UPTOWN REGGAE

‘UPTOWN REGGAE’
Is there a distinct and new genre of reggae coming out of the priveleged enclaves of ‘uptown’ Kingston? RIDDIM Magazine October 2009 issue first identified it:
“… We knew it already, but seeing it with our own eyes, we were suprised once again: The big names in Reggae & Dancehall are only the tip of the iceberg. Behind it whole armies of artists and producers wait to be finally noticed by the world. Such as the Multicast crew … a group of young free-thinking reggae artists, whose procedures as well as configuration could hardly be more eklektic. They refer to themselves as Underground, they ignore unwritten society and faith rules, and their music is the most exciting coming from Uptown for a long time.

Only by topics and language of the protagonists this internationally connectionable sound can be located in Jamaica, as it does not correspond to the usual hype postulate that defines the success formula usually to be followed by everybody. This musical secondary arena is Dancehall Underground made in Uptown Kingston.”

Ever since ‘uptown brown man’ Sean Paul Henriques defied the norm and became the first reggae star without ‘downtown’ origins , the options have open for a new breed of reggae artists from the same background who have emerged to prove that Jamaica’s music influences all, no matter the social or even racial origins of its music makers. Damion ‘Junior Gong” Marley named his successful album ‘Half Way Tree’ referring to the geographical location where ‘uptown’ and ‘downtown’ supposedly meet and in the home studios of Cherry Gardens, Beverly Hills and Norbrook many are following through the musical doors opened by Sean Paul and Marley.  Here are three of the most interesting: Michael ‘JUSS ICE’ Lewis, Marcus ‘I’ Crawford and Alex Marley.

JUSS ICE

ICE” is one of three artists profiled in the new award-winning reggae documentary ‘Rise Up’. Though his racial identity categorises him as ‘uptown’, he describes himself as ‘a farm boy’ who grew up in the country milking cows and feeding animals. When his parents decided to leave the farm and open a sports goods store in Kingston, ‘Ice’ went through the growing pains of the transition and, later, disorientation of a family relocation to Florida which he did not enjoy.

“But music was always in me, so I just never stop until I got my chance to record.” He’s been singing since age 14 when his talent was first recognised by Sean Paul’s manager Jeremy Harding. His voice is powerful and melodic, no one-note chanter but a strong singer with meaningful lyrics, whether social, cultural or romantic. It’s not possible to categorise him, as he is equally at ease singing straight dancehall lyrics, pop or R&B and rolls easily into roots reggae. On stage his performance is enhanced by his edgy attire, usually accompanied by a hairstyle-to-be-noticed. Recent performances at Village Cafe have received approval from patrons and reports by leading print, radio and online entertainment journalists.

Hits to date include ‘Thank God It’s Friday’, ‘Talking ‘Bout Love’, ‘Kingston Town’ and ‘Nah Get Hype’, all of which are currently in rotation on local radio. He continues to record with MultiCast Entertainment whose ‘uptown’ producer Makonnen Blake Hanna explains: “Multicast is about networking, bringing together the most different people and a support system for artists. We know how ‘uptown’ artists feel when people treat them like you can only do reggae if you are black and born in Trench Town.”

ICE enjoys the recognition he has received nationally and internationally from “Rise Up”, in which he shares the spotlight with reggae star Turbalance and female singer Kemoy in a documentary about the Jamaican music industry. The publicity and acceptance the film has received has brought him welcome attention and given him more confidence in his career. “Music is my LIFE,” says ICE.  “Me nah go nowhere!”   VIEW VIDEO: “Thank God It’s Friday:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jg4ayFTnxWc&feature=related

MARCUS I.
Marcus I has been singing since age 7, in school, church choirs and various public events and honing his professional craft for the past 10 years. His parents were upper-middle class – his father a University lecturer and respected political commentator, was one of the early members of the Reggae Sunsplash team of friends and Marcus I ‘grew up’ backstage at the annual show. With this closeness to reggae music at its most fertile time, Marcus decided to become a musical artist and eventually made his first professional appearance at that event in 1993.

Parents insisted he complete college and get a university degree, but that pause in his musical career only served to give him further experience. His apprenticeship at Reggae Sunsplash led to his appearance on subsequent editions of the landmark reggae show, as well as all the leading Jamaican stage shows since, including Reggae Sumfest, Rebel Salute and the Air Jamaica Jazz & Blues Festival, and performances in the USA and Europe.

