Music journalist and Dancehall Curator Reshma B is the producer of STUDIO 17: THE LOST REGGAE TAPES, the story of the birth of reggae music in Kingston Jamaica, and of one man’s quest to rescue a treasure trove of tapes that were abandoned in 1977. The tapes - unearthed after surviving decades of neglect including looting, hurricane Gilbert and intense tropical heat - contain unheard and unreleased songs by The Wailers, Peter Tosh, Dennis Brown, The Skatalites, Alton Ellis, Gregory Isaacs and many more. Peep the trailer below, read on and get familiar with Reshma B.
Where did your fascination with Jamaican music start?
I grew up in West London, a melting pot of many cultures with a huge Jamaican community. Notting Hill Carnival happened each year and all the London sound systems—Sir Coxsone, King Tubby’s, Nasty Rockers—would string up for two days. It’s wicked having all that culture right on your doorstep. I think that definitely had an impact on me.
Reggae played in my house all year round. My mum was a big fan of UB40 so of course I learned about all the Jamaican songs they covered on their Labour of Love albums when I could.
I started working at a local radio station and noticed they weren’t playing all the latest reggae and dancehall so I would make suggestions to the bosses and sometimes they would listen.
After that I became a contributor for BBC radio, supplying interviews and drops for 1Xtra and DJs like Toddla T. I was going to lots of reggae festivals, ranging from Amsterdam to New York to Jamaica, which led to me getting asked for my opinion by producers trying to make reggae programmes for BBC radio.
I started blogging under reggaegirlabouttown and then writing for the UK publication Clash Music. My work started getting noticed and Clash asked me if I would write my own column. Over time I started doing features for publications like The Fader, Complex, Bilboard, and VIBE. I have covered many pop culture moments from fashion and style to music of all genres, but I always gravitate to reggae and dancehall. My column evolved into “Murda She Wrote,” which has lived on platforms like Pigeons & Planes and Mass Appeal. I also enjoy being part of the editorial team curating dancehall at Jay Z's streaming service Tidal.
Along the way I contributed to Boomshots, now the official Reggae & Dancehall platform for Complex. Boomshots has been covering Jamaican music for over 25 years and they asked me to do interviews with Reggae & Dancehall stars for their Youtube channel. I’ve interviewed legends in this culture from Super Cat, Bounty Killer, and Sizzla to Spice, Vybz Kartel, and Mavado up to newer artists like Popcaan and Teejay.
What are you hoping the audience takes away from watching this documentary?
Jamaican music is the inspiration for so many other musical genres from hip hop to EDM, and this documentary takes you back to the source of everything. Sound system culture has influenced loads of music we listen to in the UK, from 2Tone to jungle and grime. This documentary highlights the original singers and musicians and producers who created the Jamaican music industry that gave birth to ska, reggae, and dub. Some of them are more famous than others but they all played a part in creating this amazing musical revolution. This was music played by great musicians who sometimes had to work other jobs to make a living. Most of them weren’t earning much money. They just wanted to hear their music playing on sound systems for local people’s entertainment. Then suddenly the whole world tuned in and reggae went international.
There is always more dopeness coming out of the streets of Jamaica every day—from the music to the dance moves to the fashion and slang and lifestyle. It’s an extremely exciting culture that the world has been fascinated by for half a century now. We see big acts using reggae beats all the time, from Ed Sheeran to Drake. As you know Rihanna will be putting out a full reggae-and-dancehall inspired album later this year. Hip Hop acts from Lil Kim to Nicki Minaj to Cardi B and Stefflon Don have based their style and sound and moves on the dancehall icons like Lady Saw and Spice. In the UK sometimes we don’t even know it but we are speaking in some type of patois that’s been remixed into the last lingo—seen?
What does the documentary mean to you as a lover of Jamaican music?
I didn’t get a chance to witness many of the legends of reggae so this is a mind-blowing experience for me. The opening of the Randy’s vaults is on par with recordings from iconic labels like Sun Records and Stax Records or even the Alan Lomax archive. As someone who’s usually covering current music, I go to shows by acts who are sampling and remixing classic reggae music today. Having the chance to go back to the birth of this culture is a special opportunity—not only for me, but anyone who appreciates Jamaican music. Some of the people we spoke with for this film are famous, some have rarely been interviewed before. We all know the songs but we don’t always know the faces and the stories of the people who sang them.
What is roots reggae’s place in the current musical landscape?
These days you often hear terms like “Roots Revival,” but if you speak to anyone who listens to reggae they’ll tell you that there is no revival because reggae didn’t go anywhere. This music will never die, and it’s still influencing people all the time.
Based on the recordings, if you could choose one session to be a fly on the wall, which one would it be and why?
In the transfer sessions, the boxes were all mixed up so you never knew if you were going to pull out a tape by Alton or Dennis or the Wailers until you played it. But to be honest all of those sessions sounded crazy. Especially when you’re listening to the master tapes, which are the original studio sessions before the songs get mixed down. You can hear the musicians joking and smoking and saying how they are “hungry to bloodclaat.” It’s like being in a time machine.
What’s the funniest/most memorable anecdote from these recording sessions?
During the transfer sessions Clive would tell amazing tales about the musicians he worked with over the years. One of his best stories was when Clive and Peter Tosh got arrested because Peter decided to light up his famous pipe on the plane from JA to NYC! When they went to court the next day, Tosh said he had an appointment with President Jimmy Carter to legalize ganja. The judge thought he was crazy and let them both go just to get them out of his courtroom.
How did Dave Stewart become involved in this project?
Dave has been around Jamaican culture for many years. Just like a lot of other rock stars from the Rolling Stones to Sting, the island has been a creative hub for him. Mark James, the Director of Studio 17: The Lost Reggae Tapes, made one of the first films on Dave Stewart back in the day. When Dave heard about our film he was interested in being a part of it. As he mentions in the movie, he jammed with lots of musicians at his house in JA. At the time we were making our film he was developing a young singer named Hollie Stephenson. Clive Chin had an unheard Dennis Brown track from the Randy’s Vault which needed to be finished. Dennis was 16 at the time he recorded the track, the same age as Hollie was. Like most of Dennis Brown’s catalogue, the track was a love song. Clive liked the idea of having Hollie duet with Dennis and the rest is history. The film has an unreleased Dennis Brown track that fans can look out for.
When / where will the film be available outside of the UK?
As with all films the next step is to find a distributor so we can show this film in other countries. The film was produced in collaboration with the BBC so people in the UK got to see it first. Those who missed the first broadcast can catch up here — we are starting to see some nice reviews. Meanwhile Studio 17: The Lost Reggae Tapes can be seen at different music festivals throughout 2020, which will be announced on the official website for those who want to attend a screening near them.
We recently did a special screening in Nashville, Tennessee. This is a special place for Clive’s father, Vincent, known as “Randy”, who built Studio 17 and produced many of the tracks you hear in the film. He took his name from the famous Randy’s Record shop in Nashville, which sponsored a show broadcast from Nashville that reached all the way to Jamaica where Vincent would tune in. He became such a fan of one of the station that he adopted the name Randy’s and went on to open his own Randy’s Record Shop and Studio in downtown Kingston. It seemed only fitting that the film would have a special screening in Nashville. During our trip we went to visit the old Randy’s Records shop with Clive, the first member of his family to ever see the property.
David Rodigan did a nice piece on the film on his Sunday show
What are the plans around releasing more music from the recovered tapes?
Due to popular demand we are now discussing the release of a soundtrack. However as the old Jamaican saying goes, “Nothing before the time."