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.

PERSOONLIJK?

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.

DAARVOOR?

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.

POSITIEF OF NEGATIEF

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".

REGGAE

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..

SAMENVATTING PERSOONLIJK

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.

TOLERANT?

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..

CULTURELE EN SOCIALE ONTWIKKELINGEN IN AMSTERDAM 2003-2018

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.

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.

REGGAE PLEKKEN

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.

REGGAE-CONCERTEN

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..

UIT TE HOUDEN

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.

CHINESE JAMAICANS

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.

INCLUSIVE

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.

SLY & ROBBIE

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..

CHANNEL ONE

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.

CLARITY AND DRUMS

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.

COOPERATION

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.

IN WORKS ON REGGAE HISTORY

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

BETH LESSER

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.

LOAFTERS

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.

STEVE BARROW & PETER DALTON

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.

POSTSCRIPT

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..

zondag 2 september 2018

Reggae music lovers (in the Netherlands): Empress Donna Lee

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 6 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). In August 2016, then, I interviewed Vega Selecta. In October 2017 I interviewed DJ Ewa, also quite extensively.

EMPRESS DONNA LEE

This time, near September of 2018, I interview a “sista” of mine, who I know from the Amsterdam reggae scene. Her name is Donnalee Echteld, also known as Empress Messenjah, or Empress Donna Lee.

Besides that I thought it was time for a woman to be interviewed in this series, Donna Lee is by now quite a well-known, almost iconic person in the Reggae scene in the Netherlands. She is especially – though not only - active in the Amsterdam area, and based there. She is a Selectress/DJ in Reggae, having played over the years at different venues, including festivals, and larger concert venues in Amsterdam, like Paradiso and Melkweg, when they had reggae events/concerts, besides at reggae-minded clubs like Café the Zen, in Eastern Amsterdam.

She furthermore hosts several (online) radio programmes – in the present time at Amsterdam South East-based Radio Razo, or: www.razo-amsterdam.nl , and has done so for years, often hosting together with others, such as Red Lion, the latter also connected to the well-known King Shiloh Sound System. Her focus and stance is Rastafari, and, in relation to this, she mainly plays – old and new - “conscious” Roots Reggae, with “message”, i.e. more spiritual and social, lyrics.

This becomes clear in the songs she plays on her radio shows, as well as as a selecta/selectress.

I myself used to live a time somewhat outside of Amsterdam, but was already a Reggae fan when I came to live in Amsterdam, somewhere around 2003. I went out in Amsterdam occasionally before this. Already then, I encountered Donna Lee’s name and activities in the Reggae scene, and even more when living in Amsterdam itself.

Based in the quarter Amsterdam South East, with many “Black” (Surinamese, Antillean, and African) inhabitants, she quite made a name for herself, as a true representative of both Reggae and Rastafari.

I noticed all this, and certainly enjoyed her selections and song lists – “inna di dance” and on the radio - , keeping me spiritually uplifted. Unlike some other Reggae Deejay’s, she played/spinned no lengthy Digital Dancehall periods, that while at times “dynamic”, often had dubious violence, “slackness” or “ego” lyrics. No, her selections were Strictly Roots, with conscious lyrics. She at the same time avoided becoming “too heavy”, by including joyous and humorous, yet still Rootsy, music. I appreciated all this – as I have a somewhat similar musical taste to hers -, but did at first not know much else about her, beyond her Aruban background, and her Rastafari adherence.

Time for some questions, therefore, while I took into account her busy time schedule.

Underneath you’ll see my questions and her answers, translated to English.

Where were you born and did you grow up?

I was born on Aruba (Dutch Caribbean), grew up there until I was 16 years old.

Since when do you listen Reggae music?

Since I was 12 years old.

What attracted you to it, then?

The positive message and the rhythm.

What other music genres did you listen to?

Only Roots Reggae.

Has there been a change in your musical preferences since then?

No.

Do you have any preferences within the broad Reggae genre? Does, e.g., Digital Dancehall appeal to you as much as Roots Reggae?

I only like Roots Reggae, with real musical instruments. Some Dancehall beats/riddims I find okay..

Since when are you a Reggae selectress /dee-jay? .

Since 1983.

Since how long do you do radio work?

For 20 years.

Do you have a preference for Vinyl or Digital/CD? As listener and as selecta/selectress?

I still love vinyl, but since I started working for the radio, I came across more CD players.

