“Jamaica Rocks”


Special To The Japan Times

A group of Jamaican musicians and dancers led by explosive “singjay” Abijah, as well as Tessanne Chin and rising star I Eye, have set off on a major tour of Japan. The tour is being coordinated by the Min-On Concert Association, in collaboration with the Embassy of Jamaica in Tokyo, and Jamaica’s Ministry of Youth, Sports & Culture.

This will be the second in a series of summer concert programs, dubbed Caribbean Musical Cruise, put on by Min-On featuring countries of the Caribbean region. The series began in 2009 with artists representing Trinidad & Tobago.

The Jamaican group starts their tour in Tokyo and their 24th — and final performance — will be Oct. 16 in Toyama Prefecture. They will also do a couple of concerts specifically for schools, as well as engage in exchange activities.

While not drawn from the highest tier of Jamaican acts, the trio of singers should represent the island well. Abijah, whose signature anthem “Revelation” spent upward of 30 weeks at the top of the Jamaican charts, has collaborated with the likes of R&B artist Tevin Campbell, Japan’s DJ Krush and top Jamaican acts such as Beenie Man and Yellowman. Abijah has also delivered motivational talks to students at schools and colleges across Jamaica and elsewhere, including Oxford and Harvard universities.

Singer/songwriter Chin, has been making a name for herself with her brand of rock-tinged reggae. She has opened for luminaries such as Roberta Flack, Boyz II Men and Patti LaBelle among others, and is a former backup vocalist for reggae legend Jimmy Cliff. Newcomer I Eye, emerged through the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission’s annual Festival Song Competition and has since come under the wing of respected veteran Jamaican producer Clifton “Specialist” Dillon, who is also the tour manager for the visiting group. I Eye is set to release her first album, “Fever Grass.”

The vocalists will be backed the Skool Band, which will be led, in the absence of band leader Desi Jones, by guitarist Seretse Small. According to Small, audiences will be introduced to Jamaican music in all its forms, from the early days of ska, through rocksteady and reggae.

“We’ll also perform traditional Jamaican folk music forms, such as kumina and dinki mini, with the drumming and dancing that goes with them,” Small says.

While Japanese audiences, generally, have long been familiar with reggae music and Jamaican artists, other aspects of Jamaican culture are substantially less known, among them, dance. The performances by the four representatives of the National Dance Theatre Company of Jamaica will go some way to redress this imbalance. The NDTC is one of Jamaica’s top cultural institutions and the dancers will be led by the NDTC’s Dance Captain, choreographer and dance lecturer Marlon Simms, and he will be accompanied by Chelcia Creary, Sheckena Daley and Javana Rowe.

Japan has long been one of the biggest markets for reggae and while it is de rigueur for reggae acts to tour Japan, this project represents something of a departure from the norm and is arguably the highest profile cultural delegation to visit Japan. The performances will be in concert halls rather than the typical outdoor festival/stage show format, and hope to attract audiences which, for the most part, would not usually attend reggae-flavored events.

Jamaica’s Minister of Youth, Culture and Sports Olivia “Babsy” Grange, was in Japan on official business and attended the opening concert.

“I hope that this tour will inspire the (Japanese) people to experience and learn more about Jamaican culture, especially those people who have not yet been exposed to our country. I also anticipate that this will encourage the people of Japan to visit our beautiful country in the future. In this sense, I believe that this cultural exchange will further strengthen the cultural bridge between our two countries,” Claudia Barnes, Jamaica’s ambassador to Japan, said in a statement.

“Jamaica Rocks” will take place at Kanagawa Kenmin Hall in Yokohama, Kanagawa Pref., on Sept. 10; Green Hall in Sagami Ono, Kanagawa Pref., on Sept. 11; Ichikawa Bunka Kaikan in Ichikawa, Chiba Pref., on Sept. 14; Honda no Mori Hall in Kanazawa, Ishikawa Pref., on Sept. 17; Chukyo University Bunka Shimin Kaikan Aurora Hall in Nagoya, Aichi Pref., on Sept. 18; Toyohashi Kinro Fukushi Kaikan in Toyohashi, Aichi Pref., on Sept. 19; Iida Bunka Kaikan in Iida, Nagano Pref., on Sept. 20; Yaizushi Bunka Center Large Hall in Yaizu, Shizuoka Pref., on Sept. 22; Shizuoka Shimin Bunka Kaikan in Shizuoka, Shizuoka Pref., on Sept. 23; Himeji Bunka Center in Himeji, Hyogo Pref., on Sept. 25; Act City Hamamatsu Large Hall in Hamamatsu, Shizuoka Pref., on Sept. 26; Grand Cube in Osaka on Sept. 28; Shimane Kenmin Kaikan Large Hall in Shimane, Shimane Pref., on Sept. 29; Kureshi Bunka Hall in Hiroshima on Sept. 30; Kochi Kenmin Bunka Hall, Orange Hall, in Kochi; Fukuoka Sun Palace Hotel & Hall in Fukuoka on Oct. 3; Tokushimashi Bunka Center in Tokushima, Tokushima Pref., on Oct. 5; Niigata Telsa in Niigata, Niigata Prefecture, on Oct. 6; Nagaoka Shiritsu Gekijo in Niigata on Oct. 7; Joetsu Bunka Kaikan in Niigata on Oct. 8; Nitori Bunka Hall in Hokkaido on Oct. 11; Fujinomiya Shimin Bunka Kaikan in Shizuoka on Oct 14; and Aubade Hall in Toyama on Oct. 16. For more information, visit www.min-on.org.