50 years of Jamaican album covers tell the story of a nation

Ian Burrell reports in The Independent, Sunday 04 November 2012.

As Jamaican music evolved from tourist-pleasing calypso to the explosive culture of dancehall, the artwork that adorned its record sleeves told the story, too, of the unique social development of a dynamic young nation.

Wilfred Limonious is one of the most distinctive artists in reggae, though his style was neither rocksteady, ska nor dub. His instrument of choice was the graphic designer’s pen and his medium the 12-inch cardboard sleeves used to clothe and decorate long-playing vinyl records.

On the shelves of record stores, a Limonious cover is instantly recognisable. His artwork might not instantly catch the eye of a gallery owner but to record buyers, it adds value to the music it was designed to promote.

His skill was that of the cartoonist. A graduate of the Jamaica School of Art, he worked professionally for the Jamaica Star national newspaper, where his much-loved cartoon strip “Chicken” captured the unique humour and spirit of the Caribbean islanders – especially on the tough streets of the capital, Kingston.

So when reggae went through a style revolution in the 1980s with the explosion of a new dancehall culture indigenous to Jamaica, Limonious became the go-to artist for sleeve design. Occasionally, he would sign his work with his surname, written discreetly in capital letters.

A classic Limonious is his cover for a 1985 album from the Channel One studio called Stalag, 17-18 and 19, featuring a cartoon depiction of a prison camp transformed into a reggae dancehall where the cons, soldiers and female guards are gyrating to giant speakers. The image is peppered with humorous comments. “Even the rats are dancing,” says the reggae writer Steve Barrow as he points to a pair of prison rodents at the bottom of the sleeve, accompanied by a Limonious note: “A dem rat yah nyam up man ina prison”.

“He’s telling you these are tough rats,” says Barrow. “That’s the archetypal Limonious. It’s the detail – you look at it as you would a cartoon in a newspaper, and because of his work he was familiar with Jamaican street dialogue. This is pure DC Thomson, the Bash Street Kids almost.”

And now at last, the late Limonious – who also studied for a while in Romford, Essex – and some of the other Jamaican artists who have made the island’s music into more than just an audio experience are getting deserved recognition as Barrow and his co-author Stuart Baker have compiled their art and design into Reggae Soundsytem, a coffee-table compendium which is alive with colour.

The book is also a reflection of Jamaican history, from its British colonial years on through its fight for national identity, taking in social and political issues and the presence in the culture of drugs and firearms. All these subjects are vividly depicted in reggae sleeve art.

The covers of calypso records from the 1950s show a crudely stereotyped Jamaica, then still a British territory, where the women danced under palm trees and the smiling musicians wore straw hats. “The music was something more to sell to the tourists,” says Barrow. “You see Jamaica portrayed as a kind of tourist paradise with dusky maidens or a folklore troupe dancing on the lawn of a big hotel.”

But the albums that came out after the country gained independence in 1962 reflect a growing confidence and show how the fresh sound of ska embodied the new Jamaica and how music producers looked to America for credibility as they sought to create a Caribbean dance equivalent to “The Twist”.

As the music became even more distinctively Jamaican in the late 1960s, the word reggae began to occur on covers – sometimes spelt as reggay. “It wasn’t fully codified at that time,” says Barrow, comparing the Sonny Bradshaw Seven’s On Tour with Reggay! from 1969 to Ernest Ranglin’s Boss Reggae from the following year.

By the 1970s, black consciousness had become the central theme of the music. Albums began to appear with drawings of lions and African landscapes, such as T Campbell’s work for Dennis Brown’s album Visions in 1977. One of the best-known artists of this roots-reggae style is Ras Daniel Heartman, whose 1972 drawing of a Rastafarian boy, Prince Emanuel, has become a famous poster image.

Limonious and other cartoon-style artists such as Jethro “Paco” Dennis emerged in the 1980s alongside the new and frenetic digitally produced reggae that came to the fore as Jamaica was struggling with political upheaval and violence. That tension is epitomised in Junior Delgado’s Bushmaster Revolution of 1982, which captures in photographs the CIA’s fear of a Cuban-style uprising.

Barrow and Baker have used album covers to reflect the island’s long-running fascination with firearms, from the cowboy film-poster style exemplified by Toyan’s How the West was Won in 1981, to the disturbing gun glorification of early 1990s ragga, which reached its height with Ninjaman’s 1990 album My Weapon.

“There’s nobody who lives in Jamaica who doesn’t know the local badman,” says Barrow. “Some people never cross their paths but they all know who they are. It’s a part of life and the dancehall is not going to flinch from showing that, because if it did, it would lose its credibility.”