Why the name Empress Messenjah (Donna Lee)?

I started with the name Sista D, back in the 1980s, after that Empress Sound. Then I met Luciano (the artist/singer), and he gave me the name Empress Messenjah. This because he found that I transmitted a positive vibe with “the positive message in the music”.. .

What were some of the most memorable encounters you had with Reggae artists and in the scene, throughout the years?

In the 80's, I played music at Paradiso, for Prince Fari and Augustus Pablo. I met and interviewed Sugar Minott in 2008 in Jamaica at Rebel Salute And also Luciano the Messenjah!

Does the Rastafari message in much of Reggae appeal to you? How does this relate to your own background, or beliefs? .

For sure! For me the message in Reggae music is realistic!

What kind of music (reggae) do you prefer to listen to now – at this moment -, what specific artists? Any new “discoveries” you would like to mention?

I listen to Sugar Minott, Devon Russell, Prince Lincoln Thompson & the Royal Rasses. Burning Spear, Willie Williams, Sister Carol, Jah 9, Bob Marley etc.

There are so many new artists; Princess Fyah Jalifa, Hempress Divine, Lila Ike, Asadenaki, Meleku, Xana Romeo, Jesse Royal, etc. .

What do you think of the Reggae scene in Amsterdam and Netherlands nowadays, and how it developed since you started?

Well, back in the days, The Reggae Rastafari scene was more serious, more Roots artists stage shows and own band.

Nowadays, the same artist are booked and every year they perform. And they perform with European bands.

I think there should be a different lineup of Roots Reggae artist for Stage shows.

Any other things you would like to mention?

I would like to thank you, Michel, for the support and the interview.

I further wish for everyone in this world all the best! Be good and good will follow you! Respect one another like your own sister and brother! Peace and Love!

REFLECTION AND COMPARISON

Due to time constraints, and Donna Lee’s mentioned busy schedule, this interview is less extensive than some of the other ones I had in this series..

I think it is still pretty insightful, though.

She has some similarities and differences with the other interviewees, as of course every person is different. She, Donna Lee, is strongly Rastafari and Roots Reggae-focussed. She does not even mention other genres, here. Yet, there is so much variation and are so many dimensions within Roots Reggae that this it does not close the mind, but rather opens the mind, certainly spiritually, in my opinion. An advantage with this is that you really specialize in a genre, learn about it deeply, and not just superficially. Love and knowledge thereby become mutually strengthening.

Even if Reggae fans, like me, still listen at times to other genres, there is still the Reggae base from which one departs, a certain Reggae-based perspective. Nothing wrong with that.

Her Aruba background is interesting, as the island has ethnically a bit a different profile from more “African Caribbean/genetically African” Curaçao, the neighbouring island, also part of the Dutch Caribbean. Aruba has a more mixed population: European, African, and also quite some Amerindian blood. In the town of San Nicolás in Eastern Aruba, however, British Caribbean migrants (once working for the oil refinery), left a strong cultural influence, including in the local carnival. So, Jamaican Reggae does not seem a big “cultural step” from this. .

I furthermore think I agree with what Donna Lee says above about the presently more standardized, booked – read: commercial - character of Jamaican artists’ concerts in the Netherlands, saving costs by using European bands while touring. It somehow seems to have lost an own, creative spirit, noticeable in earlier decades. I heard comments on this change also by other, older Reggae fans, already going to reggae concerts in the 1980s and early 1990s.

Those European bands, often with White members, seem – let’s be honest – less authentic, when one expects Jamaican Reggae. I can understand that very well. On the other hand, it is slightly simplistic and prejudiced. These European musicians often seemed skilled and dedicated, and somehow got into the Reggae vibe. Therefore they did not in every case “ruin” or “disturb” the Jamaican Reggae vibe so much, as one would assume. On the other hand, I myself also saw European bands with Jamaican artists like Anthony B., Eek-A-Mouse, or Don Carlos, thinking afterward: “real Jamaican Reggae musicians would have been better…”, missing a certain musical vibe at these concerts. So, I also understand what Donna Lee means.

I think I understand Empress Donna Lee’s musical taste too, although that is often very personal, and the result of one’s specific, own life experiences and background. She has quite some attention to female artists, and plays them too regularly, I noticed, both as selectress and on the radio. Justly so, because these female artists show quite some talent, especially also within Roots Reggae. These include Jah 9, and other artists she mentions, like Hempress Divine. I like these too, and also Hempress Sativa, is an artist I got a love for recently, while also Dezarie – longer active –, from St Croix, should not be forgotten.

