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February 26, 2010

Respect Due to The Beat Magazine by David Katz, from Riddim Magazine (Germany)

Respect Due to The Beat Magazine by David Katz

It was with great sadness that I learned of the demise of the Beat magazine, the USA’s longest running and most consistent reggae publication. Since I spent my formative years in California, where the magazine was based, the Beat formed a great part of my musical education from the early 1980s and it was perhaps inevitable that some of my first published works of reggae journalism would feature in its pages. The Beat was something I, and so many others like me, always read avidly from cover to cover, and although the cessation of its print form is not particularly surprising in these times of economic strife, it does not make the absence of the Beat any easier to bear, as the community spirit and devotion to the music that always drove the zine are unlikely to feature in any other printed entity of the near future.

In case you are not already aware, for the last 28 years, the Beat has provided high quality reggae and ‘world music’ reportage that was often authoritatively informative. In a climate where the global music press is increasingly ruled by homogeneous name-brand product, shaped by multinational corporations driven by greed, the Beat was the refreshing antidote to the mindless consumerism and spineless ineptitude that saw other publications regurgitating major-label hype.

The story begins in the early 1980s, when a few pioneering radio jocks were bringing the intense sounds of Jamaican reggae to a whole new audience. In Los Angeles, the "Reggae Beat" was broadcast on KCRW, presented by a select team that included noted Marley aficionado Roger Steffens, his knowledgeable partner, Hank Holmes, and another learned cohort, Chuck Foster (who would later write the excellent book Roots Rock Reggae). The show was eventually syndicated, making a huge difference in the general exposure of reggae in the USA.

In the show’s early days, the broadcasters had their very own ‘Minister of Information,’ the astute and personable CC Smith, who announced upcoming events and fielded phone calls; by 1983, she was presenting the "African Beat" program, the first radio show of its kind in the region.

Legend has it that the Beat magazine was born as a photocopied free-sheet, featuring the playlists of the radio broadcasts and noting upcoming concerts. By 1982, it had become a fully-fledged 30-page magazine, appearing every other month in black and white newsprint, with CC Smith as editor-in-chief and the radio hosts providing much of the content. It soon became the Reggae and African Beat, the first publication to seriously explore what has become known as ‘world’ music. These early issues had incredible content: for instance, there was Doug Wendt’s 1983 interview-based feature on Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, who made the cover nearly 15 years before the Beastie Boys brought him major US fame. There were also extensive features on Marcus Garvey, while the August 1984 issue was devoted to the Rastafari movement, and October 84 looked at the connection between Jamaican reggae and the Hopi nation in Arizona; that December, the magazine launched a campaign to free Fela, Nigeria’s radical Afrobeat pioneer, while April 85 focused on dub poetry.

As the Beat became a 100+ page glossy mag, the standards remained high: each year produced a tribute issue to Bob Marley, Chuck Foster’s "Reggae Update" column remained the most comprehensive guide to the sea of reggae releases that are regularly unleashed; Michael Turner’s "Reggae Obsession" was always informative, as was Dave Hucker’s "Hey Mr Music," Steve Heilig’s "All Over the Map," and the other columns detailing various African, Latin, and Caribbean sounds, including the regular pages devoted to dancehall.

In the early days, for those of us that had not yet traveled to Jamaica, the Beat was part of the process with which we could better understand the culture of the island and the thoughts and beliefs of its most noteworthy performers. And although a few other short-lived magazines tried to emulate the Beat’s success, no publication in America ever came close to it. The Beat remained apart from the rest, with the kind of homemade touches and genuine affection for the music that was covered in its pages, which is so sadly lacking from many of the other print entities of North America and Euorpe. The Beat never worried about trends or hipness or the fads of the marketplace, though securing the necessary advertising to keep the ship afloat was always a problematic process. Editorially, the Beat also kept her pages open to those with a burning desire to put something meaningful in print about the music that moved them.

The ‘good’ news is that back issues are still available by mail order, so get ‘em now while you still can. There is also a tributary blog at: byebyebeat.blogspot.com. What else is there to say other than, The Beat is Dead…Long Live The Beat!

-- David Katz.

February 16, 2010

BEAT Honor Roll 1985

These people joined The Beat effort in 1985. The photo of Donna Tarzian, our great art director (at right) and the Minister of Information, shot by Donna Cline, was used in a house ad for subscriptions (one of only two times I allowed my image to appear in the magazine). The reggae poster on the wall behind us at left was designed and produced by Bob Steinhilber, our original art director.

With the June 1985 issue, The Beat reached another milestone with an upgrade to a glossy cover stock, which greatly improved the look of the magazine from the early newsprint covers. The cover image was an original silkscreen poster titled "Buffalo Soldier" designed for us by Michael Hodgson and Richard Duardo.

