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January 28, 2010

From Chuck Foster, "Reggae Update" columnist for 20 years

The Beat—Gone But Not Forgotten

 My earliest contributions to The Beat Magazine—then called The Reggae Beat and later The Reggae and African Beat—were in the form of playlists for sets I played when sitting in on "The Reggae Beat" radio program on KCRW beginning in 1982. I began writing reviews for the magazine in 1987, the year I became co-host of the show alongside my longtime partner Hank Holmes. The Mighty Diamonds and A. Doeman were a couple of the first artists whose albums I reviewed in the back pages of The Beat.
    In 1989 I began writing the "Reggae Update" column which ran in every issue from that year for the next two decades. Over the years I also contributed book reviews, features and cover stories, especially from 1989 to 1999. My first book, Roots Rock Reggae: An Oral History of Reggae Music From Ska to Dancehall (Billboard Books) collected many of the interviews I did originally for The Beat as well as ones for the LA View for which I wrote for five years. A few others done later, including one with Bob Andy and Marcia Griffiths and the last interview with blues giant Marvin Pontiac, remain uncollected.
          I was not only a writer for but an inveterate reader of The Beat. I still have a complete collection going back to the very first one-page fold-over stacked in no particular order in my garage. I learned so much from The Beat’s other writers over the years—always a music fan (I managed record stores for over a dozen years) The Beat expanded my consciousness of global music and helped to make music a truly international experience for me. I give thanks for all the great reviews, interviews, insights and commentary I encountered over the years and for the many interactions I had with CC Smith and those who shared her vision over time and helped manifest this unique publication.
        The original concept for "Reggae Update" was that I would review whatever reggae music was submitted as well as things I gathered on my own, as a collector, fan and dj. The era encompassed a seven-and-a-half year run as co-host of "The Reggae Beat" as well as the first 12 years of my current stint as host of "Reggae Central" on KPFK. On average I estimate I reviewed at least 50 (sometimes 80) releases per column. If you put out a reggae cd between 1989 and 2009 there’s a good chance I reviewed it in "Reggae Update."
        I always felt I was uniquely qualified to do this. My first published work—a book review—came out in 1967, the year I first began playing in bands myself. Over the years I put out independent records with various groups I played in, struggled to distribute the music and gain airplay and found some of the reviews we received puzzling. As a Beat writer I found myself criticized at times for being “too soft” on the music I reviewed. I’m sure some who will remain nameless here would disagree with that. But it is true that my harshest reviews were written in the early years and as time went by my love for what reggae had become—a lifestyle as much as a music style—made me see the reggae community at large as my own.
        I celebrate the continuation of reggae music in whatever form it survives. Unlike some of the contributors to this site I remain excited about the music today, despite the fact that I love the ska, rock steady, early roots reggae and dub that defined the genre. Today’s young artists continue to make vibrant message-laden reggae music and there is no dearth of new releases—I could as easily fill a column with new releases today as at anytime in the past. A new, post-dancehall era has moved beyond the “computerized” riddims to forge a crisp new sound and dozens of 20-something newcomers have created a body of work that sustains reggae music in this time.
      In the meantime classic artists have continued to contribute great new works and a huge amount of music has been archived and reissued—in some cases issued for the first time despite having been recorded three, four or five decades ago. From my point of view this is a great and exciting time for reggae music and I’m sorry The Beat won’t be there to keep up with it. But you, the reader, have the opportunity to keep up with it. Search out new music online. Hunt down those classic tracks you remember from long ago. Support the shows, new releases, publications and sites and support reggae music and it will continue to grow and nurture you in turn.
--Chuck Foster


  1. Hate to hear the news. Many MANY thanks to CC, Roger, Chuck, Steve and all of the others for many years of great information. MUCH Love--Joe Jurgensen

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