That same authenticity is reflected in album-cover photography, too, such as in the 1985 album Sunday Dish by Early B, who is shown in his shack cooking up some rice and peas. “That one’s real ghetto style,” says Barrow. “They’re selling this as hard as it gets, he’s making Sunday dinner in the zinc-fence ghetto.” Appealing to the hardcore local audience, it was a long way from the tourist-inspired covers of a generation before.

Barrow, 67, who is familiar to any reggae fan for his peerless sleevenotes and his role in the Blood & Fire sound system, has lived through Jamaican music’s evolution, even from a distance in east London. As a teenager he was a patron of the earliest clubs to play West Indian music in Britain, the Flamingo and the Roaring Twenties in London’s Soho, and in later life he could walk through Kingston’s Greenwich Farm district and be hailed – “Wh’appen Fatha Steve?” – in recognition of his devotion to the culture.

And his collection of album cover art? It is not just a visual journey through the development of one of modern music’s most dynamic genres, it is also a compelling history of a young nation and its people.

‘Reggae Soundsystem: Original Reggae Album Cover Art’ by Steve Barrow and Stuart Baker (£30, Soul Jazz Books) is out on 12 November

For the original report: Heart on sleeves: 50 years of Jamaican album covers tell the story of a nation – Features – Music – The Independent.

Gallery of Album Art

Diaspora Tourism Significant To Caribbean Economies

A Caribseek News report:

Diaspora Tourism Significant To Caribbean Economies

Revealing the economic power of the Caribbean’s overseas communities, the half-hour documentary “Forward Home” will have its UK premiere on Monday, November 5 at 6 p.m. at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, The Mall.

2012-1031-car-ca-uk-forward-home-dr-keith-nurse-webDr. Keith Nurse. The film’s executive producer is economist and creative industries specialist, Dr. Keith Nurse, who is the WHO Chair at the University of the West Indies.

Produced and directed by award-winning Trinidad-based filmmaker Lisa Wickham, with stunning cinematography by Sheldon Felix,  “Forward Home” illuminates the findings of Dr. Nurse’s ground-breaking research project, “Strategic Opportunities in Caribbean Migration”, which studies four Caribbean countries and their counterpart communities in global cities: Jamaica and London; Guyana and Toronto; Suriname and the Netherlands; and the Dominican Republic and New York.

“We have begun to document the uncharted territory of what we call ‘Diasporic Tourism,'”, explained Dr. Nurse who added “what has been widely known anecdotally, we now have empirical data – solid facts and sound research – to back it up.”

The groundbreaking two-year study shows that more than 60 percent of the tourists who arrive in Guyana and Suriname are “Diaspora travelers” or Caribbean nationals living abroad. In Jamaica and the Dominican Republic, these nationals account for between 15 to 20 percent of tourists who travel to the region.

“We have found that Diaspora Tourism is a significant component of Caribbean tourism, and it is not a monolithic construct. These are not just leisure tourists, but people who come for educational and medical reasons, for festivals and other cultural events. We have also found there is an intersection between Diasporic Tourism and the telecommunications, airline, shipping and media industries,” he said, noting that the findings have been far more dynamic than expected.

Dr. Nurse, who was born in the United Kingdom and grew up in Trinidad, recommends more strategic planning and marketing on the Diasporic sector to further propel diversification of the Caribbean economy. By so doing, “we can encourage and enlist more Diasporic entrepreneurs, both at home and in the global cities where Caribbean diasporas predominate.”

Purchase tickets by logging on to www.imaginemediatt.com.

For original report: Diaspora Tourism Significant To Caribbean Economies.

Film revealing economic power of Diaspora to be screened at Caribbean Diaspora Forum

New York will play host to Caribbean Week,  June 4-9, 2012 . June 5 will feature a documentary film on the economic power of the Caribbean Diaspora, as Caribbean News Now reports.

BRIDGETOWN, Barbados — A documentary that reveals the economic power of the Caribbean Diaspora will be screened at the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO)’s Diaspora Forum in New York on 5 June.

The documentary, Forward Home: The Power of the Caribbean Diaspora, showcases the experiences of members of the Caribbean Diaspora who straddle the dual worlds of Caribbean homelands and global cities as tourists, travellers and entrepreneurs, and the organizations that make the relationship work, according to Dr Keith Nurse, the film’s executive producer.

“The documentary maps the uncharted territory of diasporic tourism and provides empirical evidence to support what we have known anecdotally, which is that the diasporic economy is of huge significance to the diversification and competitiveness of the Caribbean economy,” said Nurse, who is the director of the Shridath Ramphal Centre (SRC) of the University of the West Indies (UWI).

The SRC is a training, research and outreach organization that services the Caribbean region in trade, industrial and development policy matters.

