so to speak -, as for any readers out there.


Of course, it is well-known that both Jamaican and Cuban music had a disproportionally large international impact, even on global pop music, and reaching the US and Europe as well. Originally Afro-Cuban Conga’s and Bongo’s are nowadays among the best known percussion instruments, Salsa (mostly based on Cuban music) is widely known, and Jamaica’s Reggae music, and especially, Bob Marley, likewise. Haitian music seemed to have internationalized less.

Many people might not even be able to name Haitian pop music genres, even if they know other Caribbean ones, like Reggae (Jamaica), Merengue & Bachata (Dominican Republic), Son, Salsa & Rumba (Cuba), Calypso & Soca (Trinidad & Tobago) etcetera etcetera.

That Haiti is relatively poorer might be a reason, but also the language barrier. In fact, there are Haitian music genres with a long history, that were even internationally influential. Vodou drumming music as part of traditional music, Rara and Carnival music is also a living and maintained tradition in Haiti, showing strong African influences.

Relatively many slaves ending up in Haiti were from what is now the Benin and Togo area, and were from the Fon- and Ewe-speaking groups, just West of Yorubaland. There were however also other African influences, such as from Senegambia, the Yoruba, and the Congo area. These all shaped Vodou, and its accompanying music, as well as other traditional music.


Combined with French colonial influences this resulted in a local music genre developed in Haiti, called “méringue”, appearing historically around 1850. It combined influences of French ballroom music, notably contredanse and other music, with African music, such as from the Congo area, noticeable in the rhythmic, syncopated five-beat pattern in it, as Wikipedia says: “borrowed from the Vodou rhythm “Kongo” (also known as “Petwo”), having this five-beat pattern as timeline.

Other sources also point at more pan-Caribbean genres among enslaved Africans (also found in St Domingue/Haiti), influencing Méringue in its genesis, called “calenda” or “chica”. These genres are as much dances as music forms known since the 17th c., calenda being kind of a martial art form as well, while both these dances were known as “erotic”. Regarding the African origins, also these are mostly associated with the Congo region.

While historically related, Méringue differs from Dominican Merengue from its neighbor the Dominican Republic, being overall slower, and played with string instruments, rather than the accordion, as traditional Dominican Merengue. The mellow, swaying groove feel of Haitian Meringue became popular in Haiti itself, but also in other French colonies, like Martinique and Guadeloupe, influencing music forms there.


An updated version of méringue, called Kompa/Compas (also Kompa Direct), developed over time in Haiti, around 1950. It became somewhat more modern and international, and also became likewise popular in other former French colonies. Compared to the more string-based Méringue (which also had drums) it was a bit more rhythmic and focused on dance, in part by adding some drums. In time, it absorbed other influences, such as from calypso or hip-hop.

The Zouk music genre that developed in Martinique and Guadeloupe is in fact largely derived from such Haitian Kompa models. Not everyone knows that.


While Compa can be seen as a modernized Méringue, another modernization on Compa followed suit, in the 1960s, called the Cadence, and even more focused on dancing. It added a second drum, sounding the fourth beat of every other measure. This second, added drum was a lower one than the other. It changed the groove a bit, on the same Méringue/Compa basis.


At first Haitian music influenced neighbouring parts of Hispaniola; Dominican Merengue in essence derived from Haitian Méringue, with own accents, including instrument changes and a faster pace. Also something that many might not know. Or deny.

However, this Haitian/French Caribbean music influenced also other areas, such as elsewhere in the French Caribbean (Guadeloupe, Martinique, a.o.), but even non-French colonies, such as Cape Verde/Cabo Verde, a former Portuguese colony off the West African coast. Also, in some other African countries, Haitian music became an influence.

So, one can conclude that Haitian music internationalized as well, only with less connections to the English-speaking or Spanish-speaking world. Now, well-known groups (even outside the Francophone world) as Kassav’ from Martinique in the Caribbean, but also Cape Verdian artists like Cesaria Evora, show Haitian musical influences in their work, particularly from Compas music. There is a strong Haitian influence on Cape Verdean music. Quite similar to how Cuban music genres like Son influenced some Congolese music.


I am a percussion aficionado. I have been playing various percussion instruments since around 2011, having had several lessons for conga, bongos, and further also djembe, talking drum, some small percussion instruments, taking it further through self-study.

I have thus gathered quite some knowledge on the world of percussion instruments, of different cultural origins, though specialized in the African Diaspora. Of some countries more in detail than of others, I admit, but broadly speaking I know quite something about Caribbean percussion by now.

The national instrument of Haiti is called a “tanbou”, and is a barrel drum. Other drums, including those in Vodou, are in shape somewhat comparable to the Conga, others with a slightly conical shape remind of the Ashiko drum, to which I devoted another blog post/essay. The use of cow-skin makes such drums even more comparable to the Afro-Cuban conga, also in sound. The three-drum combination (father, mother, and child) in many Vodou rituals furthermore has clear similarities with (Afro-Cuban) Santeria drumming. Santería and Vodou generally share that they are danced, spirit-based religions, in which drumming is important.

They further have several spiritual and ritual similarities, also due to their origins in “bordering” parts of West Africa. Santería is mostly Yoruba-based, but Vodou has a Fon and Ewe base (from an area in Africa just West of Yorubaland: Benin/Togo) with several other influences from the Yoruba and Congo, also influential in Cuba. Papa Legba, a Vodou “Loa” (deity) connected with crossroads, and an intermediary between Loa’s/deities and humans, has an equivalent in Afro-Cuban Santería in the deity Elegguá. Also the expression “Leggo Beast” in Jamaica, for a possessing spirit, is etymologically related to this.

Just one of several “pan-Caribbean” African retentions. Also Trinidad knows a Yoruba-based religion called Shango, due to the proportion of Yoruba among the enslaved Africans there.

How do these broad cultural similarities translate to music?


Putumayo is a label having released World Music compilation album, including one on the French Caribbean in 2003, with some Haitian songs. In the liner notes, though, the origins of Compas are not described correctly, it seems, at least when compared to other sources. To cite: “Musically, the style (Compas) has incorporated influences ranging from Dominican merengue, Trinidadian calypso, American jazz and swing, and, recently, hip-hop”. While there is some truth to the jazz and calypso (or hip-hop) influences on Compas, it is based on Haitian Méringue – as I said before – which in turn influenced Dominican Merengue. Not the other way around.

The liner notes further point justly at the pioneering role of saxophonist Jean-Baptiste Nemours in Haitian Compas.

Added to all this can be the influence of Cuban music on Haiti, which has been documented for a long time, just like there were vice-versa Haitian musical influences in Eastern Cuba, notable in historical Tumba Francesa associations, and for instance in the Santiago de Cuba carnival.


This leads me to some final comparisons and reflections.

There is I think some truth to the Spanish saying “las comparaciones son odiosas” (comparisons are hateful), but comparing is in fact common practice in the academic and scholarly world, of course. This is in turn part of the Western focus on classification and categorization, which for sure has some negative and reductive aspects, but can - despite reasonable objections - be useful for analytical reasons.


Historically, from an African Diaspora perspective, the Congo influence on Haitian popular music genres, like the mentioned Méringue and later Compas, has been more than documented. This occurred largely through Congo-based Vodou percussive patterns.

This Congo influence has been documented in Cuban music too, notably in Eastern Cuba (with proportionally more Africans from the Congo area), where the Son developed: a main precursor to Salsa. Also in Rumba there are Congolese influences, historically.

In Jamaica, influences from the Ghana and Nigeria regions were a bit larger, but among the enslaved Africans there, there was quite a high percentage from the Congo region too (estimated at about 20%). This influenced music too. The Kumina faith and music found among Afro-Jamaicans, especially in Eastern Jamaica is furthermore of Congo region origin, and has influenced rhythmically both Nyabinghi Rastafari (drumming) music as, through this, Reggae, notably in the “heart-beat” rhythmic base.

From my perspective, I do note some similarities between East Cuban Son music, as well as the Changüí music (a precursor to Son) in the Eastern Cuban province in Guantánamo. With the meandering, walking guitar throughout, around a steady pulse, it can be compared to Haitian genres like Méringue or Compas. These are, however, neither overly similar. The Haitian genres tend to be more gently “swaying” and “flowing”, and Cuban genres more “staccato” and poignant. A bit of a different feel. These might relate to differences in African influences – despite a shared Congo base -, but also different other (colonial and European) influences: Spanish and French folk music are different too, after all, historically, and genres like Flamenco and Fandango, as well as Canarian music, are known to have reached Cuba quite early.

Superficially, there are vague similarities between some Haitian genres and Trinidadian Calypso, with Jamaican historical Mento music, and even rhythmically here and there with some Dancehall and Reggae rhythms from Jamaica. All part of shared African origins of course, but with also clear differences, and own accents.

Just one example ofa Dancehall Riddim that I find has some characteristics in common with Haitian music is the Shack Riddim: a quite danceable one, by the way.


This leads me to conclude that Haitian music is quite unique, in its synthesis of African and European influences, being specific Congo rhythms (mainly) and specific French ballroom and other music, resulting in a feel I would describe – in fact, I already did a few times – as “swaying”. It is often mid-tempo but kind of mellow and “flowing”. A continuous pulse, with less closed rhythmical patterns as known in Jamaican Rocksteady, Reggae, and Dancehall, and less “spatial” and closed as well, when compared to much Cuban music, or some Brazilian genres.

How this “swaying” or “gentle” swaying as some describe it, can be explained, I am not quite sure of. It can be a specific interpretation of Congo rhythms. At the same time, it could be the influence of French courtroom and ballroom music (Contredanse, Waltz a.o.), showing how Haiti was a French, and not a British or French colony.

After all, just like there are many different cultures within sub-Saharan Africa itself, so there are also cultural differences within Europe. Even between Catholic, “Latino” countries like Spain, France, and Italy, due to some historical differences, and perhaps the environment. Spanish folk music tends to be – generalizing a bit – somewhat more “rough-edged” and rhythmical when compared to many more melodic, subtle, “mellow” folk music genres from France or Italy, especially in South Spain, where Flamenco is from. More “fire” let’s say. In Northwest Spain there are Celtic influences as in other countries (including France), while Catalonian music in Northeastern Spain tends to have that subtle, gentle swaying more in common with music from neighbouring France (and the Provence), than other parts of Spain. Maybe similar to how the Catalan language has more similarities with Provençale, French, and Italian than Castilian Spanish.

All this might have impacted on how European influences mixed with African ones, resulting in a relatively gentle, swaying feel of much Haitian music, and a somewhat “rougher-edged” rhythmic feel of former Spanish colony Cuba.

The common denominator – though – remains the rhythmic base deriving from African origins, including rhythmic patterns, principles like “call-and-response”, and instruments, all also found in Haitian music, of course.

Interesting, how from both African and European influences in the Americas different music genres developed, with own accents and “feels”, but with also shared features, such as the rhythmic pulse.

That is the beauty of culture and music development, I guess, the space for variation and “free” diversity in expressing oneself musically, from different or even similar influences and sources.

The similar influences in this case being how African, mainly Congo-based percussive/drum patterns from spirit belief systems (Vodou in Haiti) fed into the popular music rhythmically, and shaped each genre in an own way, and mixed with different other aspects, e.g. from Europe or the Amerindians. There is therefore a subtle, yet maintained relationship between spirituality, rhythm, and dancing in all Afro-Caribbean genres.

