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The Beat Goes (Back) On!

We are very pleased and proud to announce a new feature at Afropop.org : reprints of selected articles from the late, lamented ma...

December 20, 2011

Roger Steffens' World of Reggae exhibit at the Queen Mary, Long Beach CA 2001

I just came across these photos from Roger's triumphant exhibition of his Reggae Archives. He may still have the gorgeous catalog available: it was selling for $25 a few years ago, but may be a collectors' item by now. Contact Ras Rojah at rasrojah@aol.com.

This display shows many of The Beat's Marley issue covers along with other magazines featuring Bob collected by Roger over the years.

October 17, 2011

28 years of music

It's been over a year now, but I just saw this report on the donation of my music collection to UCLA's Ethnomusicology Archives:


NEW ACQUISITION:Collection from Former Radio Host and Publisher of ‘The Beat’Magazine

The Ethnomusicology Archive has recently acquired a collection of nearly 10,000 commercial recordings featuring music from Africa and the worldwide African diaspora. The collection comes from CC Smith,a well-known radio host of world music shows on local stations KCRW,KPFK,KCSN and KXLU since the early 1980s. She was also publisher of “The Beat,”a world music magazine that grew out of the early radio shows to become a major international publication. After “The Beat”ceased publication in 2009,Smith contact prof. Jackie DjeDje and arranged the donation of her collection of CDs,LPs,cassettes,artist promotional materials,and other materials relating to her long-running radio shows. The collection includes nearly 5,000 recordings of reggae,ska,dub,and related Jamaican and Caribbean musics.

June 28, 2011

Peace. Love. Music. Tacos: Review of 2011 Sierra Nevada World Music Festival

Beat contributor and columnist Steve Heilig covered Boonville, CA's SNWMF for many, many years, always infusing his account with his own unique backstage perspective as a volunteer at the annual festival. This year his report was published by the Anderson Valley Advertiser, the local newspaper, which hopefully paid him more for this article than The Beat ever did (i.e., zilch!). Thank you Steve, keep those tacos flying!

Sierra Nevada World Music Festival 2011

Late on Friday afternoon, winding carefully towards Boonville through the lovely hills on Highway 128 near metropolitan Yorkville, we saw a car upside down next to the road. There were plenty of people standing around and they looked strangely calm, so we did not stop, figuring nobody was hurt too bad — unlikely though that seemed. But before we pulled into town, multiple ambulances and police had sped by in that direction, lights flashing. We hoped for the best.

Good thing I don’t believe in omens, as this one would have been wrong — the rest of the weekend, at the Sierra Nevada World Music Festival, went off without a single negative deed nor word witnessed by anybody I talked with. Even the climate was ideal — just beating this week’s heat wave.

The music is the main draw, of course, and one can’t catch it all between the two stages and dance hall barn and lawn, so herewith are a few highlights seen and heard.

South African singer Vusi Mahlasela, aka “the voice,” spellbinding a too-small crowd on the smaller stage Saturday evening with just his singing and guitar — so beautiful that a rough and tough Texan I was listening with was moved to tears. Zimbabwean Thomas Mapfumo, exiled former ally of the despotic Mugabe, looking rather frail but chanting hypnotically over a spellbinding band.

Toots Hibbert channeling Otis Redding, 45 years after he coined a term with a song titled “Do the Reggay.” But The Cables, four singers reunited onstage here for the first time ever, predated even Toots and sang sweet ‘rock-steady’ — a brief but sweet form of 1960s Jamaican song that bridged the 1950s jazz-based ska and reggae itself — backed by the very fine Expanders, a Los-Angeles-based retro band of reggae faithful. But a yet even older group, The Jolly Boys, played mento, a musical form that predated even ska and features a banjo, likely a first at SNWMF. “These guys have been together since 1956 and they are not tired yet!” said the MC, but they updated their signature sound with cover versions of Steely Dan, Sade, even the talented train wreck that is Amy Winehouse (“Rehab”!). Even the guys from The Cables were dancing and singing along out front.

There was more fine roots reggae from 1970s stars Horace Andy, Brigadier Jerry, and Pablo Moses, a hypnotic set from relative newcomer Taj Weekes, a tough roots offering from and a superb show by pioneering chanting star Dennis Alcapone, accompanied by the sweet singing of British star Winston Reedy and a very fine band. As festival founder and honcho Warren Smith noted in these pages a couple weeks back, it gets tougher to find and bring the old guys back, and beyond that worthy effort he strove to bring in some acts that appeal to a younger demographic, which seemed to work. They did sell more tickets than ever, and the crowd seemed even more youthful overall — although it certainly is an all-ages event, and the perspective could just be through my aging eyes.

