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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.


  1. Thank you Dave! Very well said. I must mention Dave's crucial contributions to The Beat over the years as well, plus his now-well-established writing career as a reggae historian. He was also the editor of The Beat's only side project, the collectors' item Lee "Scratch" Perry-centric Upsetter magazine we published jointly (still available! pick up yours before it's too late!)

  2. Thanks to Mr. Katz for the nice post (and shout-out about my own efforts).

    Coincidentally, just today I picked up a new edition of what might be the best remaining in-print music rag, Wax Poetics - which Dave Katz has written for. This edition has an African theme, with features on Fela, Tony Allen, Baobob, and much more:

    -worth a look!


  3. I have to admit, I did not buy your magazine that often. I'm more of a world music fan than a reggae fan. But every year, I would faithfully track down your Best of World Music issue for the previous year - and I would study it and buy albums from it and it would stay on my magazine rack for months and months. I haven't been able to track down your magazine in the last month when I went looking for it so I went to the web, where I see you have ceased publication. I'll certainly miss you but thanks for all you did! All the best-

  4. this sunday morning, leafing thru the NYTimes, consulting the glossy 'men's fashion' mag for all my sartorial tips, there was none other than Lee Perry inna full page color ad - for what i could not tell, as no ID, nothing but a website for "Supreme New York". of course i had to check that, and of course it is a clothing company, and of course, there is an essay by Dave Katz. to accompany some new LSP-designed T-shirts: http://www.supremenewyork.com/

    style and fashion!

  5. where is a reliable source to find new reggae and world music now?

  6. Does anyone remember Reggae & African Beat's sister mag AFRICA BEAT? It was published in the UK in the late 1980's and ran for 10 issues or so before it ceased publication.

    It was edited by Chris Hawkins, who sadly passed away earlier this year. I have issue 7 from 1987, does anyone have any back issues that they are willing to part with?

    Email me at popsicleape@gmail.com


  7. I'm late, as usual.
    Sitting here in Sacramento some 6 years after The Beat closed down I just found out about it.
    I am one of the few fortunate ones who remember when it began. Listing to the Reggae Beat radio
    program on KRCW Santa Monica College on Sunday afternoons for years and enjoying every second of it. Yeah, and I'm one of those old farts who remember when The Reggae Beat magazine the forerunner to The Beat first came out as a single page magazine. Like reggae at the time in Los Angeles was growing and it was an exciting time to be into the music and the whole world of Reggae and all that it means. Then it slackened off and became slacker music, dancehall stylee. Sigh,
    that's when after some time of that I gave up as the Reggae scene in LA effectively died out almost.
    I applaud and appreciate the people who began the radio show and the magazine and who kept it going for so long and it never ceased to be a class act.
    So far too late I say goodbye to Roger, Hank and CC and hope that Jah has been good to you.

    Jah Bless,
    Brian Korbelik
    (Rasta Irish Boy)

  8. Thedre is definately a lot to find out about
    this topic. I love alll the points you made.