How you dance to them can differ, of course..

woensdag 2 januari 2019

Reggae on Unesco's World Heritage list

To be honest, I kind of developed a liking for what is known as the Unesco (United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization) World Heritage list. Interested in culture, travelling, and internationally minded, as I am, it could hardly be otherwise. Certain travels and journeys I made were even more or less guided by the World Heritage List: studying it even, when deciding what sites to visit.. This was especially the case in Spain and Italy, and some other countries, like Portugal, Britain, and France. Later also Cuba and Jamaica. Rarely was I disappointed by visiting what was on that list, be it buildings, neighbourhoods, or other things. I found it interesting how such historical buildings/sites fit in the wider history of the country and region.

Maybe a role that others only preserve for their “hip” Lonely Planet travel guides. I think the World Heritage List is a step further, or higher, though..

As a Reggae fan, it therefore certainly pleased me that on the “immaterial”, or cultural, part of that Unesco’s World Heritage List recently was also added - in Late 2018 – the music genre of Jamaican Reggae music. The placement on this list implies protection and preservation.


On his own Vlog, British Reggae singer Lloyd Brown commented on this new status for Reggae (protected as cultural heritage). Among other things, he raised the interesting question: from what Reggae needs protection? In other words: in what sense, by what is Reggae endangered?

That’s a good question. A question that Lloyd Brown answered a bit himself, suggesting that that status was needed to ease travel of performing reggae artists at the interest of festivals like Rototom (held in the Valencian region in Spain), or other big festivals, such as in Germany or France. The Rototom festival was even specifically mentioned at the Unesco meeting in the acceptance speech, by the Jamaican delegates (to illustrate Reggae’s important international status).

The urgency of this increased after all with the Brexit developments: probably bringing more travel restrictions for Caribbean artists travelling through Britain to the EU, of which it then will be no longer part.

Lloyd Brown can somehow understand such a reason for protection, but wonders why they did not state this more openly, if this was the case.

Interesting, but it also made me think further. Are there really no more reasons Reggae might need protection? Of course it is a living and maintained tradition in Jamaica, and popular world wide. Modern genres appearing later, as offshoots from Reggae, notably Dancehall, did not really replace Reggae.


Not really “replace”, but it affected it. There are certain areas (geographical and cultural) where Dancehall is more popular than (Roots) Reggae, where Dancehall pushes Reggae even to the background. The New Roots revival in Jamaica since the 1990s luckily kept Reggae music as such alive, along with actually “live band” musicians, alongside digital inclinations of modern Dancehall music. In Jamaica itself nowadays, especially among newer generations, Dancehall as genre is however much more popular than Reggae. Reggae is still there in Jamaica, but secondary, it seems, to Dancehall.

There are much more Dancehall parties held in Jamaica. This was already the case in 2006 and 2008, when I went to Jamaica. To be sure: there was Reggae to be heard, and there were (Roots) Reggae in Jamaica when I was there: only relatively more Dancehall parties.

I went to a nice (Roots) Reggae-minded party in the ghetto area of Rae Town, in Kingston, Jamaica, on a Monday, with good music from Black Uhuru, and other good Roots, from the speakers. It was held in an entire street, also outside.. Pleasant, cosy popular ghetto vibe, and I liked the vibe there. I recall the mighty chune General Penitentiary (bass line!) blasting through big speakers in a Rae Town bar..

I recall that the party was called something like Roots Revival. In the land of Reggae..you can only REvive something that was not already alive and present. That’s what that name says a bit. Just like having Throwback in a name for an event: it suggests it is not presently there.

Also a reason I can see the relevance of the “protected” status Reggae music’s placement on the World Heritage List implies.

Interestingly, in Jamaican musical history, Reggae can be seen as a synthesis, not as a passing stage. Ska and Rocksteady eventually synthesized, or sublimated, - some say “came of age” – in Reggae music, appearing around 1968. Some still play Ska and Rocksteady, of course, but these genres were also transitional phase, for all intents and purposes. Reggae, on the other hand , was kind of an end-stage for them, not a stage toward something else. Dancehall developed as offshoot too, but did - as said - not replace Reggae as such. It “threatens” it in some senses, though, albeit as yet only partly and marginally. Dancehall is relatively more popular than Roots Reggae in many places, including Jamaica itself – like I mentioned already - and the New York area, and even parts of Europe.

Travelling Reggae artists noticed that certain areas were more focussed on Roots Reggae than on Dancehall focused. The recently freed Buju Banton (he served a prison sentence up to Late 2018, for supposed involvement in cocaine traffic) commented on this years ago: in California, Roots Reggae was stronger and in New York/the East Coast of the US on the other hand Dancehall more. Buju, as other artists, adapted their set lists even a bit to this when performing in those places. Also Reggae dee-jay’s (selecta’s) I spoke with in the Netherlands commented on this, such as Amsterdam-based DJ Ewa on this blog playing more Roots Reggae outside of the busy urban area in the West of the Netherlands (with big cities Amsterdam and Rotterdam), and within it more Dancehall.


Protection from Dancehall dominance, is another protection, besides securing tour dates for festival organizers. More reasons for protection? Well, in a general sense, there is the fear of co-option of Reggae into other genres like Hip-Hop or Pop, while it itself becomes endangered. This can happen with every cultural expression or genre, of course. It can also be neglected and disappear altogether, but as said: Reggae is alive and well, and a living culture in much of the world. “Pollution” or “corruption” from outside is thus the main danger threatening Reggae, besides expression restrictions (due to travel restrictions on artists, and laws).


Besides such practical/material/political considerations, I love the very idea of Reggae being deemed “worth preserving” by a UN organization.

Other music genres, but far from all, have achieved the same status through and by UNESCO. Flamenco, actually a combination of folk music genres in Southern Spain, mainly Andalusia, has also this protected “cultural heritage” status. Also justly, in my opinion.. Flamenco is found in specialist circles in parts of Spain, specific clubs for connoisseurs, but there are also watered-down forms for tourists. Flamenco mixed with other genres, resulting in some cases in interesting and genuinely artistic mixes with Funk, Latin/Afro-Cuban music, Reggae, and Jazz, but also in a type of commercial “flamenco pop” reaching the mainstream much more than real Flamenco. Tango music/dance from Argentina is also on that list, to give but one more example.

As with Reggae, therefore, the “preservation” or “protection” of being on Unesco’s World Heritage list, has also to do with “guarding authenticity”, which I think is a good thing. The artists themselves can do that of course too, but some help may be necessary, especially when the cultural climate is not favourable. Moreover, the money is in this world often not where “real art” is.

That Reggae is “worth preserving” is also good in relation to its, well, tainted or polluted image. This is world wide, notably the association with the use of marijuana, a stereotype burden shared with the Rastafari movement.

It is of course a terribly simplified and generalizing stereotype, which is as much true as it is untrue, making it in the end no truth. Yet entire national policies and policing are in several cases based on them. Special control and arrests at Reggae parties due to marijuana possession and use seem to be policy. Maybe I am too optimistic, but Unesco’s protection might be helpful too in protecting an art form, separating it, from fanatic and excessive “anti-drug” policies.


The already mentioned Rototom Festival, an international Reggae festival held yearly in August, always managing to get big names, also in less commercial Reggae, is since 2010 held in Benicàssim, in the Valencian region, in Eastern Spain. A pleasant little town in a nice region, but Rototom used to be held in alpine Northern Italy (near Udine).

It had to leave there because of what was described as harassing and repressive policies against marijuana, increasing with a Right-wing upsurge in many parts of Northern Italy.

The Italian organizers of Rototom then struck a deal with Spanish parties in Benicàssim (a common festival location in Spain, also for other genres, perhaps because of the strategic location: as far from Madrid as from Barcelona), after finding out that marijuana control laws were more lenient in Spain, and certainly less enforced.

An example of how side-issues and legal machinations of states inhibit free culture, such as in this case a Reggae Festival in Italy.

The UNESCO is of course an international organization, so it seems appropriate to further address the “outernational “ spread of Reggae, that is outside of Jamaica. In Jamaica itself, as I mentioned, Dancehall is more mainstream and overall more popular, especially among younger people. Roots Reggae, especially in a modern variant New Roots (Chronixx, Tarrus Riley, Anthony B, Sizzla, Lutan Fyah, Morgan Heritage, Protoje, etcetera etcetera), is however present and living in Jamaica too, and a maintained tradition. Roots Reggae continues to be made in Jamaica, by several artists, with quite some variety.


Reggae’s gone “international”, especially since Bob Marley rose to international popularity in the 1970s. After Europe and North America, it also reached quite early on the “Far East” country of Japan. Japan became known for a grown market for Reggae, starting with Bob Marley touring there in the 1979, but in time followed by several other Jamaican Reggae artists, that in time had quite some fans there. Japan had become a big Reggae market, including regular reggae festivals, and specific reggae labels/record companies, such as Mute Beat, to name but one.

That is more or less all I knew about it, but I had the opportunity to learn more about Reggae in Japan, speaking with Japanese Reggae singer CJ Joe, at present visiting and staying in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, and whom I met several times by now. Reggae – and Rastafari - in Japan also compared to other countries - became part of our conversations, but I also chose to ask concrete and specific questions to him. Maybe that way I get to find out whether Reggae needs “protection” in Japan too.

Underneath, under the questions (in bold letters) you can read CJ Joe’s answers (in Italic):

How would you describe the Reggae scene in Japan presently?

It's more of the New Generation than the old school. Mainly Dancehall is bigger than the Roots Scene.

How would you describe the Rastafari movement in Japan presently?

There is little communities around Japan but very limited. The Majority would be out of the Big Cities because of the fast life and corrupt society. Nature protects and strengthens them.

How have these changed over the last decades?

After Bob Marley came to Japan in 1979, there were a lot of Hippies that chose to go into Rasta lifestyle, because they were the peace makers in that era of time. So you had a lot of followers. It was definitely a revival that start a fire to the nowadays Reggae scene. But now the Dancehall is the most active because a lot of the old school people left the scene or passed away. I am still a generation in the scene that is still alive I guess and keep the foundation “Respect to di Eldas”, long before me.

What are the main differences with Europe, regarding both Reggae and Rastafari?

I think it has to do with language. People in Europe still speak much more English than the Japanese. You see I am a International one Educated, not only in Japanese but through English by the Americans back home. But people like me are a minority so I am Blessed to know more deeply what Reggae and Rastafari means. But even though they don’t speak they feel through music because Music has no barriers, I guess. Plus I feel more deepness into the Reggae that many would fly to Jamaica constantly more than myself.

As for Rastafari, I think there is more of a Respect on peoples religion or lifestyle here in Europe or I would say Western Society. In Japan there isn’t a choice to be different. In society in Japan it’s a Must you must be the same and if you isn’t your automatically strange or not accepted. Of Course A Natty Dread would be a Outcast of Society and because of the stereotype minds on herbal usages it is strictly forbidden. So basically if a plant does not receive water or sun or earth it cannot grow just like how a Rasta is always on peer pressure, not a Easy life or way to go. It is much easier to follow the rules of the normal Japanese life style. ..

and with other parts of the World you know? Asia, America?

I would say it matters where in Asia. I can say there is a massive Reggae Scene in countries like Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand. Korea and China follows… They don’t have a history of Reggae like the Japanese, but because they speak more English they are fast learners so they can pick up very fast about the Reggae. I think in the next decade you will see thousands of Artists Bands etc. rising up just like Europe did to the now. On terms of Rastafari, in Asia there is more I think now than Japan, because for some places Bob Marley is what they would only know w/ some more Big Legendary names. Rasta equals Bob Marley so I see a lot of Natty Dreads around these days when I go to perform or visit.

Likewise Japan some places would more dangerous for any kind of herbal usage etc. But it depends where you are at that time; for example beach tropical areas surrounded by nature. Cities can be hardcore at times.

