A lot of people are shocked that a Reggae song is number one in China, however, if they understood the role the Chinese played in early Jamaican music, they would not be so surprised.
Long before Jango Fresh’s song “Call from God” became a huge hit in China, Chinese in Jamaica were already embracing Jamaican music.
After slavery was abolished in Jamaica, the British imported thousands of Chinese as indentured laborers.
As Jamaican music went through its various evolutions such as mento, rocksteady, ska, reggae and dancehall, the Chinese played a major role even though for the most part it was behind the scenes. While the Africans in Jamaica became the singers and players of instruments, the Chinese became the studio engineers and music distributors.
Below are some Chinese Jamaicans who played major roles in the pioneering of Jamaican music.
Byron Lee is known to have introduced the electric bass guitar to Jamaica in late 1959 or 1960. However, the reason Lee began to use the electric bass as opposed to the double bass had nothing to do with sound. Rather, it was a way for Lee to avoid carrying the large and heavy double bass to the truck to move from gig to gig. The bass guitar soon gained popularity throughout the country and soon became the standard. The electric bass’ louder, clearer, and more in-your-face sound soon changed the entire sound of Jamaican music entirely.
Around 1950, along with his friend Carl Brady, he formed the first incarnation of his band the Dragonaires, named after the college football team that they played for, at that time concentrating on mento. The band turned professional in 1956 and went on to become one of Jamaica’s leading ska bands, continuing since and taking in other genres such as calypso, Soca, and Mas.
Neville Lee was never as famous as his older brother Byron, but he made his mark in the Jamaican music industry as a major distributor for some of the biggest names in reggae through his Sonic Sounds company.
Leslie Kong is known for being the first Jamaican record producer to get international hits. He produced groundbreaking songs by Bob Marley and The Wailers, Jimmy Cliff, Toots and The Maytals and Desmond Dekker.
‘Do the Reggay’ is a reggae song by The Maytals, the first popular song to use the word “reggae” and defined the developing genre by giving it its name. At that time, “reggay” had been the name of a passing dance fashion in Jamaica, but the song’s connection of the word with the music itself led to its use for the style of music that developed from it. The record was produced by Leslie Kong and released on Beverly’s Records in Jamaica and Pyramid Records in the UK in 1968
In the Sixties Warwick Lyn got involved in the music business, working as a sound engineer and A&R (Artist and Repertoire) man for Beverley’s Records.
After Kong’s death in 1971, Warwick Lyn became Toots & The Maytals’ manager and is credited as co-producer for two of the group’s well-known albums, 1973’s “Funky Kingston” and ‘Reggae Got Soul’, which was released three years later.
For most of the Seventies, Lyn worked with Tommy Cowan at Talent Corporation. They managed and produced acts like The Melodians, Ras Michael and the Sons of Negus, Zap Pow, Inner Circle and Junior Tucker.
Lyn immigrated to the United States in the early Eighties where he operated a painting business. He and his wife, 1973 Miss Jamaica, Patsy Yuen, also ran the Miss Jamaica Miami beauty pageant.
Vincent and Patricia Chin
In 1958 the Chins opened their first record store in downtown Kingston, Randy’s Record Mart — named for Vincent’s enthusiasm for the late night American radio program of that era, Randy’s Record Shop (hosted by Randy Wood, founder of Dot Records).
By 1961 the store was operating from a new premise located at 17 North Parade in the heart of downtown Kingston. This establishment, which became the very popular Randy’s Records, provided record collectors and music lovers with many hard-to-get records. By 1968, Vincent established a top-of-the-line studio above the same premises, Studio 17. He began recording local artists, becoming one of the first to issue locally recorded music on the island. Randy’s biggest success as a producer in those early years came from the Trinidad-born singer, Kenrick Patrick, better known as Lord Creator. Other early hits included releases by Basil Gabbidon, Jackie Opel, John Holt, and the duo Alton & Eddie (Alton Ellis and Eddie Perkins).
Joseph (Jo Jo), Kenneth, Paul, and Ernest Hoo Kim
The Hoo Kim brothers had no music experience when they launched Channel One. Their parents owned a bar and an ice cream parlor. The brothers initially went into business for themselves owning and operating jukeboxes and one-armed bandits. In 1970, after the Jamaican government declared the gambling games illegal, Joseph and Ernest decided to turn to the music business and launched a sound-system named Channel One.
A visit to Dynamic Sounds with singer John Holt peaked Joseph’s interest and he decided to open a studio in the Maxfield Avenue area, a political hotbed throughout the Seventies. He purchased an API console for $38,000 and promoted the facility by allowing producers to record there for free.
Herman Chin-Loy’s earliest involvement in the music business came when he worked for his famous record-producing cousin, Leslie Kong, in his Beverley’s record shop in the ’60s.
He opened his first record shop named One Stop at 125 King Street with Neville Foo-Loy. Neville was an old friend of Derrick Harriott’s from Excelsior High School. When Chin-Loy moved on to KG’s in 1966, the pair handed over the King Street premises to Derrick Harriott and One Stop became Derrick’s One Stop. He then left KG’s and in 1969 opened Aquarius Record Store in Half Way Tree, Kingston.
Today’s Jamaicans of Chinese descent in the music industry include The Voice winner Tessanne Chin, her sister Tami Chynn, and Grammy Award dancehall superstar Sean Paul. Sean Paul Henriques’ mother is of English and Chinese Jamaican descent