Raj Debah’s Reggae Eats Mixtape
There's an awesome mix of artists from the 1970s, 1980s and through to 2000s, what do you feel is the Jamaican specific heritage that links all of the music?
RD: Food is life, I think is the message, like the Horace Andy tune says, “Ital is Vital.” Some of the artist's music I selected for the mix are talking about Jamaican cuisine, specifically the dishes and ingredients that are so essential to creating the right Jamaican dish. When the idea came for a reggae mix themed around food I knew off head of three tunes that would have to be included. And since I love the music so much it was easy to build a good mix around the genre. I believe reggae is a global music that influences many cultures around the world.
Although most of the artists from Kingston does hailing from areas of Kingston have different sounds?
RD: I think the sounds depend heavily upon what the producer, musicians and artist come up with in the studio. I don't think it's so much region specific as in American music. As for this mix, the music choices are really from different eras of reggae music, past and present. There's been a real progression in the sound of the music as expected but the messages, at least in this mix have a central message.
What are your first memories of Caribbean culture?
RD: I grew up in the South Bronx, NYC in the early 1980s. The neighborhood I grew up in had many different cultures of people. I am West Indian so I was naturally drawn to the vibes of Caribbean people, and we (Caribbean people) always seem to end up in close proximities to each other when our parents migrated to America. In my house we had current reggae 45s and LPs which my older siblings or relatives bought from the local shops. I could look out my window and see some bad mon crews on the corners of my block who were all friends of mine from Jamaica, Trinidad and Guyana. So we would be on the corner days and nights with someone's car parked in front of us blasting current dancehall hits. It's really just how I grew up in a community of people from the Caribbean. The memories go far back for me and the music I always respected.
And how about Caribbean music growing up?
RD: I really decided I wanted to identify with the music when I went to high school in Manhattan. It was an all borough school and I was a part of a crew called the Cassette Freaks. We would get cassette tapes by the bundles circulated to us directly from the top sound systems in Jamaica, N.Y. and London, and I wanted to emulate a sound system from Brooklyn N.Y. by the name of King Addies. I started spending all my part time job money buying vinyl 45s at some shops in the Gun Hill section of the Bronx which is predominately a Jamaican area. I think it was where I would also find myself hungry from buying records all day and stop for rice and peas and jerk chicken.
What's it like record shopping in Kingston now?
RD: I'm not entirely sure. I don't find myself shopping for records as much anymore, I just seek out the select tunes that I love. I would love to travel to Jamaica more often to shop for records but unfortunately the dealers have wrapped up the game. The music has seen a heavy resurgence in the past five years in popular culture and vinyl dealers from Europe and Japan have really invested a lot of cash buying up collections from local Jamaicans in the island. I was in Jamaica a couple of years ago and my driver told me that he had just escorted some cats from Spain to a few local Jamaican dealers in Kingston and they bought and shipped back almost 20 massive boxes back to Europe. I'm not a record dealer. I just go after the tunes I really want.
Food features in reggae a lot more than almost all other music genres, why do you think that is?
RD: My best answer is that Jamaicans are a proud people, as they should be. Their culture from the food and the music have influenced many people across the globe. I also think that reggae is a music at the core is uplifting and political, keep on fighting past the struggles of life. I see food as a political subject especially in poor communities so i think the narrative will continue to be dealt with in the music.
What would be your all time favourite Jamaican meal?
RD: I think traditional Jamaican breakfasts dishes like ackee and saltfish and escoveitched fish.
Raj Debah is an editor and filmmaker living and working between New York and Los Angeles and DJs at Bashment Galore at Kinfolk 94, BK and Version Galore at Doris, BK, NYC.