As for America, Reggae has been there for a long period of time because of the Bob Marley Boom So I would say back in the days Reggae was massive 90s to early 2000. Europe I think is just like the US Scene back in the days. Rastafari is there just like Europe because as you already know there a lot of Jamaicans living there all over. I would say states that have a big population of Jamaicans and Caribbean Africans most definitely you will find Rasta Communities there.

What artists have had relatively much influence in Japan, besides Bob Marley?

Garnett Silk, Dennis Brown, Jimmy Cliff, Shaba Ranks, Super Cat etc.

Is the Roots (Reggae) scene bigger or smaller than the Dancehall scene, in Japan?

Much more smaller than the Dancehall . Before It was more Roots Bands than the sound systems. Now it’s Sound Mecca. World Clash is popular you have the World Champs around here and there constantly playing dances every week.

Is there much Reggae in the Japanese language?

It is a massive Japanese Reggae Scene there. I would say at least 200 that have name value Many more maybe 1000 that I dont know??

What artists are important to know within Japanese Reggae, besides yourself?

The first ones to go to Jamaica were Nahki Rankin Taxi Joe Yamanaka. Afterwards Ackee & Sailfish. Now days you have Rankin Pumpkin Yoko in Jamaica.

About yourself: when have you started as musical artist, and how was the reggae scene in Japan at that time?

I started back in 1991 and I wasn’t a dreadlocks more like a rude boy ragamuffin style like Buju back in the days. It was more for me 90s dancehall but of course Roots was still very popular, but more of a mature crowd.

Was it difficult for you to have a musical career in Japan?

Yes, many ups and downs for sacrificing my life for Reggae. At times I was living on the street Because I left my house at 17 or 18?? But I been doing my Reggae half of my lif, so this is all I have to give.

How difficult is it for Rastafari in Japan?

I cannot express in words you’ll have to be extremely tuff in society. Many lose their minds and go crazy for life. Some even go to the hospital to rehab and later on leave Rastafari.

What foreign (or western) music tends to be most popular in Japan?

US Billboard or UK music. It all is connected from the war because US dominated from there It became very Americanized especially through music and lifestyles.


Conclusions I can draw from all this – including this recent interview with Japanese reggae artist CJ Joe -, is that it is good that Reggae now has a Cultural (World) Heritage status at the UNESCO, suggesting protection and preservation.

Now at the end of 2018, I furthermore notice that Reggae, notably New Roots of Jamaican artists like Sizzla Kalonji, Luciano, Tarrus Riley, Anthony B, Chronixx, Protoje, Morgan Heritage, and Lutan Fyah, has an international spread and popularity, with new Roots artists appearing regularly, securing generations.

Reggae’s offshoot, Dancehall, is overall more popular in Jamaica itself, as in some other places, including thus also Japan, as I learned recently, threatening in some sense Roots Reggae. Or maybe it’s still just a “threatening threat” (if you still know what I mean, haha).

In some countries and regions outside of Jamaica, however, Roots Reggae is relatively more popular than Dancehall, such as in some European countries, or in California. In parts of Latin America, a simplified offshoot of Dancehall (rhythmically derived from the Shabba Ranks tune Dem Bow) – called Reggaetón - is actually more popular, though in parts of Latin America there are certainly developed Reggae scenes, with good artists. So “the real thing” is still there.

Japan has very strict anti-marijuana laws, I also learned from speaking with CJ Joe. I also learned how this affected quite directly both the Rastafari and Reggae scenes in Japan, even threatening their development. Reggae being protected as cultural heritage might help here, although Rastafari certainly needs protection too, I argue, from Western society, as well as from the intolerance of main religions/belief systems, as the Islam and Christianity. With that we enter the terrain of basic human rights, a main idea behind the United Nations history.

Within the United Nations, however, the UNESCO is the cultural and educational organization, so it deals with cultural protection and preservation, rather than economic, religious or political rights. Cultural rights are however just as important, even if less material, being a reason why I always liked the idea behind the Cultural Heritage list of the UNESCO. It is not just nice, it might be even necessary, especially as protection against precisely those economic, religious, and political forces oppressing culture.


Protection is needed because of anti-marijuana laws, but also discriminatory travel laws against people of colour, or people from “poor countries”, prejudices connecting Reggae and Rastafari automatically with marijuana use, but also many of the lyrics in Roots Reggae and New Roots. These lyrics are often socially critical, and anti-systemic, causing much deeper dimensions than the marginal anti-gay lyrics of some artists that got so much media attention, because of some protests by gay people. These gay groups have of course the right to protest like everyone else, but I still think it is blown out of proportion. Lyrics in Reggae are about much more than that, and quite socially critical. Rastafari is an inspiration for many of these lyrics of course, that are in fact mostly positive. Dancehall has more Slackness and violent lyrics, but so do other genres in the Western world, as some Heavy Metal or Gangster Rap albums with cynical, awful lyrics show, often being worse than even the “slackest” Dancehall on “pussy” and “cocky”.

One thing I like about Bob Marley’s popularity, is that despite some musical/production adaptations to Western tastes, Bob mostly “kept it real” lyrically: socially critical “chanting down” Babylon and oppression/downpression, colonialism and neo-colonialism, inequality etcetera. He more or less got away with it, although conspiracy theories about Bob’s early death (that it was not really an inevitable result of cancer, but some think manipulated) exist. Of course, the most famous and heard songs by Bob Marley throughout the world are not the most socially critical or protesting ones: the omnipresent One Love, No Woman No Cry, or Stir It Up, for instance, but others (more “rebelling”) are heard as well. I like Bob’s Them Belly Full for instance too, but do not hear that song so much being played, to give but one example.

Yet, overall, as became evident with other Reggae artists, the more socially critical, Rastafari-inspired, or protesting your lyrics, the less success you have as Reggae artist, making you stay outside the Western mainstream. Inner Circle’s (Girl I Wanna Make You) Sweat, a both musically and lyrically mediocre song (in my opinion) being a case in point: Inner Circle’s most commercial (yet mediocre) hit, of a band that can do much better. Wayne Wade’s Lady, admittedly a nice cover and well-sung, was also Wade’s biggest hit, but Wayne Wade – a great singer - has better songs too, with more social and spiritual messages. And so on..

In short, and for obvious reasons, the “powers that be” have no interest in socially critical messages, speaking out against social injustice, and demanding equality and personal freedom, although in democratic societies they cannot stop them: they can only hinder or discourage them. Making it impossible to earn your living with conscious Reggae music proving to be, unfortunately, a wicked, if effective way.. Or otherwise excluding you from society.

In the Western world ("Babylon") this is of course evident, but as CJ Joe's story shows: also in Japan. though you can argue that it is also part of the "Western" or at least modern/capitalist world.. All these things – so including inhibiting “free speech”, "free opinion" (lyrics are part of this!) and "freedom of movement" - in some senses also “threaten” Reggae’s free development internationally. If not wholly, at least partly.

International recognition and protection through a UN organization like Unesco might just help, if substantial. Time will tell..

zaterdag 1 december 2018


Cymbals are also a percussion instrument by themselves, though usually connected to drum kits/sets. That’s how they got most widely known in pop music in the Western world. Besides this, I know of its use at European folk festivals; at times two cymbals slammed, other times connected to a drum. I’ve furthermore seen their use in military bands.

Their origins can be considered – however – Asian or “oriental“. Some trace their early origins to China, others to India. Its use in India (and Nepal and Tibet) is indeed ancient, long connected with both Buddhist and Hinduist sites and ceremonies. Interestingly, the cymbals’ original use stem from shamanistic traditions, finding their way into Buddhism and Hinduism, with the cymbal sound meant to “ward off/chase away” evil spirits. It kept this function in Buddhism and Hinduism.

In Turkey it got used by soldiers since the 14th c.. In Europe they became played by the 18th c., especially in military bands and orchestras. It is kind of remarkable that from a spiritual function in Hinduist and Buddhist contexts, the cymbal got – partly - a role in a military context, for first the Turks, and later spread throughout Europe by the 18th c.

Percussionists more focused on “the most percussive” continent, Africa, or on the Americas, like myself, do not play or encounter the “Asian” cymbals much, safe for some drum kits, and some salsa percussion sets (often in combination with the Timbales), with an added cymbal, mostly for “climax” effect, not really as steady rhythm keeper. Maybe percussionists specialized in Asian percussion – I am hardly one of them – use cymbal-like instruments more.


I travelled to Cuba about 7 times between the period 2001 and 2006. I visited habitually music venues there – known as Casas de la Musica – with usually live music playing local genres like Son and Rumba, in several cities and towns (Havana, Santiago de Cuba, Guantánamo, Trinidad, Baracoa a.o.) on the island. I saw few cymbals, simply because I saw very few drum kits, so common in Western pop music. I vaguely remember having seen a modern drum kit/set played in a, for Havana, relatively “sophisticated” club, employing modern salsa band outfits. This was exceptional, and more upper-class. I realize “upper class” is a strange term in a Communist state, but that night club in outer Havana had a “posh” feel about it, with mostly well-dressed White Cubans. Maybe the patrons were “relatively” wealthy, thus with more money to spend than other Cubans, or had high functions in the Communist Party. Normally in Cuba, though, I saw regarding percussion mostly congas, bongos, shakers, claves, scrapers at times, timbales a few times, bells are common.. Rarely cymbals. Apparently, the cymbal is alien to the Afro-Cuban world.

That Afro-Cuban world is one of the main influences on my (choosing) percussion. Other influences are from Jamaica, and African traditions. I therefore never played a lot of cymbals, associating them more with drum kits/sets in standard pop bands.

I appreciate them as part of it, especially the rhythmic, “groovy” hi-hat use in Reggae (or also Funk), and well-chosen “crash-cymbal” accents in Reggae songs. On that, more later.


Its first historical inclusion as part of the drum kit occurred – however – in a nearby part of the Americas from “cymbal-poor” Cuba, specifically in Jazz circles in New Orleans. This was in the early 1900s. In that area there were Cuban musical influences, as well as various European ones, including French ones, such as from military bands as common in the US (that tended to include cymbals).

There, in New Orleans, the cymbal use from military bands got incorporated into a basic set of drums to kick or hit, also including military band-type drums, played by sticks: snares, and bass drum. Added to this were in time the “toms” (meant to give a certain African touch), and in a few cases even actually “Cuban” drums, like timbales or bongos, or bells and woodblocks, though not commonly. It becomes more remarkable symbolically, the history of the cymbal: from a spiritual use to a military use.. then to a musical use..

Drum playing was African-influenced indirectly, as in all Black music genres, including jazz. Cymbals as percussion instrument are not really known in African traditional music in that form. Though there were metal percussion objects in Africa history, notably bells with sharp or dry sounds, not the resounding, prolonged metal quiver of the cymbals. Some scraper of shakers had somewhat that musical function in African music.

In the modern drum kit, however, the cymbals obtained a rhythmical function, when used in Black US genres like Jazz, Blues, Rhythm & Blues, Gospel, and Rock, and later on internationally in genres like Reggae, Calypso, or Soca. Also, in Surinamese Kaseko music, the cymbal plays a role, musically comparable to its use in Trinidadian Calypso.


The drum kit/set did not travel so much to Cuba, nor very much to elsewhere in Latin America – in this instance – but did travel to Jamaica, gaining an important role in genres there, especially those that developed since the 1950s in urban areas like Kingston. Before that, more rural Jamaican Mento tended to be played with acoustic hand drums.

Ska originated around 1959, influenced by Rhythm & Blues (especially the New Orleans) variant, and local Afro-Jamaican (and Mento) influences. Its early musicians were in fact Jazz musicians, and the pioneering Ska band, the Skatalites, used the drum kit since the early 1960s. It became common in Jamaican popular music since then. It remained standard in following Rocksteady and Reggae genres, just – of course – as in most Western pop music genres.


