dinsdag 2 augustus 2016

Reggae music lovers (in the Netherlands): Vega Selecta

INTRODUCTION

How people got to be reggae music lovers or fans has always fascinated me. Maybe partly because reggae still is off/outside the mainstream, also in the Netherlands. It is not found that easily, let’s just say. It requires (to a degree) an extraordinary life path: that is, different from copying the masses, or simply following what’s commonly on television or the radio.

Reggae has of course since decades gone international and widened its fan base, but I have known individually quite different reggae fans within the Netherlands. Black and white (and Asian, or mixed etc.). Males and females. Old and young. Some with little education, some highly educated. Of different class backgrounds. Some combine liking reggae quite equally with other genres (e.g.: some with African, funk, soul, some with hip-hop, some even with non-black music genres), while others on the other hand adhere almost “strictly” to reggae music, and do not get into much else. Some like roots reggae more than dancehall or vice versa. There are even reggae fans – believe it or not - who do not smoke the “ganja herb”. Furthermore, some have an interest or sympathy for the related subject of Rastafari, some do not, or even despise it. The latter, despise, I find somewhat odd since Rastafari is not the same as reggae, but is nonetheless connected to it.

These differences (and similarities) between and among reggae fans/lovers intrigue me, also in relation to personal backgrounds. That’s the reason why I would like to interview specific individuals who love reggae.

Before this I have interviewed 4 persons – reggae lovers I know, “breddas” (meaning “brothers”, or "friends" in Jamaican parlance) of mine – here in the Netherlands.

I started the series on this blog with a post of June 2012, when I interviewed Abenet. In April of 2013 I interviewed Bill. After this I interviewed Manjah Fyah, in May 2014. For my blog post of August 2015, I interviewed, somewhat more extensively, (DJ) Rowstone (Rowald).

VEGA SELECTA

This time I interview yet another “bredda”, whom I met in the reggae scene here in Amsterdam. I encountered him at several reggae events in and around Amsterdam over the last years. I also knew he had more or less steady places/clubs (such at OT301 in Amsterdam West) where he was a Reggae DJ, or “Selecta” in Jamaican parlance. Hence also his name Vega Selecta. He played vinyl, I noticed. He tended to prefer to play Roots Reggae and Dub, and at times UK Steppers, as I remember it.

I knew him, furthermore, to be a part of “collective” of sorts, called the Zen Rockers, a group of Reggae Selectors, with international backgrounds (French, Dutch, Polish a.o.) spinning records at events and in clubs/locations in different parts of the Netherlands. Interesting and nice how these Zen Rockers’ organized sessions at times also included people playing instruments (I recall a saxophone, a melodica, percussion), over “dub-wise” tunes.

In addition to this, I also knew about Vega Selecta’s sincere interest in Rastafari and its spirituality. Beyond this, I knew not that much about him. So, an interview seemed to me a good idea!

He was and is quite busy, but made time to answer the questions underneath, I sent him:

1. Where are you from, and how long are you now in the Netherlands?

Bless Up! Am living in Netherlands for 10 years. I come from Poland.

2. Since when (what age) do you listen to reggae music?

Since the age of 17 .

3. Where (did you get into it)? Were their differences in the reggae scenes between the places you lived?

I man grow up with punk rock music. Punk scene in Poland was big in the 80s and early 90's. Many punk bands played reggae songs, and to go around censorship - they could not sing about the Communist system - they sang about Babylon. In the 80’s in Poland were formed such reggae bands as Baksish, Daab, Izrael, RAP. Some members of these bands come from punk formations. Punk and reggae was always connected. Even if you spelled reggae in Polish you get ,,rege''. On punk festivals reggae music was always present. At one such festival, Jarocin, I heard for the first time a cover of the song ,,Exodus'' from Bob Marley. It was the beginning.

4. What appealed to you in reggae at the time (when you got into it)?

What appealed to me in reggae.. I think harmony with the heart beat, and the strong message.

5. What other music genres did you listen to then?

Still like to listen to punk, hardcore, jazz, funky, jungle, drum n bass, ethno music..

6. Has your music preference changed since then ?

Like I said, I still listen to different types of music, but dubbing is a must.

7. Since when are you a reggae selecta/dj?

With two of my friends we started Dread Lion Crew in 2001. First we spinned just for friends. Later we organized and played many parties in Poland.

7. Do you play both vinyl and digital discs?

Strictly vinyl.

8. Do you have specific preferences within the broad reggae genre?

I love Roots and UK steppers style.

10. Do you play musical instruments?

In my free time djembe.

11. Does the Rastafari message within (much) reggae appeal to you? How does this relate to your background, and your own spirituality?

Yes, anyone who attentively listens to Jah music, will find this message. Live in harmony with our planet, with others, and with myself.

12. What kind of music (reggae or otherwise) do you listen to at the moment/right now? What specific artists? Any new musical “discoveries” you would like to mention or recommend?

