Reggae has its roots deeply embedded in China or rather China has its roots deeply embedded in Reggae. The first immigrants from China came to Jamaica just before the turn of 1900. Most of these Chinese settlers came from the Hakka region in China commonly known nowadays as Shenzhen. They came after the abolition of slavery when there was lots of work to be found, settled into the new climate and culture and built their families.
Many of the session musicians came from families that had found their place in Jamaica as small business owners. Byron Lee is a name that is written into the history books of Reggae as the one who introduced the electric bass to reggae. From a Chinese-Jamaican mother and a Chinese father, Byron worked throughout his life producing music and performing in his band the Dragonaires.
Byron had produced the song Always Together for Shanghai singer, Stephen Cheng. Fitting in for Stephen was not Cheng’s typical ambition of his fellow countrymen and women in China and in his pursuit of the spotlight he gained the audience of Byron and was able to realize this track. Although it was thought that the Always Together was sung by a local in Jamaica it was a true musical collaboration from across oceans. As unusual as it was for a track to have such an obvious ‘Chinese’ element, it became a rocksteady gem.
We start to the first tastes of Reggae in China from the underground rock scene around 1982 with the Taiwanese legend Lo Ta-Yu 羅大佑 and his song Pedantry from his album of the same title. This was followed in Beijing by Cui Jian a.k.a. Beijing’s godfather of rock with hid debut album “從頭再來” in 1989.
Well known ska and reggae producers Byron Lee and Leslie Kong and other music industry professionals such as Neville Lee, Vincent and Patricia Chin founded some of Reggae’s biggest names into international fame like: Jimmy Cliff, The Maytals, and Bob Marley.
The nephew of Leslie Kong, I Kong and his son Shaquille “Skunga” Kong, carry on the family legacy. Connecting the circle, Skunga has worked with Leslie’s buddies Robbie Shakespeare and Sly Dunbar.
Long Shen Dao, known as China’s first real reggae band, has opened for The Wailers, as well as headlined some of the biggest festivals worldwide including the Strawberry Music Festival, Abi Reggae, and the Glastonbury Festival. They can be found on Netease and Weibo with 10’s of thousands of followers.
Today in China, reggae beats can be heard in rap, hip hop and pop music all over the country. It may take a little digging but it can be seen from the underground that it is growing. Local artists have tried some reggae songs or beats here and there for many decades.
Chinese Jamaican reggae artists and producers were visiting China more than ever before the pandemic, to reconnect with their roots, build connections between cultures, and spread reggae.
Event promoter Heavy HK, since 2005, has been bringing reggae stars such as Tippa Irie, Johnny Osbourne, Skarra Mucci, and Anthony B to the country for performances making them one of the first reggae event promoters and organizers in China.
Reality TV shows like The Rap of China have helped with the breakout of hip hop and rap in China in the 2000s and 2010s has also boosted reggae noting many Chinese musicians creatively integrating the two styles.
Reggae and today’s artists have managed to build a following in China. Though the niche is relatively small to the most popular music in China, its presence is powerful. Many reggae artists are recognizing the connection to China and are entering China with their music. The potential in China is unlike anywhere, to build a fanbase and collaborate with musicians who share a love for Reggae.
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