With that common drum kit in Jamaican music, came of course the use of different types of cymbals, traditionally part of the drum kit/set: the hi-hat (double cymbals joined through a pedal), and the ride and/or crash cymbal. These now played a role in a different Afro-Jamaican musical setting.

A comparison not often made of the cymbal is with the shaker – or scraper - function in traditional African music, or in Afro-Cuban, music. Yet, I think there is a point to make here. The same role as “time keeper” or “rhythm keeper”, secondary to the clave “key” pattern in African traditions. This applies especially to the hi-hat (the double, pedaled cymbals), whose sound can after all be manipulated (for lack of a less ugly word) with the pedal, varying high and open sounds.

In some parts of Africa, like the Guinea and Mali region, they use metal scrapers, resembling more the hi-hat sound.

What about the other common, “longer-toned” cymbals in drum kits: the ride cymbal and crash cymbal? The rhythmic timekeeper function tends to be mainly kept by the hi-hat in Reggae, and its preceding genres. The “ride cymbal”, in other genres having that function, is therefore little used in Reggae, according to many. Carlton Barrets, Bob Marley’s drummer, hardly used this ride cymbal, other Reggae drummers often also sparingly, focusing more on hi-hat patterns.

“Crash cymbals”, also known as “Chinese cymbals”, do – unlike ride cymbals - have more commonly a function in Reggae, as it is used for occasional –yet regular – accents, as “climax effect”. Often it is at the “peak of the groove” that the crash cymbals are used by many Reggae drummers, or at transitions between verse, bridge, and chorus.

This is actually quite interesting, and musically appealing, adding a layer to the rhythmic groove, even if ending up subtly sounding in the mix.

Such a “climax” metal sound is not directly known in African music, though similar functions are applied to bells, rattles, or nonpercussion instruments in much African music, or even more as “breaks” within certain hand drum patterns.


So, certain cymbal uses tend to be common in Reggae, in part differing from their use in other genres. The hi-hat is the most important, as already mentioned. These mostly play 8th notes and, especially in Reggae since 1968 – 16th notes around the bass and snare hits. This of course in differing patterns. According to drummer Carlton “Santa” Davis – who played with Peter Tosh among others – the 16th notes on the hi-hat distinguished Reggae, from its – more sober/emptier - predecessor genre Rocksteady (known as relatively more “metronomic” and tight).

A Netherlands-based Reggae drummer I know, Robert Curiel, said to me – however - that this is relative, and more complex and difficult to explain pure theoretically, depending also on chosen tempo and song. Rocksteady 8th notes on hi-hat, and Reggae 16th notes on hi-hat seems therefore a bit simplistic, though partly true.

The same Robert Curiel told me that he has used the Ride Cymbal as Crash Cymbal, thus changing its function. Replacing the Crash cymbal with a Ride one is common among drummers of several genres, as Crash cymbals are less “standard” part of many drum kits, and the sound is good enough for a “crash” effect.. It thus also saves money.


Talking about Reggae and cymbals, there is no getting around the “flying cymbal”. This term refers to a specific drumming style, becoming popular in Jamaica in the 1970s in Reggae recordings, and among the audience.

A well-known hit in Jamaica “popularizing” this style was the song None Shall Escape the Judgment, written by Earl Zero, known also as hit for singer Johnny Clarke, in 1974.

It actually consists of a quick opening and closing of the hi-hat cymbals, resulting in a “swish” sound throughout. Carlton “Santa” Davis played it on that song, and helped to popularize it, but it was played in Jamaica before him. Some, like Sly Dunbar, says he played it before Santa Davis, and that it even might go back to the Ska days. Santa Davis said it was also present in Calypso, while others point at influences from Black US music. A well-known example is the theme song of the US TV-programme Soul Train in that period (around 1973), called The Sound of Philadelphia. This reached Jamaica too.

It is an example of the way cymbals shaped a specific type of reggae, although the truncated sound differs strongly from the resonating, “gong-like” other cymbal uses.

The Flying Cymbal sound was a period popular in Jamaican Reggae, until in the later 1970s, the Rockers drumming style took over, more aimed at an extra bass kick.

My own composition El Barrio was influenced by this Flying Cymbals sound (combined with other percussion and Afro-Cuban influences).


Worthy of mention is certainly also Augustus Pablo, and his specific production style and sound, since the 1970s. In his recordings, the cymbal (hi-hat) sounds often get some emphasis in the musical mix, especially in his 1970s work. This renders a somewhat “spacey” sound to both his Dubs and vocal productions. The patterns and styles were varied – not only Flying Cymbals – but the cymbals overall relatively prominent. Often a matter of mere volume - or simply an extra mic near the hi-hat - but still an interesting choice..

Personally, when starting to listen Augustus Pablo as part of my love for Reggae since my teens, I started “noticing” the cymbals more.

To a degree, the same applies to King Tubby and his Dubs, often giving the cymbals extra volume.

Classic Augustus Pablo Dub albums like King Tubby meets Rockers Uptown or Ital Dub (mixed by King Tubby) attest to this prominence of hi-hat and cymbal sounds in the arrangement and mix.

As this gives some “airy” or magical/spiritual feel to that Dub Reggae, this seems to give back the cymbals its original “spiritual“ use in shamanistic traditions: casting off evil spirits.

donderdag 1 november 2018

Vijftien jaar Amsterdam

Het vieren van jubilea is strikt genomen onzin. Je viert in feite een getal; je doet al een tijd dat, of bent al een tijd ergens. Uiteraard is dit een al te doorgedraaid rationele, nuchtere kijk erop. Het blijft immers een historisch gegeven.

Het zegt iets als je twintig jaar ergens werkt, of vijfentwintig jaar getrouwd bent. Het zegt iets over hoe je leven is gegaan. De term “jubileum” (of verwante termen jubilee, jubelen, of jubelverhalen) heeft daarnaast – ook etymologisch - een positieve connotatie; het suggereert feest en blijdschap. Ik betwijfel of een verblijf van bijvoorbeeld precies tien jaar in een gevangenis ooit een “jubileum” is genoemd zonder ironische ondertoon. Als grappige terzijde, ik ben ook Spaanstalig, en “jubilar” in het Spaans betekent “met pensioen gaan”. Dat is pas echt iets om te vieren, haha.

Toch blijft er iets tegenstrijdigs in jubilea, naar mijn idee. Geluk en leven zijn uiteindelijk belangrijk dan klok- of kalendertijd. Vaak ga je op kloktijd letten als je weg wilt (of moet). Ideaal – of utopisch - gesproken vervangen we de kloktijd door een mooi liedje, of meerdere. Na nog twee leuke songs te hebben gehoord ga ik dat doen, etcetera. Of voor de blowers onder ons: voor een goede joint: na nog een middelgroot jointje ga ik dat doen. Zo zit deze wereld helaas niet in elkaar, maar ik mag dromen..

Dit in gedachten houdend, heb ik ook iets te, tja, vieren of herdenken. In 2018. Ik woon in dit jaar al 15 jaar in Amsterdam. Eigenlijk al in februari, maar zoals hierboven al bleek ben ik niet de meest fanatieke jubileumvierder. Ik let daar dan ook niet zo op.


Hoe dan ook, dat is een persoonlijk feit dat iets zegt over mijn leven: ik woon sinds 2003 in Amsterdam. Het is een persoonlijk iets op dit blog waar ik normaal gesproken met wat meer afstand (internationale) culturele thema’s bespreek, zij het vanuit mijn persoonlijk perspectief. Dit is echter echt iets veel persoonlijkers, in directere zin.

In dit mediatijdperk is voorzichtigheid wat privé dingen betreft raadzaam, denk ik, met name ook omdat in deze tijd online, via Internet, alles over iedereen vaak te vinden is. Ook nog eens door de meeste mensen. Ook hierin kun je doorslaan, maar in essentie snap ik die voorzichtigheid met online privé informatie wel.

Het wordt wat tegenstrijdig en hypocriet als mensen veel publiek maken via media - en nogal actief zijn op Internet - maar zichzelf dan niet laten kennen, en een soort façade ophouden die eerder verwarrend, dan echt artistiek of intellectueel is. Echte kunst gedijt immers bij een persoonlijke inbreng, echt iets uit het leven en de geest van de kunstenaar komt. Dit wordt wellicht herkent door medemensen, maar is hoe dan ook leerzaam. Echt in plaats van nep, zeg maar. Je kunt zeg maar niet overtuigend de blues zingen als je nooit de blues hebt gehad.

Derhalve zal ik tot op zekere hoogte iets over mijn persoonlijke beleving van die vijftien jaar woonachtig zijn in Amsterdam zeggen. Daarnaast trek ik het echter ook breder, zoals elders en gebruikelijk op deze blog: hoe zie ik de culturele, maatschappelijke, en muzikale ontwikkelingen in Amsterdam in de periode 2003-2018? We hebben het hier immers over de hoofdstad (en grootste stad, net vóór Rotterdam) van Nederland, met een internationale bekendheid.


De relevante vraag is dan allereerst, natuurlijk: waar woonde ik daarvoor?

Ik woonde tot begin 2003 in Nieuw-Vennep, zo’n twintig kilometer ten zuiden van Amsterdam (gemeente Haarlemmermeer), nog net in Noord-Holland. Het ligt wat dichter bij Haarlem, dan bij Amsterdam, en eigenlijk bij de grens met Zuid-Holland. Het zeer nabijgelegen Hillegom (zo’n 6 km westelijk) was alweer Zuid-Holland.

Ik ben zelfs in Nieuw-Vennep geboren, uit een Italiaanse vader, en een Spaanse moeder. Deze kwamen daar te wonen na eerst als immigranten in de dichtbij gelegen regio Haarlem terecht te zijn gekomen (of anders gezegd: kwamen te werken).

Twintig kilometer van Amsterdam lijkt niet ver, maar als kind is het toch een ander verhaal. Ik hield al jong van fietsen, en kwam vaak in Hoofddorp en Hillegom (beide zo’n 6 of 7 kilometer verwijderd van Nieuw-Vennep), maar de treinverbinding met Amsterdam was aanwezig, maar matig. Bovendien een gedoe: het kostte geld, ging niet direct naar het Centraal Station, en je kwam ook nog eens buiten een bekende omgeving. Tot de tienerjaren gaan veel mensen immers ook niet uit, naar clubs of kroegen bijvoorbeeld. Dat doe je later pas. Dat deed ik ook toen ik nog in Nieuw-Vennep woonde, vooral vanaf dat ik een twintiger was geworden.

Ik was toen al een reggae fan , en moest tot mijn spijt concerten (reggae, Afrikaans en andere genres) bezocht in Amsterdam (zoals in de muziekvenues Melkweg of Paradiso) vroegtijdig verlaten om de laatste trein naar Nieuw-Vennep te kunnen halen. Een irritant soort druk.

Om echt eerlijk te zijn zou dat best wel eens de voornaamste reden geweest kunnen zijn voor mijn verhuizen naar Amsterdam later: rustig reggae-concerten kunnen bezoeken tot het einde, en gewoon thuis komen. Misschien is dat het in het diepste van mijn hart, haha. In ieder geval in eerste instantie.

Hoe dan ook, terwijl ik toen werkte in Leiden, ging ik in 2003 toch in een Amsterdamse huurwoning wonen, waar ik vroeger dan ik dacht bovenaan de wachtlijst kwam (toen was het mogelijk makkelijker, wat kortere wachtlijsten dan nu.. we spreken immers over 15 jaar geleden). Een kleine woning, maar goed genoeg.

Ik had eerder gestudeerd in Amsterdam (zo’n 4 jaar) en rondde daar ook de HBO af. Ik bleef toen echter in Nieuw-Vennep wonen, maar kwam dus wel regelmatig in Amsterdam. Nu ging ik er dus echt wonen.


