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Interview: Don Chandler

Interview: Don Chandler

Interview: Don Chandler

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Reggae In Da City, The Rhum Jungle, Friday November 26th 2010. Skatroniks' Don Chandler talks about his new night Reggae In Da City and how he wants to save reggae in the UK.

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In October of this year Don Chandler, bassist with Skatroniks, Johnny Clarke and many other big reggae names read an article in The Voice newspaper by Davina Hamilton entitled "Is Reggae Dying A Slow Death?" He was inspired to start a free night of live music combining performances from top musicians and vocalists with a talent show format where audience members could get on stage and sing. Angus Taylor became a believer after attending the night on Friday 26th November and interviewed Chandler about his vision and how it could help get people in central London enjoying the city's rich reggae heritage again...

Don Chandler

Why did you start this night?

The reason for starting this night was due to the lack of support for UK reggae from UK radio stations. David Rodigan has always been an ambassador for our music but with his show now being reduced to one hour per week, this will only contribute to the decline in exposure for our music.

David Rodigan has always been an ambassador for our music but with his show now being reduced to one hour per week, this will only contribute to the decline in exposure for our music

We now live in a new age where the internet and social networking play a unique role in the promotion of all music, therefore we have to find new creative avenues to promote reggae music. Reggae In Da City is one of the avenues I chose to help promote reggae music.

What was your reaction to the Voice piece?

The headline on the front page of the voice read “Is Reggae Dying A Slow Death”. I believe the article should have read “Is Reggae Dying A Slow Death In The UK”. I am fortunate in the sense that I get to travel the world as a musician and I have witnessed that reggae music is far from dead in France, Italy, Germany, Hawai, South America and the West Indies.

What I have noticed in these countries is that reggae has a high visual presence in the form of live events and television coverage and young people want to play musical instruments as a direct influence to what they see at the live events and on television. This is what I believe is lacking from reggae music in the UK .

In other countries reggae has a high visual presence in the form of live events and television coverage and young people want to play musical instruments as a direct influence to what they see at the live events and on television. This is what I believe is lacking from reggae music in the UK

I walked around with the Voice article for a few days pondering on what I could do to contribute to bringing our “dying” music back to life. Three areas I decided to focus on are educating young musicians through reggae music, live events featuring home grown artists and TV promotion. The Reggae school is up and running, Reggae In Da City was the first live event, next is the TV promotion.

Do you think the Voice piece has done some good by stirring people into action?

I’m not sure what the Voice piece did for anyone else but I knew it provoked something within me and something had to be done about it. In the first night of Reggae In Da City I asked  who had read the article and I think one hand went up. This shows the importance of putting on these events to raise awareness for the work that needs to be done.

How does the night work?

Reggae In Da CityThe first thing was to find a venue in the heart of the city because I believe it was important to bring the music to an area of London which is not associated with reggae. After a few hours of internet surfing and phone calls I found a beautiful Caribbean restaurant in Islington called Cottons which has a venue attached to it named The Rhum Jungle.

I made some calls to some musician friends in the reggae business and explained the concept for the night, everyone got it straight away and jumped on board. These friends were Kashta Menilek-Guitar, Adrian Mckenzie-Drums, Henry Holder-Keyboards, Ivan Christie-Guitar and myself on Bass. The importance of using this caliber of musicians was that there were no rehearsals and the musicians had to be able to handle any tune thrown at them by the various artists and MC’s performing on the night.

The final piece of the puzzle was to find a host that represents UK Reggae. I called Peter Hunnigale and the line up was complete.

It was important that... rather than just play the regular top 40 of Jamaican reggae hits, UK artists would be heavily featured alongside their Jamaican counterparts

On the night Peter would call up singers from the crowd and call a tune for the band to play. The band would make a quick agreement on a key and go for it. Great performances were made by Aqua Livi, Solo Banton, AJ King, Barbera Naps and Peter himself. Skatronik sax man Brian Edwards was also in the house and came up and blew a tune. Some guest musicians came and sat in, musicians swapped instruments and after 2 hours the live section came to an end.

The night was handed over to DJ Diamond Finger and Jamie Hardy, a long standing promoter of reggae through his Ring The Alarm website.

It was important that the music played represented the concept of Reggae In Da City and rather than just play the regular top 40 of Jamaican reggae hits, UK artists would be heavily featured alongside their Jamaican counterparts.

Gappy Ranks, Phillip Levi, YT and Mr Williams were in the mix alongside Sanchez, Romaine Virgo and Berres Hammond and the crowd partied hard until closing time. This proves my theory which is play the music and let the people decide. Good quality music will shine regardless of whether it’s from Kingston, Paris or Harlesden.

Good quality music will shine regardless of whether it’s from Kingston, Paris or Harlesden

How Important is it to you that British reggae regains its former glory?

I don’t think along the lines of British reggae or Jamaican reggae or French reggae - its all reggae to me and deserves to be treated on equal terms. If we go back to the 70’s and 80’s, British reggae was always played alongside Jamaican reggae with pride by British radio and club DJ’s.

Djing used to be about educating new music to an audience, a great dubplate used to be a tune you had heard for the first time. Now every sound system has the same dubplates with a different soundsystem name. We need more DJ’s that are not afraid to be leaders i.e David Rodigan.

The internet has shrunk the world and now it's just as easy to know what’s going on in Jamaica as it is to know what is going on in France or Sweden. UK DJ’s need to open their ears and minds and not be so excluding of reggae music outside of Jamaica

UK DJ’s need to open their ears and minds and not be so excluding of reggae music outside of Jamaica

Gentleman from Germany is a European Phenomenon and outselling many Jamaican artists, yet I never hear his music played in the UK. This type of thinking is small minded and doing nothing to help the progression of reggae music in the UK.

In September the UK was sent a blessing in the form of Gappy Ranks with his latest outing Put The Stereo On. I believe this album to be as good as anything Jamaica has produced over the past 10 years and has swung the door wide open for the rest of us to follow through. 

In September the UK was sent a blessing in the form of Gappy Ranks with his latest outing Put The Stereo On. I believe this album to be as good as anything Jamaica has produced over the past 10 years and has swung the door wide open for the rest of us to follow through

Anyone interested in the next installment of Reggae In Da City or getting involved in the movement email donchandler@btinternet.com

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