Forward Home is based on an analysis of the diasporic tourism and investment flows of four Caribbean countries and counterpart global cities – Jamaica and London; Guyana and Toronto; Suriname and Amsterdam; and the Dominican Republic and New York – and was shot in nine countries.

The Diaspora Forum is part of the programme for Caribbean Week in New York – a series of consumer events and business meetings, showcasing the diversity and vibrancy of the Caribbean to thousands of New Yorkers and visitors to the Big Apple.

Themed Rediscover Home: Defining our Role, the Forum brings together ministers, commissioners and directors of tourism, as well as senior tourism officials and the Caribbean Diaspora in an exchange of information on the unique selling propositions of the various destinations.

This year’s Forum will also feature presentations by Montserrat, which is celebrating its 50th carnival, and Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago, both observing their golden jubilee. In addition, the CTO will give an update on its Rediscover Home programme – a series of activities aimed at encouraging the Caribbean Diaspora to rediscover the Caribbean – including a loyalty card and the Diaspora website.

For the original report: Caribbean News Now!: Film revealing economic power of Diaspora to be screened at Caribbean Diaspora Forum.

For a full schedule of events, see also: Caribbean Week in NYC

Major Caribbean Films to Premiere In Toronto

The international curtain goes up in Toronto for the premiere of three significant Caribbean films at the 2011 CaribbeanTales Toronto Film Showcase.

The trio of major Caribbean cinematic offerings will be screened during the sixth annual action-packed Showcase set for “Hollywood North” at the Harbourfront Centre in Toronto from September 7 to 17, 2011.

“Calypso Rose: The Lioness of the Jungle”, a documentary about the impact of the Trinidadian queen of soca music; “Ghett’a Life”, a new Jamaican film with positive messages of overcoming adversity and ignorance; and Antigua’s “The Skin”, a film on Caribbean mythology, will play in Toronto.
“We are overjoyed to present the North American premiere of not just the latest Caribbean films, but the best of the brightest of Caribbean filmmakers at our September 2011 showcase,” said Frances-Anne Solomon, CEO of CaribbeanTales Worldwide Distribution. She added that many other exciting films will be screened during the 10-day showcase which also features a market access incubator for Caribbean filmmakers.

Following the opening reception at Lakeshore Terrace on Wednesday, September 7, patrons will screen the Pascale Obolo-directed documentary about Calypso Rose, which will be followed by a live question and answer session with the uncontested diva of calypso music.

Living Legend, Calypso Rose

Calypso Rose, the “Mother of Calypso”, is a living legend, and the documentary features the many faces and facets of her life, including her reflective moments, a great passion for fishing and spirituality. It is a film not only about her vision and ancestral history, but also recounts the journey of a militant and impassioned woman, an Afro-Caribbean soul, and an exemplary artiste, who has touched the life of her people at home and many others in distant lands.

Watch a preview of Calypso Rose:
www.sflcn.com/multimedia.php?id=YtzCPDBA3So

On Tuesday, September 13, “Ghett’a Life”, by respected director Chris Browne of “Third World Cop”, premieres at the Studio Theatre. Ten years in the making, the wholly Jamaican film – funded by local investors and featuring indigenous talent and music – is a depiction of what life can be like in inner city Kingston. The “against the odds” drama – set in a politically turbulent community – tells the story of Derrick, a determined teenager, struggling to realize his dream of becoming a champion boxer despite a country, community and family riven by divisive politics.

On Friday, September 16, “The Skin”, a mythological thriller set in Antigua and Barbuda, will have its Red Carpet launch. A young couple encounters strange occurrences when they unearth and try to sell an ancient artifact. This is the fourth feature film by the husband and wife team of Howard and Mitzi Allen whose work is widely celebrated in Antigua.

The Toronto Showcase, among other goals, aims to raise the international profile of Caribbean film, support the growth of a vibrant world-class Caribbean film and television industry, and serve as a platform for promoting the Caribbean as a premier warm weather travel destination and location for film production.

The Showcase is co-produced with the Harbourfront Centre, and partners include Animae Caribe Animation and New Media Festival, The Consulate General for the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago in Toronto, First Fridays, Green Light Artist Management, the International Development Research Centre, Pennant Media Group, Planet 3 Entertainment, Taffe Entertainment, Toon Boom Animation, the Shridath Ramphal Centre for International Trade Law, Policy and Services at the University of the West Indies, and WHATZHAPPNG. For tickets, the schedule and general information about the CaribbeanTales Film Showcase and Market Incubator, visit www.caribbeantales-events.com.

For original article: Major Caribbean Films to Premiere In Toronto « Repeating Islands.