Ik ben er voor mezelf eigenlijk nog steeds niet over uit of mijn beweegredenen om naar Amsterdam te verhuizen – vanuit Nieuw-Vennep dus - , meer positief of meer negatief gemotiveerd waren. Nieuw-Vennep was een wat groter dorp, maar beperkt en saai. Wel rustig en met ruimte. Het was met name cultureel beperkt, en relatief weinig multicultureel: zo’n 90 % van de bevolking was autochtoon Nederlands. We kenden vrijwel alle van de enkele Italiaanse en Spaanstalige mensen in het dorp en omgeving. Er waren nauwelijks open, “coole” muziekclubs in Nieuw-Vennep en omgeving, om maar iets te noemen, noch veel andere culturele variatie. Het had toen zelfs geen coffeeshop, haha.

Amsterdam had veel meer te bieden, simpel gezegd. Meer variatie en spanning, die ik toen zocht, maar in meer praktische zin vond ik reggae-concerten kunnen bezoeken, of naar plekken gaan waar reggae gedraaid werd (buiten mijn eigen huis) al heel wat. Ook bezocht ik verder graag musea.

Daar leefde ik ook naar. Ik bezocht mijn eerste jaren in Amsterdam vanaf 2003 veel concerten. Symbolisch genoeg, ging ik de eerste dag na het “officiële” verhuizen al naar een concert van de reggae band Culture, in ik meen de Melkweg, in Amsterdam. Om daarna per fiets terug te keren naar mijn nieuwe woning – nu dichterbij: een woning met al wel een bed, maar een bank had ik nog niet. In de woonkamer had ik alleen een enkele stoel om op te zitten, na dat concert. Wel een zachte stoel, dat wel.

Ik had bij de deur aangekomen, terug van het concert, een merkwaardig, maar ergens ook voldaan gevoel.. “woon ik hier?”, dacht ik toch even toen ik mijn sleutel in de deur van nu toch echt mijn eigen huurwoning stak.

In Nieuw-Vennep was ik wat meer rust gewend, en ook meer groen. In mijn kindertijd kon ik ook nog veel gemakkelijker “meditatief” fietsen. Op een aangename dag – soms zelfs op een regenachtige dag - ging ik even een stuk door de rustige polder fietsen, bijvoorbeeld naar Hillegom, en rook de geuren van het platteland en soms van bloemen, want ik was dichtbij de Bollenstreek.

Amsterdam was nerveuzer en drukker qua verkeer, merkte ik al snel. Veel zelfzuchtige auto’s, lopers, scooteraars, en fietsers. “Meditatief fietsen” kon ik daar doorgaans wel vergeten. De omgangsvormen vielen mij vaak ook tegen, ook in het verkeer. “Ik heb voorrang”, schijnt vaak de enige, nogal fascistoïde (doch onuitgesproken) verkeersregel te zijn.

In Nieuw-Vennep had ik ook negatieve ervaringen, zoals met Nederlandse mensen, soms zelfs met een racistische of xenofobe achtergrond, maar de mensen zaten er minder dicht op elkaar dan in Amsterdam. Dus merkte je het relatief sporadischer.

In Amsterdam, daarentegen, heb je vanzelfsprekend meer mensen om je heen, en dichter bovenop je. Meer etnische en culturele variëteit ook: xenofobische Nederlanders trof ik zeker ook in Amsterdam, maar ook mensen met een andere achtergrond met vergelijkbaar negatief en haatgestuurd gedrag. Ik ervoer en ervaar dat als verwarrend. Daar moet je blijkbaar tegen kunnen in een stad waarbij multiculturaliteit vooral neer komt op “langs elkaar” heen leven, en je opsluiten in je eigen groep. Geloven in je eigen vooroordelen en haat doet de rest..

Ik denk eigenlijk ook dat de drukte van de stad – met ook nog vervuiling en verkeerde drugs en voedsel – de mensen een beetje gek maakt. Het is immers te ver verwijderd van de natuur, de natuur waar de mens uit voort komt, en de kunstmatige, niet-biologische stad kan niet anders dan onbalans verorzaken in ons gestel. In de beste gevallen maakt het de mens iets wat “prettig gestoord” genoemd kan worden. Soms echter ook zelfs onzinnig haatdragend, wat soms een negatieve energie geeft, met name onder wat meer racistisch en haatgericht denkende Amsterdammers, of onder hen die met criminaliteit bezig zijn. Naast iets negatiefs, heeft dat ook vaak iets "ongezonds".


De Reggae scene in Amsterdam, waar ik in zat, was een van de scénes in Amsterdam die dat negatieve eilanddenken wat leek te doorbreken.

Ik leerde relatief veel Surinaamse reggae fans kennen, maar ook genoeg met een andere achtergrond. Internationaal, echt, ook toeristen. De reggae scene in Amsterdam was gevariëerd en redelijk levendig. Echter ook relatief klein. Op reggae-concerten kwam ik steeds meer dezelfde mensen tegen: wat overigens niet eens negatief hoeft te zijn. Het heeft ook wel weer een welkom “community” idee. Ook hier vervuiling, mensen met criminele bezigheden, wolven in schaapskleren, en fake Rasta’s, af en toe, maar ook genoeg positiviteit en warmte. Warmte in een koude stad. Zachtheid in een betonnen jungle.

Sinds ik wat serieuzer musicus – percussionist met name - ben geworden: ik begon met percussie leren rond 2010, en werd wat gevorderder vanaf 2015, was de aanwezigheid van muziekclubs als de Bourbon Street of de Waterhole in Amsterdam (beide vlakbij het Leidseplein) mij welkom, en passend bij deze muzikale ambities. Zo kon ik makkelijk mee doen met regelmatige jamsessies. Naast dus het regelmatige bezoek aan reggae-concerten, reggae-clubs, of soms musea, als die een leuke expositie hadden.

In die zin – cultureel – had ik zeker wat in Amsterdam te zoeken. Een baan vinden in Amsterdam – en dan komen we bij Babylon dingen als geld en werken voor een baas – gingen en gaan mij helaas wat moeizamer af. Daar wil ik echter nu op dit blog verder niet op in gaan, hoewel ik nog wil zeggen dat het voor meer mensen geldt. Money worries..


Deze persoonlijke beschouwing kan ik dus zo samenvatten: van mijn Nieuw-Vennep tijd mis ik vooral de rust en ruimte van het dorp, en daarnaast ook andere dingen: de warmte en relativerende, vrolijke “latino” sfeer in mijn ouderlijk huis in Nieuw-Vennep. Er was ook veel humor in dat huis. Ook met mijn broers, als we dolden over onzin op tv, of pretentieuze clips. Als een soort Beavis en Butthead, maar dan met meer niveau. Hoe ik en een van mijn oudere broers reggae begonnen te luisteren, steeds gespecialiseerder ook: van Bob Marley naar Wailing Souls, Burning Spear, Israel Vibration, Lee Perry, Twinkle Brothers, Half Pint, en Gregory Isaacs (toegegeven ook even Eek-A-Mouse en Yellowman). De spanning bij de aanschaf van een nieuwe reggae vinyl plaat en die luisteren. Dat waren prettige herinneringen, maar verder was er weinig culturele variëteit in Nieuw-Vennep.

Vermoedelijk waren ik en mijn broer samen al zo’n 50% van de gehele Nieuw-Vennepse reggae scene (samen met twee Nederlandse vrienden van mijn broer). Sommigen van mijn vrienden (via voetbal veelal) vonden sommige reggae songs ook wel leuk, maar naast andere dingen. Een van mijn voetbalvrienden vond, wist ik bijvoorbeeld nog, the Wailing Souls song Stop Red Eye (van het album On The Rocks) die ik toen regelmatig draaide wel leuk, en begon die net als ik op straat te zingen.. Dat zijn ook nog wel leuke, positieve herinneringen, tijdens die Nieuw-Vennep tijd vóór 2003..

Even jammen met percussie kan ook veel makkelijker in Amsterdam, wat voor mij wel leuk is. Qua voedsel, ben ik sinds ik in de Rastafari Livity zit wat kritischer en selectiever geworden, maar voor de liefhebbers zijn er allerlei leuke, internationale restaurantjes in Amsterdam, die ik ook weleens uitprobeer, zolang ze acceptabele vegetarische gerechten hebben. Amsterdam biedt logischerwijs dus veel meer mogelijkheden, ook wat verschillende uitgaansmogelijkheden betreft: verschillende muziekclubs, internationale, verschillende genres, alternatief theater of alternatieve films. En dus ook reggae concerten en reggae-clubs.


Die (vaak) negatieve energie tussen groepen in de stad, relatief slechte omgangsvormen (ook vergeleken met andere steden in Europa, naar mijn mening), en het drukke verkeer in vaak smalle straten, bevallen mij nog steeds niet helemaal, maar neem ik op de koop toe. In sommige opzichten – mensen ruimte gunnen en met rust laten – is Amsterdam zeker niet altijd een tolerante stad, zoals met ten onrechte vaak zegt. Wel is men er gewend aan verschillende volkeren en rassen, dat is wel weer een voordeel. Het kan ook een nadeel zijn: men heeft goed kunnen oefenen om valse varianten van racisme ook echt op de etnische “anderen” toe te passen, en niet alleen theoretisch. Veel (verhuld) racistische treiterijtjes dan ook, in de dagelijkse praktijk in Amsterdam. Daar moet je dan wel tegen kunnen. Herhaaldelijk tegen dergelijke muren van minachting en intimidatie op lopen kan als je niet oppast voor blijvende schade zorgen..

Het verbaast mij bijvoorbeeld na vijftien jaar woonachtig te zijn in Amsterdam nog steeds dat het voor veel mensen blijkbaar zo moeilijk – of ongewenst? - is om gewoon een gesprek te hebben met iemand in de stad. Zo opgesloten zitten veel Amsterdammers in hun “groepsdenken”, dat ze slechts “weer zo’n irritante toerist” of iets anders “storends” in hun mede-Amsterdammers zien, in plaats van iemand met wie je wellicht een interessant en leerzaam gesprek kunt voeren. Veel mensen die ook nauwelijks oogcontact maken, maar verder vreemd genoeg wel extravert lijken.

Na vijftien jaar snap ik ook nog steeds niet waarom veel mensen in Amsterdam niet uit kijken als ze oversteken, zelfs op drukke plekken en drukke momenten, en automatisch verwachten dat fietsers wel scherp genoeg zijn om een plotselinge bocht te maken. Dat heeft iets fascistoïde (“de straat is van mij”). Dit zijn overigens niet alleen toeristen, zoals sommige Amsterdammers klagen, die hebben nog een excuus.. Ik ben bang dat ook veel lokale Amsterdammers gewoon vinden dat ze niet uit hoeven te kijken. Het zal verder ook niet overdreven paranoïde zijn om in enkele gevallen te veronderstellen dat een zo’n “wandelend minderwaardigheidscomplex”, zoals ik ze noem, ermee een punt wil maken: voor jou ga ik niet uit de weg, of ik gun jou geen blik waardig. Dit wordt nooit prettig, zoals negative vibes dat nooit worden.

In Nieuw-Vennep heb ik ook mensen “leren kennen” die me eigenlijk alleen maar uitscholden (nooit prettig, meestal ook door mijn “andere” achtergrond), of treiterijtjes meegemaakt op straat of in winkels, maar in Amsterdam zijn er meer mensen die dicht op elkaar moeten leven, dus een plezerigere, open - en ook ”relativerender” - sfeer zou dan soms wel prettig zijn en lucht geven..

