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..