This attention is just for mere quality’s sake, but also because of gender “balance”. I emphasize that this is not a Reggae thing: most (pop) music scenes tend to be dominated by men, some more so than others (Rock, Grunge, Techno, Country, Funk, Blues, Flamenco, Hip-Hop, to a lesser degree Soul and R&B, where there seem to be a bit more women), and Reggae is only partly an exception, although there were always a few female artists active from the beginning (1960s) in Jamaican music.

She mentions some male Reggae artists too, of course, that she listens to. Quality too, in my opinion. Some criticized Prince Lincoln Thompson for being a bit too commercial-sounding, but I think it applies only to some of his albums or songs. Thompson certainly made some quality, roots gems. Even the 1980 album ‘Natural Wild’, by Prince Lincoln Thompson, I have (once bought by my brother) had its moments and some good songs, even if produced by British singer Joe “Is She Really Going Out With Him” Jackson, being also one of the musicians on keys.

She also mentions Willie Williams, and I like him too. His great tune “Don’t Let I Down” certainly struck a chord with me, having appeared as “soundtrack” in one of my dreams, I recall..

Maybe a message from Jah, who knows.. In the dream I walked on a lot near a canal, near to the Leidseplein, in central Amsterdam, a square with lots of bars and music venues, while I heard and sang along with that song.. That was an impressive dream.., but I digress..

I am glad, anyway, that I got to know somewhat more about the great Roots Reggae selectress and radio hostess Empress Donna Lee.

woensdag 1 augustus 2018

Emancipation Day

The 1st of August is known as Emancipation Day in former British (Caribbean and American) colonies. This refers to the fact that slavery was officially abolished by Britain, more or less, on that date in 1834. It is therefore celebrated as a national holiday in several British colonies, such as in the Caribbean. In reality, at first only slaves below the age of 6 were freed on the 1st of August 1834; enslaved workers older than that were still required to work for their masters (40 hours a week, with no pay), by law up to 1838, when “full emancipation” was finally achieved. These enslaved workers in British Caribbean colonies were mostly Africans, or Caribbean-born Africans.

Of course, other colonizers (France, Netherlands, Spain, Portugal etc.) had other dates and years for this abolition. Britain was one of the earliest colonizing states to abolish slavery, and even prides itself with that in hindsight. In that sense it seemed more progressive than other nations in Europe.

It is not a s simple as that, though. Not many may know that during the French Revolution, in 1794, slavery was already abolished in French colonies, yet this was restored again under Napoleon in 1802.

Moreover, one of those French colonies in the Caribbean, Haiti, managed to abolish slavery itself in 1804, during the Haitian Revolution. Enslaved Haitians did not wait for a “benevolent” European state, but fought for their rights to be free themselves. Likewise, the seeming benevolence and sudden humanitarianism of Britain abolishing slavery in 1834 was viewed skeptically, and not without reason.

ERIC WILLIAMS

The many slave rebellions in several British colonies, such as Jamaica, along with changed economic conditions in Britain, simply made slavery overall no longer profitable enough for Britain by 1834. Trinidadian scholar Eric Eustace Williams even argues in his 1944 work ‘Capitalism and slavery’, that slavery helped finance the Industrial Revolution in Britain, thus having served its function, one might say.

Williams’ line of reasoning is thus that Britain’s abolition of slavery had more economic than humanitarian reasons, for the “powers that be”: it enabled the British Industrial Revolution. This in turn placed Britain in an economically prominent position within Europe and the Western world, as the first industrializing nation, later followed by other parts of Europe, of course, some later than others, some only partly. This first industrialization in the world – in Britain - had thus global economic impact, financed by the blood, sweat, and tears – and many deaths – of enslaved Africans.

In this post I will focus on slavery in British history, compared to slavery in other parts of the world. Precisely because Britain boasts about a relatively early abolition, and because of its contribution to the Industrial Revolution in England. What set slavery in the British Empire apart from those of other colonizing nations around that time, and from slavery throughout history in various civilizations? Comparing (historical) slavery systems is quite common even in academic circles, and can be – I argue – quite educational.