Maar goed, er is ook wel wat positiviteit in Amsterdam, maar soms is het wel even zoeken. Soms komt het ook als een aangename verrassing, zoals er in de stad ook onaangename verrassingen kunnen zijn. Dan kan de stad een soort troost bieden, maar op andere momenten trapt het je als je al op de grond ligt. The city with no pity.. Het kan alle kanten op.

Omdat het zo druk is wordt je in feite ook “mee geduwd”, die kanten op..


De rijken worden rijker, en de armer armer. Zo gaat dat helaas in de hele wereld. Ook in Amsterdam. In de periode sinds 2003 was er een ontwikkeling gaande waarbij de woningen vooral wat centraler in de stad steeds moeilijker bereikbaarder werden voor relatief armere mensen. Dure koop- en huurwoningen stootten de lagere klassen meer en meer af van het centrum en andere “populaire” wijken er direct omheen (zoals De Pijp, Oud-West).

Ik heb in de afgelopen periode – vanaf ongeveer 2005 - gemerkt dat dat in toenemende mate ook is gaan gelden voor wijken nog “binnen de ring”, zoals dat heet – de “ring” verwijst naar de snelwegen in/rond Amsterdam, zoals die welke Oud-West en Nieuw-West scheidt. Dus ook wijken als de Baarsjes, en zelfs delen van Oost en Bos en Lommer (altijd wat meer wat ze noemen “achterstandswijken” geweest, en deels nog steeds) worden deels duurder qua huur, en met langere wachtlijsten voor huurwoningen.

De armen moeten dus steeds meer naar de randen van de stad. Dat vind ik een dubieuze tendens. Wat wonen betreft is Amsterdam de populairste en daarom ook de duurste stad van heel Nederland. Er wonen, maar ook iets als een eenvoudig bedrijfspandje huren, wordt voor de krappere beurs in Amsterdam steeds lastiger. Dit gaat dus in tegen het zelfverklaarde en gepropageerde beeld van cultureel gevarieerde en “linkse” stad.

Er is dus duidelijk een proces van wat ze noemen “gentrification” gaande in een steeds groter deel van de stad Amsterdam. Meer yuppen ook, of ook oudere mensen, met geld die op mooie locaties kunnen wonen (expats en rijkere Nederlanders).. En dan gaan klagen over geluidsoverlast.


Toen ik een keer hoorde in de concertzaal Paradiso - al daar aanwezig met muziekconcerten sinds de jaren 70 van de 20ste eeuw - dat ze moesten stoppen op een bepaald tijdstip vanwege klachten over geluidsoverlast van omwonenden, dacht ik dat het een grapje was van de omroeper, wellicht in een jolige bui. Dat kan niet waar zijn. Het was echter nog waar ook. Men kwam later met een vergelijk met deze buren, of er vond isolatie plaats, zoiets begreep ik.

Waar ben je mee bezig – of hoe denk je? – als je vlakbij een bekende concertzaal gaat wonen en vervolgens klaagt dat er luide muziek klinkt, dat is wat ik dan denk. Teveel geld kan bij iemand leiden tot een soort autoritaire, fascistoïde instelling – laten zien wie de baas is -, lijkt het wel.

Ook kleinere lokaties met wat minder middelen krijgen de laatste tijd meer van dit soort klachten. Een reggae-minded bar in centraal Amsterdam (bij Rosse Buurt) waar ik zondag wel is wat ging jammen met andere musici, kreeg hier klachten over geluidsoverlast van buren. Sommigen van deze buren moesten immers al om 5 uur s’ochtends op. Goede zet om dan juist daar in het centrum van Amsterdam te gaan wonen, vriend, zou ik zeggen (Purmerend, Almere of Abcoude kon niet?), maar goed..

Hoe begrijpelijk dit ook lijkt: ze wonen daar en moeten zoals zoveel mensen s’ochtends op om te werken – sommigen vroeger dan anderen – en dat andere is een bar die wat luidere muziek wil draaien of spelen.. Toch.. ik kan me niet aan de indruk onttrekken dat dit soort klachten over geluidsoverlast door muziek – die ook reggae clubs soms van omwonenden krijgen – zijn toegenomen, ongeveer de laatste 10 jaar. Omdat ik in Amsterdam woon en veel uit ben gegaan, kan ik dat ook beoordelen. Geluidsoverlast is op veel plekken steeds meer een issue geworden.

Je zou dan het woord “vertrutting” kunnen gebruiken, zoals sommigen doen, hoewel ik andere termen prefereer. Ik vind dat namelijk een vrouwonvriendelijke term.


In de eerste jaren van mijn wonen in Amsterdam, met name tot ongeveer 2010, kwam ik nog regelmatig in coffeeshops, met name die waar vooral reggae werd gedraaid, zoals Rasta Baby aan de Singel (bij centraal station). Een andere coffeeshop, Easy Times, bij het Leidseplein, was daarvoor een tijd populair bij reggae fans, maar was toen al niet meer reggae-minded. Rasta Baby lag daarnaast op mijn route.

Ook hierbij merkte ik steeds meer regelgeving die de activiteiten van deze en andere coffeeshops beperkten. De link met de onderwereld van veel coffeeshops zorgde daarnaast ook voor andere problemen, en bood de gemeente excuses voor de sluiting van sommige ervan. Zolang ik goede, natuurlijk wiet vond (naast de sterker aanwezige kunstmatige, opgepompte slechtere wiet) kon krijgen, en er reggae gedraaid werd, vond ik het er wel prettig toeven. Alcohol heb ik nooit erg nodig gehad (wel ooit uitgeprobeerd voor ik in de Livity kwam), dus met het alcoholverbod dat later kwam in de meeste coffeeshops (rond 2006, meen ik) kon ik wel leven.

Na het verdwijnen van reggae-minded coffeeshops (Rasta Baby sloot haar deuren rond 2010), ging ik maar meer naar clubs en bars. Misschien wel een goede stap. Ik dans ook graag, en in coffeeshops “zat” of “zit” je toch vooral.

Reggae-minded bar Frontline in Amsterdam-Centrum en reggae club Café the Zen in Amsterdam-Oost (ik noem deze plekken ook op deze blog) werden vanaf ongeveer 2010 meer mijn vaste “hang-outs” om uit te gaan. Beide plekken waren vooral – maar ook weer niet alleen – op reggae gericht, met af en toe zelfs optredens, zolang regelgeving of klagende buren dit toelieten.

Ik ga hier nog steeds regelmatig heen, naast naar reggae-concerten, en gelukkig heb je die reggae clubs nog in Amsterdam. Café Frontline kan helaas geen dee-jay’s meer hebben op dit moment, en is dus meer een bar geworden waar veel reggae gedraaid wordt (wel met een redelijke geluidskwaliteit), maar Café the Zen is nog echt een “full-fledged” reggae club met regelmatig (in het weekend, onder andere) dee-jay’s. Zo’n reggae plek – eigenlijk meerdere – moet Amsterdam gewoon hebben, naar mijn mening. Er zijn immers ook genoeg reggae fans in Amsterdam, die dat willen. Wat beperkt, maar net genoeg. Helaas kreeg Café the Zen recentelijk ook klachten over geluidsoverlast (isolatie bleek nodig), maar het vervult in ieder geval nog steeds haar functie.


Dan kom ik op het einde toch even terug op wat deels onbewust weleens (in eerste instantie) een voorname reden voor mijn verhuizing naar Amsterdam kon zijn geweest: reggae concerten in de Melkweg, Paradiso, of elders in de stad.

Ik verhuisde naar Amsterdam in 2003. Ik zat toen in mijn Culture (met Joseph Hill) periode: ik luisterde veel van die reggae band, en hield van die vibe. Na dat concert in de eerste maanden van 2003 van Culture, heb ik er nog een paar meegemaakt van Culture. Helaas overleed Joseph Hill – de frontman van Culture – in 2006, in Duitsland op toernee. Ik voelde dat overlijden van Joseph Hill echt, bijna als was het familie. Zo’n fan van Culture was ik dus.

Een domper, maar zijn zoon Kenyatta zou later de fakkel doorkrijgen en adequaat verder dragen. Verder genoeg andere interessante concerten mee gemaakt, sinds 2003, nu dus makkelijker te bezoeken voor mij. Prachtige concerten van the Congos en Burning Spear gezien, van Israel Vibration (en van voormalig Israel Vibration lid Apple Gabriel alleen), van Black Uhuru (met Sly & Robbie!). Aan New Roots en Dancehall-beïnvloede Reggae moest ik toen nog even wennen, maar de positieve vibes van Junior Kelly leverde leuke concerten op. Michael Rose, Richie Spice, en Cocoa Tea hadden leuke shows. Capleton had ik ook bezocht, maar daar moest ik nog in groeien, denk ik. Sizzla sprak mij in dat “Bobo subgenre” qua concerten wat eerder aan. Sizzla had minder onderbrekingen en hield de flow wat beter, vond ik toen.

Achteraf was zeker ook historisch het enige concert dat ik van Gregory Isaacs bezocht heb in mijn leven: enkele jaren voor Isaacs overleed in 2010. Ik geloof dat dat concert rond 2006 of 2007 was. Gregory had toen geen dreads meer en oogde wat uitgeput en ziekjes, maar had zeker een charisma, en bracht de songs goed. Gelukkig nog een goede show van hem meegemaakt, en ik stond niet zo ver van het podium. Ik ben geen bakvis of zo, maar dacht wel even “daar staat iemand”, een levende legende.

Die concerten gingen en gaan door, maar iets minder frequent leek het, tot op de dag van vandaag, met de laatste jaren ook nieuw opgekomen, populaire reggae artiesten als Chronixx, Tarrus Riley, en Protoje met regelmatig optredens in Amsterdam (zalen als Paradiso of Melkweg).

Zo zie je maar: toen ik in 2003 in Amsterdam kwam wonen, waren die nog niet zo bekend, of pas begonnen als artiest. Lutan Fyah, Luciano en Bushman luisterde ik toen wel al veel, maar die waren dan ook iets langer bezig.

In het interview op mijn blog (September, 2018) met selectress en radio host Empress Donnalee, zegt zij dat het wat betreft concerten in Amsterdam over de jaren heen wat minder is geworden: minder concerten van verschillende Jamaicaanse reggae-artiesten dan vroeger, met ook nog eens minder vaak een eigen band mee, soms vervangen door een Europese band, wat het minder authentieke reggae lijkt te maken.

Donnalee had het echter over een langere periode, dan vanaf 2003 dat ik in Amsterdam woon. Zij is immers al veel langer actief in de Amsterdamse reggae scene: sinds de 1980s..

Toch bemerk ik ook over deze recentere periode (2003-2018) ook wat veranderingen qua reggae concerten in de Paradiso of Melkweg. Regelmatig, maar met grotere tussenpozen (lees: minder frequent), en toch ook minder verschillende artiesten. The Congos, Black Uhuru, of Bushman hebben de laatste jaren niet meer opgetreden in Amsterdam. Jah Mason of Richie Spice heb ik ook al een tijd niet meer in Amsterdam gezien. Nieuwe “big names” als Tarrus Riley, Chronixx, en Protoje komen wel regelmatig terug. Ze zorgen doorgaans wel voor (bijna) volle zalen. Sizzla komt ook nog weleens langs, hoewel de klachten van homo-organisaties een tijd een obstakel vormden. Deze waren wat overtrokken, naar mijn mening, en de bezwaren van sommige homo’s tegen songteksten mogen ze uiteraard vrijelijk uiten. Ik vind echter ook dat Sizzla gewoon vrijelijk zijn concerten had kunnen geven. Vrijheid van meningsuiting kan niet gedeeltelijk of selectief zijn, anders is het geen vrijheid.

