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.
“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 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.
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:
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.
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’