With over 30 recordings and 4 radio singles released including a song on the Gibbo Label- “Hard Times” Riddim & the Grillaras Compilation CD, as well as numerous shows and appearances from JA to USA, Marcus I has a large enough fan base and respect to be hosting a show on August 13 at the prestigious Red Bones Blues Cafe  — yet another listing on the full calendar of his career.  To hear his latest single, performing with Sean Paul, click on this link.   Marcus e Sean Paul by Young Revolutionaries.

ALEX MARLEY

The Marley name is an instant attention getter, as young Alex has discovered on his short, yet active career.  His father is from the same family as the man who fathered Bob,  and while growing up he received a mix of negative and positive reactions when people heard his surname.  But when he decided to grow his locks and pursue a musical career, the reactions were different, as people thought he was just a talentless amateur trying to cash in on a famous surname.

Time has proven the doubters wrong.  To learn his craft, Alex attended music school and learned to play all the instruments he needed to accompany himself on his early recordings. Later he formed his own backing band, the Black Lions, who now perform and tour with him.

An avid surfer and skateboarder with more than 3,000 Facebook fans and a playlist in countries as far apart  as Brazil and Bermuda, Alex Marley is living up to his famous relative’s legacy.  His latest single “Lovely Woman” is currently receiving rotation play on radio and cable TV stations across Jamaica and Alex is becoming recognised as yet another Marley to be taken seriously.  View his ‘Lonely Woman’ video here:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=399lPiZF7A0

These are just three of the ‘uptown’ artists now coming to attention.  I must also mention Noah Issa, Timothy Hanna and Dax Vernon  — ‘uptown’ youths who are showing that when it comes to reggae, there is neither class nor colour barrier to success.

——————————————————————-
EMANCIPENDENCE

This week Jamaica celebrated Emancipation from Slavery (August 1) and Independence from British colonialism (August 6). It was sad but fitting that Sugar Minott’s emotional funeral ceremony was held on Emancipation Day at the National Arena, with many tributes from leading artists who were influenced by or worked with him, including Nahki — who praised Sugar Minott as ‘the man who brought reggae to Japan’ — Bongo Herman (who did a spirited performance of “Mr. DC”), Errol Dunkley, Derrick Harriot, Little John, Triston Palmer, Phillip Frazer and Bunny Brown. It was good to see the outpouring of love to this unsung reggae hero, who we hope will soon be added to the Jamaican Music Hall of Fame unveiled recently.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK”

Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery
None but ourselves can free our minds.

BOB MARLEY – ‘Redemption Song’

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5 thoughts on “UPTOWN REGGAE

  1. I am a bit divided on the “uptown reggae” trend that’s coming out of Jamaican now. I saw the UK documentary “Rise Up” feat Juss Ice. This artist boasted how “money is not an object” then went on the Sumfest Stage for the first time and deejayed about how life hard in the ghetto as if he had first hand knowledge. What does this Jack’s Hill yute know about the ghetto? SMH. And this is my problem with the uptown reggae. I am not saying that reggae should only be left to the poor people from downtown, but like any artform, people can see through the inauthenticity. Ice should just be himself and deejay about having a helper, “feeling up de gyal dem” and luxurious cars.

    I’ve been a Marcus I fan for a some time now and glad to see him getting much needed publicity. I rather enjoy him live.

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    • I hear that was the impression the film gave of a priveleged rich youth, never suffered. I know him as a really poor youth who happens to have family that live uptown, but who has earned their displeasure by living too closely the ‘downtown’ life. I asked him what he thought of ‘Rise Up’ and he said he was upset at how they selectively edited his footage to show only the ‘uptown’ part of his life and not the reality he lives. He took them to where/how he lives and the people he connects with and hislifestyle, but they only wanted to show him as a contrast to the other two artists. He was given no control of the edited film, nor was he shown it before the screening you attended. Pity, as he is really good artist who sings about what he knows. Now has to live down the ‘Rise Up’ portrayal, just because it made a ‘better’ story. As a film maker, you know how easily that can happen.
      By the way, I keep asking WHY ‘Rise Up’ was not entered in the Reggae Film Festival, especially because of my and Makonnen’s links with both Ice and Turbalance. Do you think it was because they were afraid of the competition? Having seen it, do you think it might have won an award?

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      • As a filmmaker I do know about the lethal editing process. It is a shame that they had an agenda and only showed Ice’s uptown lifestlye. If I were directing
        “Rise Up” I would have definitely put that point in there. I think it would have made the film richer if they did introduce this duality. Having this knowledge makes me reflect on the film a bit differently.