Wat minder “hippe” namen, maar evenzeer goede reggae artiesten, zelfs legendarische (the Mighty Diamonds, the Abyssinians o.a.), komen helaas wat minder concerten geven in Amsterdam, de laatste tijd, en soms wel in buurlanden. Jammer toch. In die zin heeft de trend zich doorgezet die Empress Donnalee al signaleerde.

De mooie momenten van de concerten die ik wel heb meegemaakt sinds ik in 2003 in Amsterdam won koester ik echter nog, en pakken ze me niet meer af. Concreter herinner ik me ook een soort “trance” momenten bij bepaalde iconische nummers van artiesten tijdens zulke concerten: Open Up The Gate van Cedric Myton/the Congos (in de Oude Zaal van de Melkweg), Marcus Garvey van Burning Spear, I Tried van Culture, Hurry Up and Come van Cocoa Tea.. om maar enkele te noemen die ik mij om een of andere reden herinner als magisch en bijzonder indrukwekkend. Ik ging qua dansen helemaal uit mijn dak (helemaal!) op Bun Down Rome van Junior Kelly, ook zo’n herinnering..


Die reggae clubs, reggae-concerten, de reggae scene en “community”, en voorts andere uitgaansmogelijkheden (andere muziekclubs om te jammen, bijvoorbeeld, zoals Bourbon Street of Waterhole), interessante musea of culturele instellingen, en de internationale sfeer, maken het op dit moment nog wel uit te houden voor mij als persoon die ik eenvoudigweg ben of ben geworden: reggae-minded, percussie spelende muzikant, Rastafari-geinspireerd, Zuid-Europeze afkomst, en zichzelf een internationaal denkende kunstenaar vindend (haha). Ook nog iemand die graag schrijft, zoals ook blijkt uit deze blog. Het is toch uit te houden voor zo iemand in die verder wat gespannen, kille, soms zelfs fascistoïde “city with no pity” die Amsterdam ook kan zijn. Zelfs nu ik weinig geld heb, haha.

Een beetje als het motto van “it’s easy to meditate on the mountain top, but more of a challenge to do it in a busy city..”.. Die challenge/uitdaging ga ik nu dus al zo’n 15 jaar aan. Liever was ik één met de natuur, ergens. Maar ik ben in de Rastafari Livity en Jah begeleidt me, ook in een Babylon stad..

dinsdag 2 oktober 2018

Jo Jo and Channel One

Last 20th of September, 2018, Joseph “Jo Jo” Hoo Kim died, at the age of 76. Hoo Kim (also spelled as Hookim or Hoo-Kim) was a Chinese-Jamaican active in Reggae music, notably as founder of Channel One, a very influential recording studio in Kingston, Jamaica, operational since 1973.

Whereas Clement “Coxsone” Dodd, owner of the studio and label founded earlier called Studio One, was the first Black owner of a recording studio in Jamaica, Hoo Kim was on the other hand of Chinese (and for a part Jewish) descent. In fact, in Reggae music, even if originated and developed by poor African Jamaicans, at the operational levels, many Chinese Jamaicans were also active, as business and middle-men. Not so much in the creative part.


The Chinese are a relatively small demographic in Jamaica, where close to 77% of the population is mostly black/African, and another about 15% “Brown” (mixed European and African). There were also a minority of East Indians in Jamaica historically.

Looking at the history, the East Indians were generally speaking in social position relatively lower, closer to the Black population, as mostly low-wage labourers, whereas the Chinese were more often in middle-class positions, with often own businesses. Through some of these businesses they could facilitate aspects of the music industry to make money, and profit from Reggae’s popularity, increasing internationally since the 1970s.

That Chinese middle-class position was historically not universal in the Caribbean region, by the way. In Cuba, many Chinese were contract labourers, treated only somewhat better than African slaves, with few rights. They remained connected to the labouring classes in Cuba, explaining perhaps why they mixed there more with Africans and (poor) Europeans. It is known that many Cubans have African, Chinese, and European blood combined, the famous Cuban painter Wilfredo Lam being an example.

Chinese in Jamaica –like Lebanese/Syrians – sought as a minority to secure a middle-class position between the White upper class, and poor Black people from the laboring classes. Relatedly, they tended to marry among themselves. This all translated somehow into Jamaica’s reggae industry, with artists dependent on Chinese businessmen for musical production and distribution. Several recording studios in Jamaica had Chinese connections regarding their owners, such as also Randy’s.

Bob Marley recorded his very first single for Chinese –Jamaican Leslie Kong (Judge Not), in the early 1960s. Leslie Kong also was influential in the career of, for instance, Jimmy Cliff and had thus had influence, also with other artists, and there were others.

This did not seem to impact on the musical quality or characteristics, as the Chinese seemed to be businessmen first: selling to the people what they want, without cultural manipulation or changes. Few Chinese musical influences entered Reggae overall this way, haha.

Cuba has a rich Afro-Cuban musical legacy, but there some Chinese influences can be noted, such as during the Santiago de Cuba carnival, with the use of certain Chinese horns. Not so much in Reggae.

Byron Lee was an exception, as he was also a musician. He was a Chinese-Jamaican and creatively active as musician, also in Jamaican genres. Due to his middle-class affiliation –however - he had no real connection to Reggae’s origin and background as music from ghetto people in Jamaica. Actually, he was half Chinese (his father) and half-African (his mother), so it was also a “class” difference rather than just an ethnic one. “Watered-downed” or “polished” Reggae is what some say he made – catered to white, US or British middle-class people apparently - although there is some musical quality there, that should not be underrated. The nice Bam Bam Riddim being an example, played by Byron Lee & the Dragonaires. So, not the most authentic or “real” Reggae, but with some quality here and there.


Joseph Hoo Kim was differently active in Jamaican music, more as facilitator, but a crucial one.

From an entrepeneurial family (bar, ice cream parlour), and first active with his brothers in a gambling and jukebox business, his entering the Reggae business, might be considered purely economically motivated.

This seemed partly so. Though it does not always become so clear from his biography, some love for Reggae as a genre – and the wish to invest in it also for nonfinancial but artistic reasons – had to be there, and showed. His policy at the studio was inclusive toward many local artists and arrangers, for instance. In addition, he grew up near Maxfield Avenue, a poor, ghetto area in Western Kingston, Jamaica, which connected him to Reggae’s Roots. On Maxfield Avenue Channel One got eventually located, when it started operations in 1973.

Channel One thus became in the course of the 1970s a crucial Reggae recording studio: “keeping it real”, regarding Roots Reggae, then becoming popular. Especially since the mid-1970s Channel One became successful as a studio and company.


That Sly Dunbar first started recording at Channel One, and other influential musicians in Reggae, like Robbie Shakespeare and Ansel Collins too, led to further developments within Reggae, and what would become the “Rockers” sound. I myself would call myself surely a fan of this Rockers sound from the mid to later 1970s. The Mighty Diamonds’ song ‘Right Time’ from 1976 became one of Channel One’s “big” hits, and was at the same time one of the first in the Rockers style of Reggae, with Sly Dunbar on drums, adding more bass drum kicks among other drum changes. The following 1976 album with the same name, ‘Right Time’, by the Mighty Diamonds, recorded at Channel One, is simply a Reggae classic, with several great songs.. This all happened at Channel One, and helped develop Reggae.

Perhaps, surrounding oneself with the right people with the right results – as Joseph Hoo Kim did - is an underestimated talent. Even if such organizers are not really “artists” themselves, they surely help develop art and culture. Besides, Joseph Hoo Kim, and his brother Ernest, also were trying to grasp the technical part of recording themselves, albeit along with others. Hoo Kim was thus more than a mere “absent owner”, totally irrelevant to the creative process. He had some indirect influence, and tried even to arrange and mix at time, or working with others he hired for it, such as I Roy, also known as Dee-Jay.

Proper investments and priorities, and facilitating a creative, fruitful environment at Channel One in the 1970s, was thus a main achievement of “Jo Jo” Hoo Kim. Facilitating for creating..


It is actually interesting to witness how Channel One kind of “took over” historically from Studio One in developing Reggae, and from the other earlier studio’s such as Treasure Isle. Of course, there were many other recording studio’s in Jamaica by the 1970s, with great music recorded often, Harry J’s, Randy’s, Dynamic, even increasing in the later 1970s with Joe Gibbs studio gaining influence, Tuff Gong, and Lee “Scratch” Perry’s Black Ark.

By then, especially since 1975, however, Channel One already had influenced Reggae’s development, also because of the “in-house” presence of people like Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare, being in the house band called ‘the Revolutionaries’. A main in-house producer/engineer was I-Roy, as said, along with other engineers that would later leave their mark in Reggae, such as Scientist and Henry “Junjo” Lawes..

In the remainder of this post, as a tribute to Hoo Kim, I am going to analyse what was specific to Channel One’s contribution and place within Reggae music, and its development. What was (generally) recorded there, and how? How did this compare with other studio’s in Jamaican and Reggae music?

The story goes that after a year of “struggling” in the beginning, with some not very successful releases, and lacking technical knowledge – notably by Hoo Kim himself -, the first “hit” as such recorded at Channel One was Delroy Wilson’s nice “It’s a shame”, in 1973.. Then, the studio was still kind of struggling to find its sound, though.

It set things in motion, anyway, while the studio’s upgrade toward a 16-track recorder – then innovative – in 1975, stimulated further musical developments, as each instrument could from then on be recorded separately. Mighty Diamonds’ 1976 hit ‘Right Time’, recorded at Channel One, further spread Channel One’s fame.


Channel One offered what was needed at the time: more advanced equipment, securing better sound quality. Musicians of the time referred to it as “more clarity” in the sound. A clarity when compared to the more rounded-off Studio One sound of before, that of course had its own appeal too. The 16-track recording possibilities impacted the sound too, resulting in Rockers Reggae.

Sly Dunbar was as a drummer influential during this process, and Hoo Kim hired him as studio musician. An indirect, yet crucial decision for Reggae’s growth. Sly Dunbar argues that the drum was crucial for the studio’s eventual success, and worked toward it at the studio.

That is I think an interesting development. I myself have listened to quite some Reggae recorded at Studio One , as well as recorded at Channel One (or elsewhere, Joe Gibbs, Harry J, Black Ark etcetera), to be able to compare from my experience. The “clarity” is indeed a good way to describe one of those differences of Channel One from other, earlier studio “sounds”. The role of the drum is also different; the way it appears in the whole especially. This perhaps betrays the influence of Sly Dunbar, but also of technical possibilities.

In short, the drum sounded more present, clearer, and louder – more distinct –, “sharper” even, when compared to the drums on earlier Studio One recordings, where the drums were more drowned in the whole. These drums on Studio One recordings were not bad, by the way, and at times remarkably polyrhythmic, but relatively soft and as said “drowned” or “buried” in the mix. Channel One simply said emphasized the drums more, while the bass nonetheless remained important within the whole rhythmic structure.

As a percussionist, I also like that percussion was allowed quite some space in recordings at Channel One, notably through in-house percussionist Uzziah “Sticky” Thompson. One of those percussionist who might have influenced me.

Like with the trap drum, the percussion could be nice on some Studio One recordings, but often soft and “drowned”, being better audible in clearer Channel One recording, including even “softer” small percussion instruments like rattles, shakers, woodblocks, or scrapers.

The interesting thing about this, is that they seem side issues, and secondary. The essence is after all that music has to be “good” and enjoyable, or even uplifting. Good songs are good songs, and Jah knows many good songs have been recorded at Studio One. Of course, also at Channel One and other studios.

Still, the “sound” of a song gave them different feels and nuances. Contextualizing beauty in different ways , one can say.