NARDIA THOMAS

An interesting book I read, besides the mentioned book by Eric Eustace Williams, in this regard is also ‘The intellectual roots of slavery in the British West Indies: slavery in the British West Indies: a study of the intellectual roots, from the Late Classical period to AD 1850”, by Nardia Thomas. She is also a Trinidadian scholar, like Eric Williams. This book is however quite recent, being published in 2010.

Thomas discusses slavery throughout history, pointing at common elements making human beings vulnerable to enslavement. She mentions specifically the crucial roles of the concept of the “cultural other” - a conquered or captured “outsider” - being more vulnerable to become slave in a certain society, and the concept of “alienation”. The latter term also includes people expelled within their own society. That “cultural other” can refer to another culture, geographical area, race, or religion, often several aspects at once. The accents differ throughout time period, though.

“Race” might in the beginning not be the only factor triggering enslavement of “others” – though still a factor - , but in time race became a quite dominant one, as also being of another religion – or infidels -, such as with the conquests of the Islam: non-Muslims were allowed to be enslaved, and were so in large numbers, especially Africans, pointing at a combination with racial and cultural motives. The same applied to Christianity, of course. All this was framed also within economic motivations, as applied to both Arab enslavers, as soon after Christian colonizers like Portugal and Spain, claiming hypocritically to “convert” or “save” the heathen, by enslaving them.

Nardia Thomas in her book departs from a broad, global approach, discussing also historical slavery in Ancient Greece and the Roman Empire, within India and Hinduism, intertwined within the unequal caste system, and further also discussed forms of slavery known historically in China and Africa. Thomas’s work is in that sense more or less comparative. Along those ”comparative” lines I continue with this post, but with my own accents.

These own accents relate to my own interests in culture and music, definitely also within the African Diaspora, as I discuss regularly within my – this – blog. I am a Reggae fan, am interested in Rastafari, and in related musical genres and movements. I am also a percussionist, and percussion has a strong African and Afro-American influence. Africa is known as the most “percussive continent”.

DIFFERENCES

What differentiated the slavery systems between European and other powers, and how has this impacted upon social and cultural developments? I might have touched aspects of this topic partly in previous posts on this blog. I compared – for instance – the enslaved Africans in Jamaica and Cuba with regard to maintenance of African culture. There were similarities in cultural deracination and destruction, but also differences: such as somewhat greater possibilities in Cuba to maintain original African cultures (Yoruba, Congo etcetera) within own organizations among (free and enlaved) Africans, called “cabildos” in Cuba.

This way musical traditions could be maintained, more and more directly than in Jamaica or other British colonies, where even a total ban on “drumming” for Africans was for a long time upheld. In Spanish and Portuguese colonies, and to a degree also in French ones, enslaved Africans were often under conditions allowed to play the drums, and other limited degrees of cultural expressions. There were occasional also bans on drumming – or strong discouragement – in Spanish colonies, like Cuba, too, by the way, but less total.

Why this difference? The Protestant emphasis on both rigidity and sobriety of British colonizers – versus Catholic flexibility of Spanish or French colonizers - is often cited as explanation, and this might well be partly true. It seems plausible to me as partial explanation, though it could have combined with other reasons (role in communication rebellious messages by these drums among slaves in British colonies, for instance).

SPAIN AND PORTUGAL

Christopher Columbus, born in Genoa (later part of Italy), and having become a Portuguese citizen later, started ironically the colonial history of Spain by pleading with its new monarchs (Ferdinand and Isabella, who combined their kingdoms Aragón and Castile) to finance his trips to what would be known as ‘the Americas’, in 1492. The disaster then began. The arrival of Spaniards and other Europeans had genocidal effects in parts of the Americas on the Amerindian population.

Already around 1505 a first shipment of enslaved Africans went to Santo Domingo (Hispaniola). These first Black slaves were then, however, living in Spain. With the aid of the Portuguese, who had gained more grounds in the African continent and already experience with enslaving and trading in Africans, however, Spain could in time also import Africans directly from Africa as slaves for its American colonies.

SYSTEMATIC PLANTATION SLAVERY

Britain and other European nations followed with this dehumanizing practice of transporting enslaved Africans to the Americas not long after that. Countries like Britain and the Netherlands even modernized and intensified this slavery and slave trade, when compared to Portuguese and Spanish slavery systems. Modernizations by the Dutch in Brazil (1630-1654), further influenced in part those followed by the British in Barbados, became models for a more intensive – and more productive - “plantation slavery” in the Caribbean and Americas.