        I do think the film would have won award because of strong reggae influences. Watching Kemoy was just bittersweet. She stuck with me long after I watched the film. They must have been afraid of the competition, I know I was! This year’s Reggae Film Fest lineup was indeed impressive.

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  2. Blessings Ms. Hannah,
    Thank you very much for giving me some publicity in your blog this week. It was good to read your words about my music, which you have known for several years now watching me grow in the music industry and trying to expose my talent.

    It made me upset therefore to read a comment on your blog from one of your readers who has seen the film “Rise Up’ that I am featured in. This was supposed to be a documentary about three struggling artists with three different lives but almost identical experiences in the music industry. But it was not a documentary, it was a movie that was edited to tell a story and give a bad impression of me, I don’t know why. All three of us in the film are sufferers for our music, but the bits of me that were cut in gave a very bad impression to my fans of a spoilt rich boy with no knowledge of the sufferers life of the others. The film also showed no direct reference to my talent.

    I have been seeing very negative comments about me on the internet like the one your reader posted. Glad you were able to tell her some of the truth about me that I wasn’t born in riches. I might have rich relatives and parents who wanted a good life for me, but who were definitely not rich. You have seen as you got to know me trying to advance in the music business without resources, that I suffer in style. If I was rich, how many videos would I have? What kind of car would I be driving? I’m still just trying to get my foot in the door, and this film looks like mashing up my career.

    There is a lot of footage the director didn’t use in showing what he wanted to project of me. The footage was shot in 2003 when I was 18. The big family house he showed is my grandmother’s and I was living under it in what was supposed to be the maids room. I let him into my life in hope that it would help me “rise up” , but instead it is presently ruining my life. I need to take some kind of legal action against the director for defamation of character and force him to release all the footage he shot of me, so that a more accurate picture of me can be shown instead of this false portrayal.

    Thanks again Ms. Hannah for your nice article. I ask my fans not to believe what they see in that film. I want them to know that I will not be discouraged by it, but hope to keep representing the next crop of Jamaican artists making an impression worldwide.
    JUSS ICE

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  3. This documentary has been recently screened on BBC Tv. It was compelling viewing. Turbulence was undoubtedly the star performer. I think it can only further enhance his career. Notorious already has over 700,000 views on Youtube! I can’t comment on the editing process but Juss Ice formerly Ice Anastacia came across very badly indeed. Don’t mean to be dismissive but he was like a poor man’s Sean Paul. In any event he is getting royally cussed out. I appreciate what he’s saying about the lack of involvement in the editorial process but therein lies the rub. The camera can be a exceedingly fickle indeed.

    I don’t doubt that the director was about making good story as opposed to putting forwards a more nuanced view of the three performers. But that’s how it goes sometimes. Kemoy was the naive yet amazingly talented and beautiful country girl, Turbulence made the show and well Ice came across as a cocky, spoilt brat without any discernible talent other than a highly over-inflated ego. His appearance at SumFest, seemingly without paying his dues and as a consequence of family connections. The ensuing performance was poor at best, excruciatingly so. I thought his never giving up attitude was commendable but yet again I didn’t feel he had the requisite talent necessary to pursue a career in this field. Well not in a meaningful way.

    However we do not live in a meritocracy and that’s reflected in life as well as the music industry. Yes cream rises to the top but crap also floats. I don’t know of Ice’s life story, he puts forward an alternative view to his Rise Up persona. I can only comment on what I saw. I have travelled widely, Africa including South Africa, the Caribbean including JA. I must admit the maid sequence left me feeling decidedly uneasy. Now that isn’t Ice’s fault but it merely add to the social milieu in which he operates – a world of privilege. He might not be rich, be he was certainly much more so than his two counterparts.

    In the Hip Hop, rap, ragga, dancehall world credibility is important. I don’t think it means that you’re denied entry unless you’re ghetto but I think it requires a certain consistency. I’d argue that the strength of Turbulence’s lyrics in addition to his talent was in part linked to lifestyle and material conditions. It was the same with Bob Marley. He was living the life. Like I said that is not a prerequisite, as Sean Paul has shown. However one can easily come across as being insincere and fake, a wannabe. In a country where skin colour/caste is a mark of privilege, credibility was always going to be problematic for Ice. The person we saw in the film didn’t help his cause.

    If Ice is upset by the lone comment on this blog then I suggest he keep away from Youtube. I am not a publicist but I would say he has a fair amount of work to do to counter the negative image of the film.
    David

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