Chinese pioneers of Jamaican music to be honoured

(Jamaica Observer) FOR the first time in years, the Tribute to the Greats Awards Show and Dance will not be held at Curphey Place in St Andrew. The 17-year-old event will instead move to the Chinese Benevolent Association on Hope Road, St Andrew, on July 26.

The show’s 2014 staging will highlight the Chinese connection in Jamaica’s music. Ironically, this year marks the 160th anniversary of the arrival of the Chinese to Jamaica.

At the show’s launch at Cuddy’z Bar and Lounge in New Kingston on Thursday, guest speaker Wayne Chen, who along with Kevin O’Brien Chang co-authored the book Reggae Routes: The Story of Jamaican Music, argued that the Chinese connection to Jamaican music has to do with how they integrated with wider society and saw opportunities to make money.

“A lot more work needs to be done in terms of preserving and understanding the development of Jamaican music. The Chinese-Jamaicans played a fundamental role in the development of the music. VP Records probably did more to the marketing of dancehall than anybody else,” Chen said.

“The Chinese came as indentured labourers. They didn’t come as entrepreneurs, but saw the opportunities and relied on certain cultural habits. The connection to music was a combination of the business opportunities and the closeness to the majority of Africans in the Jamaican community,” he continued.

Chen said this was not unique, as other ethnic minorities, including Jews and Arabs, became similarly involved. In that context, he made mention of Stanley Motta, former prime minister Edward Seaga, as well as the Khouris.

He also noted that immigrant minorities were involved in the growth and evolution of blues in the USA.

He recalled that at the time, popular music was not a respectable pursuit in Jamaica. But it was ripe for marginalised entrepreneurs. He then listed a number of early Jamaican sound systems, bands/musicians, singers, record producers, some of whom will be honoured on Tribute to the Greats. Among them musician, arranger composer Philip Chen; studio owner/record producer Leslie Kong; the Hookim Brothers of Channel One Studio and sound system; producer Justin Yap; Ingrid Chin, the first female band leader and aunt of Tami and Tessanne Chin; Geoffrey Chung and Mikey ‘Mao’ Chung, musicians, arrangers and composers.

Non-Chinese awardees include legendary bass player Aston ‘Familyman’ Barrett of the Wailers, and Carl Brady of the Dragonaires.

Phil Chen, Sonny Wong, Mikey Chung, Derrick Harriott, Pam Hall, and Ras Michael Jr are scheduled to perform.

Wayne Chen

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