Simply said: (the Dutch and) British made slavery more efficient and could therefore transport more enslaved Africans in less time when compared to the Spanish, by the 18th c. This made plantations and the sugar industry more profitable in British and Dutch colonies, than in Spanish colonies, where Africans had more varied roles. Some historians describe the difference as such: Cuba was mostly a “colony with slaves”, while Jamaica, Haiti, St Lucia, Barbados, and other colonies, were rather “slave colonies”.

A cynical modernization, as it resulted in the enslavement of more (millions of) Africans, under harsher work conditions, even worse than the earlier enslavement under the Spanish and Portuguese. It increased the dehumanization, as with this plantation slavery, slaves became treated like “animals” and “things” (with no rights), with even less regard for their lives than under the Spanish. Enslaved Africans in the Caribbean, especially on sugar plantations, generally died young, at an average of within 8 years after arrival from Africa (as was the case in Jamaica). The dehumanization was of course there also with the earlier Portuguese and Spanish slave trade and slavery, but this increased it.

In tandem with this dehumanization, the racialization of slavery also became the norm in American colonies. The cynical fact in most colonies was: if you were Black/African, you are supposed to be slave, unless you were freed, or could buy your freedom. In some colonies, the possibilities of becoming free, were bigger than in others. French St Domingue – later Haiti - had, especially in urban areas, at one point quite some free Africans living, as also Cuban cities like Havana, alongside enslaved populations. This made racial relations a bit more flexible in these “Latin” colonies. The lesser and later focus on plantation slavery in Cuba, and a larger white population, also attributed to social and cultural differences with British Caribbean colonies, like Jamaica.

AFRICAN ORIGINS

When Spain began its colonial adventure, it did not have much access to the African continent. Its neighbour Portugal already had, though, having established trade relations in various parts of Africa, including in what is now the areas of Guinea, in Congo, Angola, and Cameroon. It was setting up several trading posts in Angola. The Spanish therefore at first depended on those Portuguese, when they brought enslaved Africans to the West.

The Dutch, French, and British (and even Danes, Brandenburg Germans, and Swedes) were more assertive, and established trading posts along the African coasts, when they also engaged in colonialism and slave trade. These were set up in various parts, partly in areas where the Portuguese were less present, but also close to them. Ghana is one such place where the North Europeans could establish posts, explaining why many slaves from the Ghana area ended up in British and Dutch colonies. The Dutch also had a trading post in what is now Angola, however.

It is too simple to conclude, therefore, that the different European colonizers obtained their slaves from different parts of Africa. All these European colonizers obtained slaves where they could, in various parts of Africa, often collaborating temporarily with other nations. Spain – still with relatively limited access to Africa – worked for its slave trade mostly with Asientos – trade contracts – with British, Dutch, and Portuguese slavers. These latter had more of a maritime tradition and industry than Spain. Britain could get and transport the enslaved Africans with their own ships, while the Spanish were mostly dependent for the shipping on other nations, also because it had not many African territories and footholds, unlike Portugal, Britain, France etcetera.

This is historically significant, as it formed the basis for the later colonies of Portugal, France, and Britain in the African continent, in fact consisting of most of the continent , while Spain at the end only had one small colony in sub-Saharan Africa, namely Equatorial Guinea. It contributed to the current fact – perhaps ironic – that in this day and age most “Francophone” speakers live in Africa, even more than in France and Eastern Canada combined. Studying this is educational, as it shows how industrialization, slave trade, and colonialism in Africa all interrelate.

SPAIN

Spain never industrialized as much as Britain, only much later and mainly in certain regions (Catalonia and the Basque country). The “blood money” that Spain obtained from its colonialism and slavery, just like Britain and the Netherlands had, therefore fed less into a burgeoning industry benefiting the whole Spanish economy, unlike in Britain. It mostly stayed within a few elite families. Only when more systematic plantation slavery had increased in Cuba (later than in British colonies), in the 19th c., its gains went into an industry in Spain, notably in the Barcelona and Catalonia area, where an industry by then had developed.

Many Catalans also invested in the African slave trade and slavery, despite it not bordering the Atlantic. Quite some Catalans (and Basques) migrated to Cuba then, and there were well-known affluent slave owners among them. A large slave owner in Cuba, Julián Zulueta, was a Basque from Northern Spain. Today, many Afro-Cubans therefore have that formal surname (Zulueta), having been owned by that family. I also met some Black Cubans with that surname, when I was in Cuba, as well as with Catalan surnames (and of course also other Spanish surnames).