Exactly at this moment Willie Williams –,,Freedom Time'' comes out of my speakers.

I can further recommend Alpha & Omega, Aba Shanti, Jah Shaka, Big Youth, U-Roy, Eccleton Jarrett. For new productions please check the labels: Partial Records, Roots Temple, and Conscious Sounds.

13. Any other things you want to mention?

Give thanx for the life we live in. Blessed Love!

REFLECTION AND COMPARISON

Well, I now definitely learned a bit more about the person behind Vega Selecta. Interesting how yet another geographical background is here the case, after the persons I interviewed before, who had Ethiopian, Dutch, Italian, or Guyanese backgrounds, even though some were born in the Netherlands. Vega Selecta is in turn from Poland, living now in the Netherlands. This truly shows how Reggae "gone international”, which can be considered quite a known fact by now.

An interesting dimension specific to Vega Selecta’s case is the Communist context of censorship in relation to Reggae’s “protest” lyrics, he described. The Rastafari term “Babylon” (essentially meaning an oppressive Western or other system) proved to be a good "channel" for rebellion against the system, while still going around that same system’s censorship, common in such (Communist) dictatorships, like in Poland at that time.

PUNK

The strong connection between Punk and Reggae in the Polish scene is also remarkable, though not totally unique. Also in Britain in the 1970s and 1980s there were connections between the Punk and Reggae scenes, notable in activities of John Lydon (a.k.a. Johnny Rotten) or the band the Clash, working with Jamaican artists like Mikey Dread and others, and covering Jamaican songs. Many reggae songs became cult hits not just among Black Britons, or Britons of Caribbean descent, but also among many British Punks, and similar "protesting" lower class-subgroups in Britain. Culture's "Two Sevens Clash" for example.

A rebellious, anti-systemic spirit among the youth united these scenes, apparently. It seemed to have worked out in a specific way in Poland though, mainly – I imagine – due to the absence of a large Jamaican migrant community and an independently formed reggae scene, as there was in Britain. But that’s understandable.

From a musical perspective the Reggae-Punk link seems to make less sense – with Punk’s often “Rock guitar” focus - though there are often similarities in “feel” or “energy”.

Anyway, in the “localization” of Reggae in Poland – as occurred everywhere - the local Punk scene played a role. Along with this, came other aspects, such as language. I know about Reggae bands in Polish, just like Manjah Fyah, in an earlier interview I had with him, mentioned Reggae bands in Sicily singing in the Sicilian dialect.

AGE

The teenage years tend to be formative years in shaping tastes and preferences for the rest of a human’s life. Scientific studies even have shown this. This applies of course also to the music one prefers and “sticks to”, so to speak. Vega Selecta said he was about 17 when he got into Reggae. Abenet, whom I interviewed before was also about 17 when he really got into Reggae, and Manjah Fyah about 16. I myself was about 12, as was Bill, whom I also interviewed. DJ Rowstone (with Guyanese parents), grew up with Reggae, but returned to it more intensely, also in his teens.

If there is a difference between Early or Late Teens, I don’t know. The brains – I understood – are not fully formed until a human is about 21, so either way Reggae may have helped shape the brain. I think that’s a good thing, haha.

As other people I interviewed, Vega Selecta prefers vinyl records over CD/digital records, even adhering “strictly” to it, as he said.

Vega Selecta seems to have a sincere interest in Rastafari, and knowledge about it. In his way he wants to live and express that too, i.e. at times through Nyabinghi drumming and chanting. Some other people I interviewed respected Rastafari, but with a bit more distance, but each person makes own choices, of course. He also plays Djembe, and regarding percussion and Nyabinghi (and of course Rastafari) he thus shares these interests with me.

WITHIN REGGAE

Like others among my interviewees, Vega Selecta is a Selecta (DJ). Like e.g. Bill, I interviewed, he likes Dub, alongside Roots Reggae and UK Steppers. He seems less interested in the Dancehall subgenre, also in selecting/spinning it, unlike DJ Rowstone (who does interchange it with Roots at times), or Manjah Fyah at times. Not everyone knows that also modern Dancehall records are often released in vinyl, by the way.

OTHER GENRES

Vega Selecta still likes listening at times to Punk music, alongside Reggae. This is understandable in light of the described Polish scene. I myself listen to other genres besides Reggae as well, though not really that much Punk, but each one has his or her taste, and accents therein. He also listens to Jazz and Funk, he said, and I at times too, as do other Reggae fans. I like also “ethno” music, as Vega Selecta called it, as I think it includes African polyrhythmic traditions and music, which relates also to my interest in percussion.

I am not the biggest fan of Jungle in the world, but some Reggae fans I know like it. Several reggae fans I interviewed also like Hip-Hop. I myself too a bit (more than Drum & Bass or Jungle anyway). Taste is however, of course, also something personal, depending probably on one’s trajectory and life experiences.

Anyway, I found it interesting to have learned more about Vega Selecta’s trajectory

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