Boombastic: Raggae artist Richie Spice, founder/CEO of Tad's Records Tad A. Dawkins, Sr ; and recording artist Shaggy (Photo: Patricia Meschino)
Kingston sports bar/restaurant Tracks and Records, where Jamaica's six-time Olympic gold medalist Usain Bolt acts as a major stakeholder, was the location for the launch of reggae singer Richie Spice's acoustic album Soothing Sounds. (released Oct. 23 on Tad's Records).
The Oct. 30 launch, held a week after the album's release due to Hurricane Sandy, was highlighted by Spice's 90-minute set, which included stripped down renditions of his time-tested reggae tracks and new material. The event was presented by Tad's in association with Kingston's Solid Agency (a booking, management, and event production company) and promoters of "Behind The Screen" (a weekly Tuesday night live concert series) establishing Tracks and Records as a hub for live reggae in the genre's home country.
"We started this series in July to give artists the chance to showcase their catalogue, to speak to their fans, and it has been really revitalizing for the industry here," said Solid Agency founder Sharon Burke outside of the venue.
Get Up, Stand Up: Spice performing at Tracks and Records' weekly music showcase "Behind The Screen" (Photo: Patricia Meschino)
Tracks and Records' sleek decor pays homage to Bolt's Olympian feats: his world record times of 9.58 and 19.19 in the 100 and 200 meter races, respectively, are displayed in the venue's lobby. A track-shaped bar is the centerpiece to the establishment's main room and a gift shop sells an exclusive selection of Bolt merchandise.
Although the world's fastest sprinter did not attend Spice's launch, he sent an email to Billboard.biz regarding Tracks and Records' live reggae series. "I am happy the facility is attracting a wide range of patrons; the Tuesday night live showcases present the best of Jamaica's music today and promotes Jamaica in a positive light and I am happy to be a part of that," Bolt wrote.
| "The Tuesday night live showcases present the best of Jamaica's music today and promotes Jamaica in a positive light and I am happy to be a part of that."
The event attracted a cross-section of celebrities including Jamaica's celebrated West Indies cricket team batsman Chris Gayle, dancehall superstar Shaggy, Television Jamaica producer Sanjay Ramanand, and founder/CEO of Tad's Records, Tad A. Dawkins, Sr. Born in Jamaica, Dawkins first established Tad's Records in the Bronx, NY in the early 80s. The label became dormant in the '90s and Dawkins relocated to Jamaica where he re-established Tad's in 2004. He has since released albums by a broad swathe of Jamaican talent from late rock crooner Gregory Isaacs to currently incarcerated dancehall star Vybz Kartel.
"What our label has never had is a really strong, contemporary reggae act and Richie Spice is that," says Dawkins, whose label handles the physical and digital distribution of Spice's new disc. "Richie's acoustic album," Tad adds, "it's a different approach, a strategy to get reggae out there and let the world know reggae music is not dead."
Quality roots reggae music continues to be made on the island by a new generation of artists, yet Jamaican reggae is not attracting the international attention it did years ago; an industry-wide concern echoed in conversations throughout the launch. "Some say reggae dead but Richie Spice help reggae to spread," rhymed roots singer I-Wayne when asked why he attended the launch. I-Wayne's 2004 single "Can't Satisfy Her" spent more than five months on Billboard' Hip Hop/R&B Singles chart and was the first cultural reggae track to be added into rotation on New York's influential hip hop station Hot 97. "Richie Spice is someone who keeps up the natural reggae vibe, that's what we love and I have to be here to support that".
Spice had three titles reach the Top Reggae Albums Chart including "Gideon Boot" (via VP Records), which debuted at No. 1 on May 31, 2008. Spice's 2005 single, "Youth Dem Cold" produced by Hot 97's Bobby Konders" peaked at No. 54 on the R&B/Hip-Hop songs tally.
Speaking to Billboard.biz before his Tracks and Records performance, Spice lamented the mainstream market's scant acknowledgement of Jamaican reggae. However, he remains optimistic based on another Jamaican artist's widespread international acclaim. " Bob Marley's music wasn't played in the mainstream either so it really encourages I to carry on to know such a great icon wasn't getting his recognition by major TV or radio stations," said Spice.
Yet, at Tracks and Records, an audience of approximately 250 patrons reacted to Spice's music as if each song crowned the Hot 100, particularly acoustic renditions of his early hit "Grooving My Girl," and the first single from Soothing Sounds, the gospel liberation anthem "Free."
While excitement brews on his new material, Dawkins notes that streamlined presentations of classic reggae songs also make for a smart touring decision in reggae. "An acoustic tour with just a guitarist, backup singers, drums and the artist fits into the state of global economics now." Spice will soon take his acoustic renditions on the road with tours pending in the U.S. and Europe.
Spice with his back-up singers (Photo: Patricia Meschino)