The Bacardí family was Catalan (later active in the sugar-derived rum industry), and there were also other several Catalan slave owners. Present-day surnames by Afro-Cubans of Catalan origins, like Ferrer, Más etcera, remind of this.

Unfortunately for those who sympathize more with Catalans than with the Spanish, in relation to the recent Catalan independence demands, also what is now Catalonia profited from Spain’s colonial and slavery pasts, even if the first Spanish colonization started from ports like Seville, belonging to Castile (now Andalusia). Studies show several Barcelonese and Catalan elite, industrial families were involved in the slave trade from Africa to the Caribbean, as well as in Caribbean plantations, up to the later 19th c..

An interesting fact in this regard: the pro-independence Catalonian politician Artur Más – a precursor in this sense to Carles Puigdemont – had among his forefathers Catalans involved in the African slave trade. I can only hope that he does not consider this something to be proud of.

In summary, the British made the slave trade and plantation slavery more efficient and used its gains more effectively economically and strategically than the Spanish, toward industrialization. When Spain lost its final colonies in the Americas, by 1900, Spain therefore soon impoverished again, certainly when compared to Britain or Northern Europe.

DUBIOUS CLAIM

This also makes the claim that Britain was more “humanitarian” in abolishing slavery and the slave trade in abolishing them much earlier than the Spanish and others, at the very least a morally “dubious” claim. The official abolition date was indeed earlier than the ones by the Netherlands, France, or Spain. Yet, history also shows that around and after this abolition in the 1830s, Britain secured and expanded its hold on the African continent into several large colonies, remaining colonies up to the late 20th c.

For all these reasons, Britain and the British influenced Africans at home and abroad much more strongly, overall, than the Spanish. This is however due to a dehumanizing past.

CULTURAL IMPACT

This influence is also cultural, although shared African cultural characteristics can be found throughout the African Diaspora. I find that a very fascinating theme, as shows on my (this) blog. Especially enslaved Africans from the Congo area, ended up relatively evenly in colonies of different European colonizers. Later studies calculated that probably a bit over 20% of the African slaves brought to Jamaica were from the Congo/Angola area, with a similar percentage applicable to Haiti or the US. Still less than about 40% from Congo/Angola, for Cuba, but still numerous.

There is a specific Congo/Bantu influence among Afro-Jamaicans, as well as among black Americans, and in Haitian Vodou, in Guadeloupe, and also in former Dutch colonies like Suriname and Curaçao, discernible in music and other cultural expressions, mixed or not. This is more prominently present in the African retentions in Cuba and Brazil, but certainly also present in former British, French, or Dutch colonies. Some trace for instance the “heart beat” drumming in Rastafari Nyahbingi drumming to Congo influences, even if played with Kete drums, originating in the Ghana area, where relatively more Africans (about 45%) in Jamaica were taken from.

Despite this, there are several shared African cultural continuities and values among Africans from the Ghana, Nigeria, and Congo areas, such as polyrhythmic music, musical-spiritual connections, social structures, call-and-response etcetera. These values are mostly shared throughout sub-Saharan Africa, to differing degrees, and came with slaves to the West.

I have studied such differences and historical comparisons in slavery in the Americas before.

BRITISH LEGACIES

The similarities – and differences -within the African Diaspora regarding the African part are very interesting; its variety as well. How did the fact that the enslavers were British impact these differences?

Well, certain parts of Africa were more easily accessible for the British than for other Europeans, for instance Ghana. This became therefore an important source for Britain for slave workers. The British also got slaves from other parts, having relatively more access to other parts too, notably Southeast Nigeria, and the Igbo area, parts of Cameroun, and in Gambia and the Sierra Leone area. The British had posts elsewhere too, such as the Congo region, but this “relative access” shows in part in the slave populations in the Americas.

As said, almost 50% of the Africans brought as slaves to Jamaica probably came from the Ghana region, while to Barbados, relatively many (also about 50%) came from the Igbo area. Igboes were also quite present among the enslaved population in Jamaica (a bit over 20%).

Afro-Trinidadian culture has a strong Yoruba influence (just like in Cuba and parts of Brazil). The Yoruba lands, in Southwest Nigeria and Benin, were at first less accessible for the British, but more to the Spanish, and Portuguese. Trinidad only became later a British colony, in 1797, and before that was a Spanish colony, with many slave owners being French. This also explains cultural differences with other British Caribbean islands.

