Live Unchained Brings International Reggae Poster Exhibition to Washington, DC Monday 21 October, 2013

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Listening to Bob Marley’s “Africa Unite” was the first time I felt like a song was holding me in its arms. Motivated by Marley, I learned that many great Reggae artists believed in things like international solidarity, self-mastery, the possibility of a world beyond Babylon; and they honored rebels that resisted slavery, like Nanny of […]

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Listening to Bob Marley’s “Africa Unite” was the first time I felt like a song was holding me in its arms. Motivated by Marley, I learned that many great Reggae artists believed in things like international solidarity, self-mastery, the possibility of a world beyond Babylon; and they honored rebels that resisted slavery, like Nanny of the Maroons, who inspired their music. Even though I’m still learning how to wind, I’ve been a reggae fan ever since.

So, I’m proud to announce that in partnership with the Washington, DC Embassy of Jamaica and International Reggae Poster Contest (IRPC), Live Unchained will host an exhibition launch party celebrating Reggae and it’s influence around the world on Thursday, November 14th, at the Embassy of Jamaica in Washington, DC. The party will include a poster exhibition for the 2013 IRPC winners and jurors’ picks and a silent auction. Reviewing over 2,000 submissions from more than 90 countries, IRPC has curated the finest poster art inspired by the genre.

All event proceeds go to the Alpha Boys’ School of Kingston Jamaica. Having educated great Jamaican musicians for more than 100 years, without this institution Reggae may never have existed. Our event partner, Anicée Gaddis, former executive editor of Trace Magazine and current editor of Big Magazine, explained the cultural significance of this event and institution in a recent TRUE blog post below…

All Alpha, All The Time

Poster Contributed by Luba Lukova, International Reggae Poster Contest Juror

If you don’t know about the Alpha Boys’ School, then you’re missing out on an indispensable part of Jamaica’s musical legacy.  In many ways, Alpha is a true cradle of reggae, and Sister Ignatius Davies is the school’s modest champion.  Located at 26 South Camp Road in the heart of Kingston, on 44 acres of land, the school for orphaned and at-risk boys is actually a dream factory for turning victims of negative experiences into positive young men, and using music as a legitimate weapon.  Or, as one student put it, “Music is the magic and it’s a good place where bad boys can turn their lives around.”

On the advice of my good friend Michael Thompson – who also designed the beautifully evocative Alpha Boys School logo – I had the privilege of visiting the school this past summer and meeting Special Programming Coordinator Josh Chamberlain.  Josh gave me an in-depth account of the day-to-day runnings of Alpha, where there is a working farm, a printery, a music academy, a football club, a woodworking shop, an Alpha Ware clothing line and now a new radio station.  During all of my time spent in Kingston over the last ten years and of all the things and places I’ve seen, the Alpha Boys School was by far the most exciting and enduring; it felt like I’d landed on sanctified soil.

The story of Alpha runs as deep as its Jamaican roots.  Jesse Ripoll, a native Kingstonian, first opened her home to a young girl in need around 1880, some homeless boys took up residence soon after and eventually Ms. Ripoll sought assistance from the Sisters of Mercy.  She joined the order, and the Alpha Boys School became official.

Today there are about a hundred boys between the ages of 8-18, many of whom are aspiring to follow in the footsteps of mythical Alpha alums like Don Drummond and Dizzy Moore of the Skatalites, jazz giants Jo Harriott and Dizzy Reece and the first dancehall superstar Yellowman.  Alpha was also home to Leroy “Horsemouth” Wallace, the star of Ted Bafaloukos’ seminal film Rockers, who is still an active session drummer and recently visited his old stomping grounds for the first time since the 1970s.  According to Josh, “He loved it and didn’t want to leave.  He loved seeing the boys and the boys enjoyed talking with him.  We’re all looking forward to having him back.” At Alpha, the music is the alchemy and the adhesive, and the school has produced some of the world’s top-ranked and most respected voices that have played alongside Jimmy Cliff, Burning Spear and Bob Marley. The common goal now is too keep that flame alight.

The flame keeper, beginning at age 17 when she first joined the Sisters of Mercy order and took up residence at Alpha until her death, was Sister Ignatius, or “Iggy” as the boys called her.  Like the Greek etymology of her name which literally means “fiery,” Sister Ignatius not only nurtured the boys through music, she literally bought the school a sound system, amassed a record collection to rival any diehard producer’s and set up her own disco at the academy on Saturday nights. They say her favorite tune was Don Drummond’s “Eastern Standard Time,” and many Alpha alums have expressed deep gratitude to Sister Ignatius for her pioneering vision and tireless conviction.  She was a force of inspiration and absolution who was as turned on by the music as she was tuned in to her faith.  It’s unfortunate that since her passing in 2003, she has not received official recognition such as an Order of Merit from the Jamaican government.  Even so, her legacy as the spirited mother and spiritual paragon of Alpha is still very much alive.

With the recent launch of its own radio station www.alphaboysschoolradio.com, Alpha can now actively celebrate its history by broadcasting music from the incomparable alumni of the Alpha Boys School, including jazz, reggae, ska and rock steady all-stars whose catalogues are featured on the radio’s programming schedule. “It’s 24 hours a day, 7 days a week online, with a mobile app to come,” Josh explained.

Hailing from the U.S., Josh worked in radio and music production before relocating to Jamaica to pursue graduate studies at the University of the West Indies. He met several industry veterans along the route, including Michael Wadleigh, the Academy Award winning director of the documentary film “Woodstock.” Said Josh, “Michael established a non-profit which created radio projects in communities of need.  Alpha is one of those places, with an amazing musical legacy, so it turned out to be a perfect fit.” The equipment and expertise for the radio station have been donated by Michael’s non-profit organization Gritty and its radio station WXGR will provide broadcast studio equipment, social media platforms, online distribution and training for the students. Citing “Maximum respect for Alpha’s musical legacy and current mission, the donation will establish an important worldwide promotional and fundraising platform for the school,” said Michael.  “The students will provide on-air talent as well as learn skills in engineering and production, and the station will help sustain and improve the educational services of the Alpha Boys School.” Alpha may be “a small school in a small city on a small island,” according to Sister Susan Frazier, the Alpha Boys School Director, “but the radio station will be a powerful platform to share Jamaican culture with the world.”

According to Josh, the young Alpharians are already very engaged in recording the introductions to certain segments with deeper involvement to follow, while their bandleader and illustrious Alpha alum Winston “Sparrow” Martin is working with current band members on original music that you will hear on Alpha Boys School Radio first. “So you wake up in the morning with some jazz, you work your way to rock steady and by the evening, you’re listening to reggae,” said Josh. “This is their time to shine, and the boys are born naturals. It’s just all Alpha, all the time.”

Written by Anicée Gaddis and Kathryn Buford

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