Ramon Alvarez
Bongo Asher
Farika Birhan
Tom Cheyney
Carol Anne Clark
David Corio
Sister Cypress
Ras David I
Paula Davis
Murray Elias
Stuart Ellis
Joanne Ferguson
Nancy Ferrante
Miller Francis
Tim Gaydos
Heather Hall
Tim Hammond-Williams
Gina Henderson
David Herwaldt
Peter Holden
Beverly Hong
Jim Howard
Sister Ikeda
Sister Ina
John Ingham
Don Kamlager
Jon Kertzer

Jak Kilby
Andy Lansing
Maya Leon
Diana Leoni Oduloju
Janice Liddell
Lawrence Manning
Leon Morris
Tom Nixon

Elena Oumano
Paul Rogers
M. Sugawara
Tony Thompson
Catherine Tobias
Neal Ullestadt
Amy Wachtel
Norman Weinstein

February 7, 2010

From Dave Hucker, "Hey Mr. Music" columnist 1989-

CC Smith first danced into my life when she came to my Sol Y Sombra club in London 's Charlotte St. in the mid-80s. She asked me to start writing a column for The Beat covering the music I was deejaying, which I described as "The music of two continents and a few assorted Islands." I appreciated the freedom she gave me to write what and how I wanted.  But she was always there ready to question my hyperbole plus check the facts and spellings. My writing sometimes went over the top--such as in the infamous Bill Holm/The Whale episodes--but it was necessary to stretch the gonzoid-ism a bit, just for me to find my limits and so write more sensibly most of the time.
It was a real honour for me--a mere dj--to be parachuted in among such a seminal group of real, true music experts, people who really knew their stuff and had their ears and feet on the various global musical pulses and hotspots.  
The amount of musical information that was contained in each copy of The Beat was quite incredible. Even the adverts! If you wanted to know what was happening anywhere in the world each edition told you--in depth. It was a bimonthly, fine grain, full colour, detailed snapshot of where the musical action was, keeping us abreast with the latest developments and trends. The Beat's year-by-year coverage of carnivals was unsurpassed. Also its features about artists and styles went very deep into the subject, giving a quality and detailed insight, containing much information that was not available anywhere else. I don't think ever again will there be such a bringing together in one place of so many musical experts imparting their considerable knowledge.
Technology changes over time--my first columns were sent by post, then fax. I'm sure we will find different ways of keeping together. I made many good and lasting friends in my fellow Beat contributors and for me it was a great privilege to be involved. Thank you CC.
[Photo above: Dave Hucker visiting CC Smith in LA at her KCRW radio program, late 80s-early 90s. Other images are flyers for Dave's Sol y Sombra dance club in London.] 

February 2, 2010

Jamaica Gleaner News - 'The Beat' stops - Entertainment - Thursday | December 31, 2009

Jamaica Gleaner News - 'The Beat' stops - Entertainment - Thursday | December 31, 2009

Jamaica Gleaner Online

'The Beat' stops

Published: Thursday | December 31, 2009

Howard Campbell, Gleaner Writer
Roger Steffens, owner of the largest Bob Marley memorabilia in the world, at the opening of Queen Mary exhibit of his 'World of Reggae' archives in February 2001. - Photo courtesy of Roger Steffens' Reggae Archives
The Beat magazine out of Los Angeles, which showcased the reggae and world beat scene for nearly 30 years, has ceased publication.
In a statement dated December 20, CC Smith, the magazine's minister of information, cited economic challenges and the transformation of the literary landscape as the main reasons for its closure.
"The Beat was unique and it is really a miracle it survived as long as it did. But the precipitous decline in the music business, publishing business and the economy has finally caught up with us," Smith said.
The Beat was founded in 1982 as 'Reggae Beat' by reggae historian Roger Steffens and operated throughout as a bi-monthly with a volunteer staff that included Smith. Its initial name came from the Los Angeles radio programme Steffens hosted.
Steffens and Smith were largely responsible for the first edition of The Beat in May 1982. It covered LA's Bob Marley day activities that month, and for its duration reported extensively on the reggae festival scene in southern California.

World beat performers
The Beat also covered world beat performers including Fela Kuti and King Sunny Ade of Nigeria and Ladysmith Black Mambazo of South Africa. Among its popular annual features was a Bob Marley Collectors Edition.
In an interview with The Gleaner, Steffens commented on The Beat's departure from magazine stands. "To me, seeing The Beat fade away after 28 years is very sad, but I suppose inevitable. We are witnessing the collapse of print media of all kinds today, swept away on the slippery slope of virtuality," Steffens said.
In her statement, Smith said it is unlikely The Beat will follow other publications by launching an Internet edition. "Many people have suggested taking The Beat online to save it, but the advertising support is just not there," she said.
She stated that another factor contributed to the decision not to carry on. "The music, reggae in particular, has changed so much since the early days when it was new, fun and inspiring. There is so much less to say about it now."
Copyright Jamaica-Gleaner.com