‘Irie Jam, New York’ Reggae Mission

‘Irie Jam, New York’ Reggae Mission

Observer senior writer

Roy “DJ Roy” Walters of Irie Jam Radio (third from left) with (from left) Kabaka Pyramid, Christopher Ellis and Vershon at Tuff Gong studios in Kingston. Irie Jam Radio conducted a series of artiste interviews as part of its Reggae Month activities in Jamaica.

A four-man team from Irie Jam Radio in Queens, New York, visited Jamaica in February to report on Reggae Month activities. The station’s vice-president, Syntyche Clarke, said the trip was a reintroduction to Jamaican culture for their audience.

The Irie Jam contingent was led by her husband Bobby Clarke, its CEO; senior administrator Louis Grant; and disc jockey Roy “DJ Roy” Walters. Their two-week schedule included live broadcasts from the Big Yard and Tuff Gong studios in Kingston, where interviews were conducted with artistes such as Beenie Man, Julian Marley, Spragga Benz, Jesse Royal, Kabaka Pyramid, Vershon, and George Nooks.

“Having reached 26 years in the industry, our loyal listeners have grown with us, they now have children who are tuning in as well, so we grow and evolve along with the audience and the change in sound and artistes, but remain structured in a way that allows us to be both rooted in the past but always ready for the future,” Syntyche Clarke told the Jamaica Observer.

She added that, “The Irie Jam 360 app analytics show that the younger audience are tuned in via very different mediums than when we started, so it’s critical for us to create innovative ways to engage our listeners, like these live broadcast tours.”

Though reaching new demographics was big on the agenda, the Irie Jam team’s main focus was to attend the seventh Jamaica Music Conference which took place February 13-16 in Kingston, which the station co-sponsored.

That forum, a pivotal feature of Reggae Month, covers various aspects of the music industry. It comprised panel discussions on copyright, publishing and history.

The broadcasts from Big Yard and Tuff Gong bridged a gap between contemporary dancehall, which Irie Jam Radio embraced when it launched in late 1993, and the roots-reggae sound Tuff Gong helped to make world-famous back in the 1970s.

“Robert Livingston and the Big Yard team are family, we have a longstanding relationship with Big Yard that goes back decades, so it is our home away from home. Broadcasting from Tuff Gong Studios has a real special element of history of legendary, groundbreaking talent having been there. When the great Bob Marley coined the verse, ‘There’s a natural mystic flowing through the air’, it’s truly what we felt,” said Clarke.

Bobby Clarke wanted to expand listenership beyond Jamaican and West Indian communities in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut, when he started Irie Jam Radio.

Its audience grew with the emergence of dancehall music as a force during the 1990s and 2000s, when acts like Shabba Ranks, Beenie Man, Shaggy and Sean Paul found favour with the hip hop market.

It was the first series of broadcasts during Reggae Month for Irie Jam Radio which Clarke fashioned off Irie FM in Jamaica, which started three years earlier. In recent years, a team from BBC 1 Xtra, led by famed disc jockey David Rodigan, has made similar trips.