The drum focus of Channel One is valuable in hindsight. The simplistic notion that Reggae is bass guitar-dominated has still not died out, even among self-professed Reggae fans. The drum is equally crucial and “driving” in Reggae. This was secured at Channel One, simply just because of its sound possibilities, able to highlight the drums too.

Again, drumming on Studio One recordings were not necessarily less creative, or for instance Carlton Barrett’s drumming (the Wailers’ drummer) less interesting than Sly Dunbar’s one at Channel One. Sly and Carlton had both their own, interesting style. Barrett’s style may seem subtle, but has many layers and is difficult to imitate. Sly’s style, influencing what was recorded at Channel One, was more “straight-on” and groove-focussed. Even those patterns, however, were more layered and difficult than one would assume. Making things seem easy, is an art of itself.

Another one of my favourite Reggae drummers – Leroy “Horsemouth” Wallace – has yet another, somewhat fuller and flamboyant style, when compared to the other two.

Perhaps one can argue therefore that the popularity and musical career of Sly Dunbar went partly in tandem with Channel One’s. In a later stage (since 1979) Lincoln “Style” Scott – of the Roots Radics - began taking over at Channel One, as Sly & Robbie had started their own Taxi musical enterprise.


Anyhow, Channel One was influential in Reggae’s development as a music studio. This tends to be recognized as such in most works and documentaries documenting Reggae’s history, that usually highlight the importance of other studios also.

The personality of the respective studio owner plays a role though. Lee “Scratch” Perry had his own influential Black Ark studio, like Hoo Kim had his own Channel One, but Perry had a more extravagant, larger-than-life persona. Plus he involved himself more directly with the music he produced, arranging it often too, whereas Hoo Kim tended to mostly leave that to others as I-Roy, other engineers, or musicians like Sly Dunbar. Coxsone Dodd also gets a bit more attention in reggae histories, mostly due to his omnipresence at Studio One. In practice, at Studio One almost everything had to go through him. Coxsone was not just the owner of Studio One, he simply “was” Studio One. In the studio of Duke Reid operational also since the 1960s – the competitor of Studio One and Dodd- , Reid was also the indisputable boss, even carrying usually hand guns on him, and shooting around at times.

This was different with Hoo Kim, deciding from early on to allow free studio time to anyone to be able to learn from others. Many producers and arrangers made use of this free studio time at Channel One in the 1970s, including someone like Lee “Scratch” Perry, then searching a way to start his own studio.

Cooperation, and joint decisions, became thus the name of the game at Channel One, more than at other studios. This was good and positive, by itself. Of course, Hoo Kim exerted his authority as owner, and hired his brothers Kenneth and Ernest at the studio as – one might say – favouritism, albeit understandable. Yet, his lacking musical and technical knowledge made him more dependable on those with it. Opportunistic in part, for sure, but in the end yielding positive and fruitful results.


Channel One tends to be recognized in reggae anthologies and histories – or documentaries, though often in quite general terms. There are some exceptions, though.


Somewhat more attention Channel One receives in the book ‘Rub-a-Dub Sound : the roots of modern dancehall’ (2012), by Beth Lesser. This scholarly study relates Reggae’s history mainly from the late 1970s to the 1980s, when Dancehall began to develop. Hence the title: “Rub-A-Dub” being kind of a pre-digital, “enhanced Rockers” forerunner to what would become Dancehall.

Lesser devotes even a special chapter to later developments at Channel One, which provides some interesting information. It describes how Jo Jo Hoo Kim was in reality quite demanding of his engineers – in later stages -, despite his seeming inclusiveness. From the book (Lesser, page 85):

“Jojo Hookim had high standards for the engineers he allowed at the ‘controls’. Engineering was supposed to be a physically demanding job, at least the way it needed to be done for dancehall. “Earnest started it [engineering] first,” Jojo recalls. “But I tell him, if him going to do it, he has to be all over the control, like he’s running a keyboard. He can’t be there just pushing a little slide up and ease back. He has to be constantly moving something, throughout the whole complete rhythm.”

This was even for his brother Ernest, when he was engineer. Joseph Hoo Kim also admitted that Reggae was for him mainly a way to make money, so that solves that puzzle. This was perhaps not entirely the case. His younger brothers, also working with sound systems or at the studio, went more to Reggae dances and so on, thus seemed more interested in the music, detached from its mere business or monetary possibilities.


The daily practice at the Channel One studio, located in a ghetto area, in that chapter in Lesser’s 2012 work, provides more interesting reading. Many beggars hung around the studio, perhaps predictable in a poor neighbourhood. Also many what in Jamaica are called “loafters” hung around the studio. These were also often begging, though mostly unemployed ghetto youths, seeking some job or errand to do, or other job chances. Even if not succeeding, they this way were entertained with the studio’s music. At times, Sly & Robbie felt they had to be more strict keeping such “loafters” outside during serious studio work. Also owner Jo Jo Hoo Kim found them mainly a hindrance to the business. Funnily, his brother Kenneth, and some artists, on the other hand, had another view on those “loafters”. They opined that these idlers contributed to some “live-like”, vivid atmosphere at the studio premises, possibly beneficial for the music eventually recordings.

Lesser also discusses the activities of Henry “Junjo” Lawes, Barnabas, and “Dub man” Scientist at the studio, and the Roots radices, as Reggae entered the dance-aimed Rub-a-Dub stage from Rockers in the early 1980s. Dance-aimed, but with quite some Rastafari influence in lyrics, as in what was recorded at Channel One in the 1970, when Rastafari-inspired messages were more common in Reggae music in general.

Jo Jo Hoo Kim’s brother Paul ran the connected Channel One sound system. He was murdered in an argument, unfortunately, in 1979. This affected Jo Jo Hoo Kim strongly, also regarding his willingness to keep investing in the studio. He felt it became too unsafe for him, and decided to move operations partly to outside Jamaica, to New York.

This began the slow demise of Channel One, one can say in hindsight, though not immediately. Channel One in Kingston, Jamaica was kept running mainly by others in Jamaica, including his brothers Ernest and Kenneth, along with other producers and artists, when Jo Jo was in New York. Henry “Junjo” Lawes became a producer then, who recorded some great albums.

Several nice and great works and albums were recorded in the Channel One studio in the 1980s still: by veterans Johnny Osbourne, Horace Andy, and Gregory Isaacs, as well as a later generation of artists like Don Carlos, Frankie Jones, Frankie Paul, Sammy Dread, Michael Palmer, Barry Brown and others, becoming popular in the Rub-a-Dub period in Reggae in the 1980s. Barrington Levy, Cocoa Tea, Eek-a-Mouse recorded there in that period too..

The increased digital influence on Reggae, after 1985, more rapidly accelerated Channel One’s demise. Unlike, King Jammy studio’s, or other ones in Jamaica, Channel One did not seem to have an answer to it, developed as it had with “realer”, live-band music. Another vibe, so to speak.


Interesting reading on Channel One within Reggae is also found in another work on Reggae I read: ‘The Rough Guide to Reggae’ (2001), by Steve Barrow and Peter Dalton. This highly readable work gives quite some information about the activities at Channel One, also in its earlier stages, even some not read elsewhere.

Barrow and Dalton explain in more detail how the distinct “freshness” of the Channel One sound came about. In fact, the studio made use of music and riddims from the earlier Studio One and Treasure Isle studios, but updated these. Such changes related to drum changes, with influence by in-house drummer Sly Dunbar, but also the often in-house producer I-Roy. The work states that I Roy, and Jo Jo Hoo Kim, suggested the “clap” sound on the snare drum (as accent on the 3 in a 4/4 beat) to Sly, helping to create a then new, distinct Channel One sound.

This snare drum “clap” is interesting, as I heard elsewhere that the Cuban “timbales” instrument influenced some drummers to higher/tighten the snare drum in Reggae too.

Anyway, I Roy’s 1975 song ‘Welding’ - recorded at the studio - was one of the first to feature this “clap” drum sound.

Barrow and Dalton locate the “peak period” of Channel One popularity and impact in Reggae music around 1975 and 1976. After this, they say, the Mighty Two (Joe Gibbs and Errol Thompson) of Joe Gibbs’ studio took over. In relative popularity, that is. I appreciate the recording at that Joe Gibbs studio too, by the way, especially with the band Culture.

Channel One remained operational alongside these competitors, however, with still many great Reggae recordings up to the 1980s. Barrow and Dalton speak in this sense of a “revitalized” Channel One, after 1979. The period when Jo Jo Hoo Kim was kind of demoralized after the death in 1977 of his brother Paul, who led the Channel One sound system. This sound system preceded the studio, actually.

(There is, by the way, a Sound System with the same name – Channel One -active in the UK today, as some readers may know.)

Jo Jo largely moved to New York, but Channel One studios remained active and run by others, and in this revitalized Channel One, the Roots Radics and Henry “Junjo” Lawes certainly made some interesting music, including the Early Dancehall, pre-digital, slow and Drum and Bass-focussed. The Roots Radics actually started at Channel One in 1979, first with some assistance by Sly and Robbie there passing by still at times.

This slow Rockers style somehow bridged Roots Reggae and Dancehall, and was represented in the early 1980s by among others Barry Brown, Don Carlos, Al Campbell. Horace Andy, the Gladiators and others, also recording in this period at the revitalized Channel One.

In this period, the early 1980s, Frankie Paul (deceased recently too), recorded his first single ‘African Princess’ (1982) at Channel One too, for instance.

Channel One studios closed its operations eventually in the early 1990s..

This was the “end of an era”, as the cliché goes, but a fitting one. Channel One was far from the only music studio in Jamaica, of course, but it was one of the more influential ones in Reggae’s development, especially with regard to the Rockers subgenre. This originated at Channel One, one can simply say, with the Rockers Reggae torch carried on throughout the Late 1970s and 1980s. Started with Sly & Robbie, continued at Channel One with the Roots Radics band. The later Digital Dancehall also carries rhythmically that Rockers heritage, only speeded up.

Jo Jo Hoo Kim left a legacy in that sense, as its owner. He was mostly not involved in the creative part – only marginally – but still was more than a “sphinx without a secret” (to paraphrase Oscar Wilde), i.e. only in it to make money, as he still enabled a creative environment.

Hoo Kim died at 76 years of age. Kind of a blessed age, especially for someone from a poor country, and in an industry with many premature deaths, though musicians seem to die younger more often than producers, also in Reggae.

I Roy, influential at Channel One, working with Hoo Kim, since the 1970s, being also a creative vocalist/DJ/toaster, had a more tragic end to his life. His career went downward in the new Dancehall era in the course of the 1980s, and his popularity declined. A combination of health and financial problems plagued him, even leaving him homeless for periods later in his life. That one of his sons (said to be slightly retarded) was murdered in prison added to his tragic situation. He tried to set up a studio in Spanish Town in the early 1990s, but it was never completed.

The highly original and musical DJ, with intelligent, thematically broad lyrics, I Roy, died from heart failure in 1999. He was only 55 years old.. He helped shape many great recordings from early on, at Channel One too.


When I travelled to Jamaica for two weeks in 2008 I wanted to see some iconic, historical reggae spots too. I went to Trench Town (“Government yard”), Waterhouse (King Jammy), and also wanted to see the famous Channel One studio I heard so much about (and from!). A Jamaican friend took me to show it – the Channel One building, just to see it, and take a photo. So I did. It was in a depressed, impoverished ghetto area, as I heard already, then and now. I noticed that too, especially in the decaying buildings and materials, and the limited number of – and older - cars, compared to wealthier parts of Kingston.

Of course the studio was no longer used, but was left there in ruins, as a kind of monument of past glory. I took this photo, while sensing some kind of nostalgia and sadness. That a good thing had to end, and could not thrive.. something like that..