PROTESTANTISM

A main legacy – on the European side – is of course British, Anglo-Saxon culture, including Protestantism. Noted should be also that about 30% of all slave-owners in the British Caribbean were Scottish, though also Protestant, and most of the rest from various parts of England, Anglicized Irishmen, or Wales. Jamaican surnames nowadays (former slave names after slave-owners as is well-known) like Barrett, Smith, Rodney, Henry, McGregor, Llewellyn, Hylton, Matthews, Johnson, Shaw, Holt, and so forth, say enough.

Reggae artist Peter Tosh (from McIntosh) once stated that his European name is just a “handle”, and does not define him. This is of course true.

There is also a British cultural legacy, that affecting and influenced Afro-Jamaicans. The English language, but deeper than that also Protestantism. Various Protestant churches set up base in the British Caribbean, converting many former slaves. These had at points different interpretations of Protestantism from each other and the more elite (and White) Anglican state church of England. Some were more Evangelical, others influenced by Calvinism. They however all shared a focus on Bible texts, combined with a puritan rigidity. Despite this rigidity, among Afro-Caribbean followers, African cultural traits were mixed with this, in religious practice.

At the end of the day, nonetheless, Protestant and Anglo-Saxon interpretations of the Bible became quite normative and culturally influential in, for instance, Jamaica and among Black Jamaicans. This has remained so up to today.

RASTAFARI

As the African consciousness increase, resulting mainly in the rise of the Rastafari movement in Jamaica, in the 1930s, this “White” interpretation of the Bible became questioned. The starting point was still the Bible, though, but with that also certain implicit values from Anglo-Saxon Protestantism, that still shaped opinions., even when the Rastafari wanted to abandon and refute the British, colonial legacy.

An example? Well the views on African spirit religions (comparable to Vodou, Santería, Winti etcetera) that survived here and there in Jamaica. Also the early Rastas criticized this as “backward” and ‘devellish”, though a few of the early Rastas, such as Archibald Dunkley, seemed a bit more open to such African Spirit influences. Vodou and Obeah (an Afro-Jamaican magic/spirit cult) became words with negative connotations for many Rastafari, even noticeable in some current-day reggae lyrics.

The irony is that the White, “colonial” and slave-owning Protestants before them, had a similar disdain and rejection of such Vodou-like faiths.

The own African interpretation of the Bible that Rastafari also upholds, makes more sense, as the Bible is no more European than African, and has been certainly misused for own gain by Europeans.

More recently, however, there is also a movement within Rastafari – with artist, presenter, and intellectual Mutabaruka as a spokesperson – that is more critical of the – in the end - European-shaped - Bible and Christian derivative dominance within Rastafari, preferring more attention to Africa itself, and nature.

MUSIC

Jamaica has a rich musical history, as do certain other British Caribbean islands. England not so much, haha. Of course, there were British musical traditions, like the Quadrille (French-influenced, though), and seaman chants that British colonizers brough with them. Also, Irish immigrants to Jamaica (often closer to the slave population in social position, than the British) brought their Celtic musical traditions. Some attribute the early use of the “fiddle” in Jamaican folk music (also by Afro-Jamaicans) to the Irish. British song and chord structures influenced several Jamaican genres, whereas on the rhythmic part the influences were mostly African.

African music traditionally has no “chords” as such, so that part was based on European models. Also this was given a strong African interpretation, such as with call-and-response, and flexible vocal styles. The meager rhythms of English folk songs were soon expanded with several rhythmic additions, and sang with own lyrics and own singing style. This gave birth to the Mento genre in rural Jamaica in the early 20th c.

An interesting difference with, e.g., Cuba: the Spanish guitar or variants thereof were found less in Jamaica. Exactly because it is, well, originally a Spanish guitar from Southern Spain, commonly used in Spanish music genres that Spanish colonizers brought with them to the West. Spanish guitars were however sometimes used in Jamaica Mento, by the early 20th c, however.

Another Spanish musical and cultural influence found in Latin America, is also hardly found in former British colonies. These stem mostly from Spain’s particular Moorish/Islamic past, which left also certain vocal and instrumental traditions. Vocally , the high-pitched, “tense” singing as common in Arabic and North African music, clearly left its mark in several Spanish folk music genres, notably Flamenco, and other genres in Central and Southern Spain (and Portugal).

