Our unofficial overseas correspondent Davin Stedman, local music personality – and the man behind the Staxx Brothers – headed out to Jamaica for
When I was given the opportunity by my old friend BlueJay Hankins to fly to Jamaica and cut records for his label, Sick Donkey Records, it was a once in a lifetime opportunity. The timing of the trip made me feel like this was one of the those brief windows in time when all the stars aligned.
As a musician you can’t help but think about missed opportunities. Everything about music is timing. More than once on this trip as I stepped towards destiny and took calculated risks, I whispered ‘Carpe Diem’, the latin translation of seize the day. I first heard the term as a boy watching Robin Williams in Dead Poet’s Society. The moral of this story is that I didn’t let this one slip away. With the help of Bluejay, his productive little record company, and his friends on the island of Jamaica, we seized so many of those days.
On my first day in Jamaica for Band in Seattle and Sick Donkey Records, my suspicions that fate was waiting for me on the island my Taino ancestors named Xaymaca were confirmed swiftly. An unlikely set of circumstances brought me to Sly & Robbie’s One Pop Studios in Kingston.
There I was in the middle of crowded and boisterous Sly Dunbar session in Studio A. As my luck would have it, some of the greatest voices in Jamaica like Anthony Redrose and Bunny Brown were hanging out in the office and percolating through the session as I watched a song called “They Go Low, We Go High” develop with a rotating cast of musicians.
Music is the game of hurrying up and then waiting. It’s not so different anywhere in the world really, but this particular studio on this particular day reminded me of the atmosphere of an African American barbershop. In this manner of building a humongous track around Sly’s dancehall heavy programming, each musician tracked individually, but all stood ready for a call to action. This allowed for a fair amount of social interaction and ample time for welcome & curiosity regarding their mysterious visitor. Sly’s peers politely wondered who the heck I was, and what I might be able to do with my acoustic guitar.
The energy in Jamaica is so heavy you can breathe it in the air. But to be in a recording studio, and this recording studio in particular was akin to observing a Tesla coil. I met wise men talking about the current events, pointing at ipads, as they referenced their iconic youth. The history of Jamaica past to present is never a bore. This Island’s entire population is comparable to Seattle and its few surrounding communities, but the volume of music exported by this island makes our music city seem quite silent. Music critics have estimated that Sly & Robbie have recorded and produced 200,000 tracks since they started working together in the mid 70s. Imagine if every man woman and child in Seattle aspired to be just as prodigious.
I made fast friends that appreciated my brand of humor and the guts I had to interrupt. Like a boxer, I made sure my jokes landed…mostly. I also took pleasure as this stranger from Seattle made some actual sense of world events. I couldn’t catch all the patois, but Jamaicans are keenly up to date on American media and the news, and not one insight I shared was lost on them. My accent was easily understood. For the next 8 hours I slid between two worlds, listening to wisdom of musicians in the hallways and offices of Sly & Robbie’s headquarters, only to frequently slip back into studio as the masters welcomed me to watch them work.
I can’t thank Bluejay enough for insisting that I bring my guitar to the session, because in Jamaica everyone wants to know if you got a voice and song. You either do, or you don’t. The moment I consider High Tide happened when Dance Hall singer Anthony Redrose sat behind the big desk, and told me to pull out my guitar to see what I had in me. He listened to me play a song he would later rename ‘Free Your Mind.’ He offered to produce me and have Sly & Robbie on the session. It didn’t matter that the song I showed was still half written. Jamaica would help me write the rest.