There was stirring African drumming and dancing, and the annual parade of Brazilian percussionists and dancers on stilts. And much more, including lots of Latin-flavored music on Sunday afternoon but by then I was toast and had to go back to the swimming holes at Hendy Woods, even though the river and banks were overcrowded with families and noisy partiers — the water still felt very fine and even the non-swimming dog dipped.

If there is any fault to find with the people who come to SNWMF, it might be that some of them still leave litter. But early Sunday morning, there was Gretchen Smith again, be-gloved and picking up trash along 128 in town. This seems akin to a CEO doing the company composting. I heard of only a few altercations and arrests — in fact, maybe fewer than on a usual non-festival summer weekend — it would be ironic if bringing a few thousand music lovers into town cut the crime rate? In any event, a couple of uniformed law enforcement authorities sat sipping coffee outside the Mosswood where we started each day, drinking fine coffee, reading the news of the melting-down world that seemed so far away, and watching the groggy human parade. And it can be a fetching one — one attendee was heard to remark that somebody could make money selling a “Girls of SNWMF” calendar. We searched out the fine food at Mis Potrancos for a third time, eating in the next-door saloon with the local brew on tap — a sweet arrangement that even the dog appreciated on a hot early evening. And late one night, even though not really hungry, we had to seek out the fresh and tasty tacos outside the Redwood Drive-In — at $2/per, a superbly sabroso deal.

A more smiling and polite gathering you will not find, anywhere. A posting on the SNWMF.com open ‘phorum,’ commenting on my AVA interview with Warren Smith re-posted there, said the festival “brings out the best in humanity.” Another, a first-timer, said, “It really goes a long way towards restoring my faith in humanity.” Is this asking a lot from a music festival? Maybe. Anyway, the wristband they gave me to allow access to the show read simply “Peace. Love. Music.”

Can’t argue with that.

May 1, 2011

Word from an old friend & Beat columnist

I was delighted to discover our former African Beat columnist Robert Ambrose has begun a music blog to share his magnificent collection of African albums with us:
Rhythm Connection

Thank you Robert!

April 26, 2011

The First Rasta: French documentary about Leonard Howell

See trailer for the film here
This documentary was produced by Helen Lee, a well-respected long-time French music journalist who published an excellent book, The First Rasta: Leonard Howell and the Rise of Rastafarianism (Lawrence Hill Books), in 1999, English edition 2003.   
If you don't speak French, don't worry. It looks on the trailer like most of it is in English or Jamaican patois, with French subtitles. 
More info (French website) here

February 23, 2011

Bye Bye Buju | Los Angeles Times

Buju Banton convicted on cocaine charges, faces at least 15 years | Ministry of Gossip | Los Angeles Times

Buju Banton, the Grammy-winning Jamaican reggae singer, was convicted Tuesday in a Florida court on three of four federal drug charges. He faces at least 15 years in prison.
"Obviously, we are all upset and disappointed and emotional," said Banton's attorney, David Markus. "The only person who seems to be OK is Buju. He told us he was happy that he fought, knowing he was innocent."
Banton, whose real name is Mark Myrie, was arrested in a Drug Enforcement Agency sting operation in Miami in December 2009. He attempted to buy cocaine from an undercover officer, police said at the time. A mistrial was declared when the case first went to trial in September.
"Our life and our destiny are sometimes pre-destined and no matter where this journey takes me, remember I fought the good fight," Banton said Tuesday in a statement read by his lawyer, the Jamaica Observer reports. "It was a great man that said my head is bloody but still unbowed I love you all thank you for your support."
In Banton's native Jamaica, radio stations played his songs nonstop Tuesday, especially "Untold Stories" and "Not an Easy Road." Markus, who said Banton will appeal, will try to get his client out on bail in the meantime.
The jury deliberated for 11 hours on the cocaine-related charges, acquitting Banton of attempted possession with the intent to distribute, but finding him guilty of conspiracy to possess with the intent to distribute, possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking offense and using a telephone to facilitate a drug trafficking offense.
In one videotape made by an informant who was party of the sting, Banton could be seen tasting cocaine in a Sarasota warehouse on Dec. 8, 2009 -- but he was not present during the actual drug deal on Dec. 10 that led two others to be arrested. Those two men later pleaded guilty. Banton testified that the informant badgered him after they met on a trans-Atlantic flight in July 2009 and insisted that they meet to set up a cocaine purchase. He said he was so uninterested in the informant's proposals that after they met twice, Banton didn't return the man's phone calls for months.
Banton won a Grammy on Feb. 13 for "Before the Dawn."
A sentencing date has not been set.