#37 Why Reggae – episode #2

(continued from Why Reggae – episode #1)

Although I went to Indiana University Bloominton to pursue a business degree, my mind was on music, and every semester I would look for music classes to take. As a non-music major, there weren’t a lot of classes about music making and analysis that I could join, so almost all music classes I took were history-related: history of blues, history of jazz, rock in 70s and 80s, Latin American Music. I got to know Professor Andy Hollinden well, and sat in his class on Jimi Hendrix too. There were not enough music classes to take, and I ended up taking classes from outside the music school (it was renamed to the Jacob School in my junior year) – the Motown class through the Department of African American and African Diaspora Studies, the Hip Hop class through the Department of Folklore and Ethnomusicology, and Black Music and Identity through the Anthropology Department. The Motown class brought everyone to the gym and we learned particular dance moves related to motown songs. Sadly, I have forgotten all the moves except for “the shotgun”. The Hip Hop class had everyone writing our own verses and rapping in front of the whole class. I couldn’t have been more embarassed.

The Black Music and Identity class was where I learned about reggae: how hip hop was originated by the Jamaican DJ Kool Herc, the dub poetry of Linton Kwesi Johnson. I was most fascinated by the Japanese reggae and dance hall scene, and the level of authenticity in the music they produced. On a side note, I recall my professor from this class told me he did not receive one of my papers. As the best student one could ask for, I was sure I had turned it in, and I remember rushing over to office hours after class to talk to him. I tried so hard to persuade him that I had turned in my paper on time. He seemed convinced and trusted me (maybe he just wanted me to shut up). It must have sounded so funny to him how serious I was?

As all serious business students should do, I planned ahead for my summers and looked for internships. That’t where I saw an ad by Rockpaperscissors, a local world music publicity company (they do more than music now). They were looking for interns, and I remember reached out almost immediately after I saw the word “reggae” in the description. My internship continued even after regular semester resumed, and I worked there as much as I could. Although I was trying to learn more about reggae, I got so much more out of this job. I did put on Dub Side of the Moon a lot when I worked there (looking back, it must have been extremely annoying for everyone else), but I was exposed to many musical acts and cultures unknown to me: Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Samarabalouf, Ska Cubano, the Balkan Beat Box, Daara J, Seu Jorge, Samite, Habib Koite, the Slackers, Zuco 103, Bole 2 Harlem, Marcelo D2, Lura, Marisa…

Working at RPS was also the first time I encountered a small business (at the time about 5 people) that was making a national impact. I learned a lot of different basic tasks – packing promo CDs into envelops, keeping inventory, but the most important skills I picked up was how to use Photoshop. I can’t say I am a pro, but I have designed my fair amount of flyers for events over the years.

Ebay was also a source of my reggae education. I was trying to listen to reggae other than Bob Marley, but I didn’t know where to start. I didn’t have a lot of money either. So I would go on ebay, type “reggae”, and the prices from low to high, and buy the cheapest CDs there were. I ended up buy a few 3-CDs reggae compilations that way, which introduced me to a lot of classic songs very quickly.

One more thing that cultivated my love for reggae was when I worked as stage manager at the Lotus Festival (2006?), hearing Inner Visions play live. That’s also where I saw the Brazilian band Curumin (first time learning about the sound of the fender rhodes and the electric cavaquinho) and the Balkan Beatbox. (Is that where I saw and met Dudumaia too?)

Bloomington was also where I saw my first reggae shows, as I turned 21 there – Burning Spear, the Wailers, and Matisyahu. All were essential to shape my view of reggae before I came to Rochester.

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