I took the shuttle from Spanish Court Hotel down to Orange Street, Downtown Kingston, otherwise known as “Beat Street” which runs north from the corner of Parade, last Sunday, February 23rd for one of Kingston Creative’s activities in partnership with Ministry of Culture, Gender, Entertainment & Sports, the Kingston and St Andrew Municipal Corporation to commemorate Reggae Month.
According to Lonely Planet.com “It’s one of the great wellsprings of Jamaican music and was home to Sir Coxsone Dodd’s legendary Studio One Records, as well as the original studios of Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry and Prince Buster’s famous Record Shack.”
From 1950s to early 70s, ska, rocksteady, reggae, and dub exploded and became a worldwide phenomenon. Record shops and studios monopolized the street and surrounding areas. Beat Street has become an important historical zone that deserves to be preserved and redeveloped as a reggae historical and economic zone.
We walked along the street and it reminded me of my days of living in New York, where they’d have the street festivals with art, food and music. Vendors were selling roast corn, chicken soup, ital stew, roots tonic and beer while murals lined both sides.
The music filled the streets as sound systems, Soultone and Shanghai, played music of the three producers, Clement “Coxson” Dodd, Cecil “Prince Buster” Campbell, and Lee “Scratch” Perry and that of Dennis Brown, who lived at “Big Yard” located at 135 Orange Street.
As we walked, I met Clive Randy Chin, who sat on the corner with a friend. He told me that his father’s studio and record shop called Randy’s Group on North Parade was being honored as a musical heritage site.
He told me that Ken Boothe, Alton Ellis, Toots and The Maytals, Dennis Brown, Lord Fraser and even the Peptones all recorded at his father’s studio on North Parade.
Most record shops haven’t survived the death of vinyl or cds for that matter but he made it clear that he’s still producing music but without the overheads—in his home studio.
The Death of Vinyl
So vinyl records ruled that era but as the years went on analog audio recordings degraded the quality of the music as vinyl records and cassette tapes don’t age very well. Did you ever notice when you played a cassette tape over and over again, it affected the sound quality? If you like to collect vinyl records, here’s a classic by the Crown Prince of Reggae, Dennis Brown, shop here
Nowadays, digital audio recordings are consistently the same sound quality because you can play and copy them endlessly, and they will maintain their original quality forever—unless you manipulate the file, of course.
I had no prior knowledge of Beat Street or its connection to cultivating reggae and dancehall music until I walked into Trevor “Leggo” Douglas’s recording studio, aka LeggoBeast.
His close relative named, “Q”, sat at the sound machines and answered questions about the history of the studio, how it came to be and where it’s going.
We asked, who had recorded there, to which Q answered, “The better question to ask is, who hasn’t?”
Trevor “Leggo” Douglas explained, that every great reggae artist had recorded there from Shaggy to Dennis Brown, with the exception of Bob Marley.
Leggo explained his journey to becoming the owner of the studio, from collecting bottles at dances at 13 to make pocket change, to making cassettes and then migrating to New York to run a robot taxi in order to make enough money to buy the studio equipment and ship them back home.
He then took us to “Big Yard”, the official childhood home of Dennis Brown. In ruin, however around the back was a small room where people who knew him well lived. Dennis Brown was known for taking care of everyone in the community. They are trying to raise money to make it a museum.
We then walked into Rockers International which is the only surviving vinyl record shop in Jamaica. It reminded me of the shops they used to have in HWT, that my brother used to visit on his trips home from Denmark. He would buy the latest records for his sounds system he and his friends ran.
We finished the day at Randy’s Music Group on North Parade where Randy showed all the old equipment that was gathering dust. Old posters decorated the walls and I found a Magnum Tonic Wine calendar from 2015, I had conceptualized with dancehall artist Stacious posing as an Amazonian woman with a bike man underneath, staring up at her.
Dennis Brown Tribute Concert
I headed back downtown in the evening at the Waterfront where Kristia aka @myrepeatoffender was doing an IG takeover on Reggae Month’s page.
Freddie McGregor, Julian Marley, Richie Stephens and so many other amazing artists came down to tribute Dennis Brown’s birthday.
What a great way to end Reggae Month. Can’t wait until next year!