This influenced genres that developed in Latin America as well, even if it mixed with Amerindian and African influences. The singing style in Mexican, Cuban and other areas – high-pitched, among other characteristics – relates to this. This is found e.g. in both much Salsa, rural Cuban styles like Punto, and in Mexican genres like Son and Mariachi music. Also, the Arab-influenced “melismatic” singing – simply said: syllables spread over several tones – aimed at hypnotizing effect, also reached Latin America.

It must be said – though – that the melismatic singing also influenced Arab-influenced parts of Africa, notably the Guinee, Senegambia and Mali area, where also slaves came from, although these ended up relatively more in what is now the US. It influenced the “swing” characteristic in jazz and blues, by the way. High-pitched, melismatic singing –however – was more associated with Spanish colonies. It is less found in British Caribbean folk music, where Mento or calypso tend to have “relaxed”, or at least ‘syllabic” (one note per syllable) singing styles, more related to other, “forest” parts of sub-Saharan Africa, and perhaps some British and Irish Celtic influences.

This all impacted to degrees on how Jamaican and other British Caribbean music developed. Spanish influences still came indirectly (later Cuban music, for instance) to Ska in Jamaica and Calypso for instance, but the first European music heard by slaves in Jamaica mostly came from Britain.

BROADER CULTURE

It is probably further already known, that also popular “cricket” in the British Caribbean is an evident British legacy, as certain other traditions and activities still found in the British Caribbean, including the “sober” architecture.

That is one thing I noticed when I visited both Cuba and Jamaica in 2006 and 2008: the grand, ornamental, “baroque” architecture and building style in much of Cuba, is largely absent in Jamaica. Stern, linear “White House”-style grandeur is what at most can be found, or otherwise small, “industrial” practical “row” houses for the poorer classes, with only occasional pastel colours as extra decoration.

BACK TO NARDIA THOMAS

In the final, concluding chapter of the aforementioned book by Trinidadian scholar Nardia Thomas – on the intellectual history of slavery -, Thomas locates British slavery within wider history. She points at shared, universal aspects throughout time and cultures, like the enslavement of “cultural others”, dehumanization and lacking rights of slaves, and that the slaves were “property” of masters. She also, however, discusses differences, and peculiarities of British slavery in the Americas.

One of these is the “racialization”, as the “cultural” other became almost synonymous to the “racial” other, in this case of course enslaved Africans. Racism underpinned British slavery systems, that further expanded racism also after slavery. Culture, race and “colour”, and religion thus became intertwined in treating Africans as inferior.

This structural racism, along with the systematic, “industrial” nature of plantation slavery in several British Caribbean colonies, and Protestant values, helps explain why the repression and destruction of African culture was stronger in British than in Spanish colonies.

It is true, that this racism and repression was also found among the Portuguese and Spanish, although most historians conclude that “race relations” were more flexible in “Latin” colonies, and African cultural expressions a bit more allowed or tolerated (under conditions). Less rigid and separated, perhaps due to Portugal’s and Spain’s multicultural past just prior to 1492 (when Columbus set sail to the Americas).

Racist views on Black Africans certainly also shaped the Arab slave trade and slavery of Africans, also combined with religious and cultural prejudices. Certain derogatory views on “dark-skinned” people are still quite common throughout North Africa and the Middle East, among self-proclaimed Arabs, even more so for non-Muslim Black Africans.

CONCLUDING

After the Portuguese, the British were the European colonizers who enslaved the highest number (millions of) Africans and brought them forcibly to the West. This was in a more economic and systematic way than the Iberian colonizers overall did, enabling at the end the first industrialization in Britain, and British colonialism in Africa.

This history of African enslavement by Britain in the centuries up to 1838, thus interrelates with the industrializaton of economies, shaping the present-day dominance of what is called the First World (the industrialized world) today, still dominating and exploiting the Third World (including Africa).

It is cynical but true that that is a main legacy of the British Atlantic slave trade, and slavery in the Americas.

In this light, the emphasis of Britain’s later role in championing the ending of the slave trade by other nations, European ones and others, and congratulating itself as helping the end of the slave trade and slavery, in the Americas, Africa and elsewhere – notably after 1806, when Britain officially ended the slave trade (illegal practices continued), is not without hypocrisy. There is some merit to it, but also hypocrisy. Britain clearly profited from the Atlantic slave trade and slavery in the Americas, even if it abolished it relatively early.