Island Riddim

Yuh bwoy! A night of coochie-popping, booty-shaking reggae takes over Radio City this May

New York reggae fans are like spoiled children. For much of the year, we sit back, sip Guinness, and let Jamaica come to us. Reggae-heavy radio gives us the luxury of supposing all of America is as dancehall-happy as we are. Our most arduous summer activity is sorting through limitless options: The all-day reggae concert or the all-night sound clash? The E to Jamaica Center or the B to Church Avenue?

Then—like a parent who has suddenly decided on discipline—comes winter. Jamaican artists look bemusedly at our weather reports, wonder what in Jah's name 10 degrees feels like, and then decide staying in Kingston makes more sense than finding out. Our smorgasbord of reggae events dwindles to a meager plate of hors d'oeuvres; trekking through an arctic air mass in pum-pum shorts to catch that rare concert is suddenly less appealing than staying home with DJ Fidel's summer mix CD. And since winter is when Middle America decides to come to Jamaica and feel all right, a short flight to MoBay suddenly turns pricier than our monthly heating bill. Wan and weary, we vow to never take Jamaica-in-NYC for granted again.

Spring is salvation. And this year, it has quite a load of damage control to do. Only a sumptuous affair can make up for the winter of 2004: a trailer-load of renowned reggae artists performing, say, at one of the most venerated venues in New York.

Done. On May 8, Radio City Music Hall will host a reggae extravaganza featuring almost every VP Records reggae act you know and love. Yes, that's Radio City—all-American tourist attraction, home to such whitebread kitsch as the Christmas Spectacular and the Rockettes. For one long evening, it'll be Yard-ified. Goodbye, lockstep leg lifts; hello, coochie-popping, booty-shaking reggae wining galore.

The concert is part and parcel of indie label VP Records' year-long 25th anniversary fete. It's actually been almost 50 years since Vincent "Randy" Chin began selling discarded jukebox fare in his small Kingston shop, "Randy's Records"—but it's been exactly a quarter-century since he relocated his store to Jamaica, Queens, and rechristened it "VP" (for Vincent and Patricia, his wife). In 1993, VP became a record label; in 2002, it hit the crossover jackpot, signing a distribution deal with Atlantic. The rest is reggae history, which we're now in the midst of: Sean Paul and Wayne Wonder convinced the record-buying public that reggae doesn't have to sound like Bob Marley; pop acts hasten to add red, gold, and green to their wardrobes; teenagers around the world have extended their patois beyond "irie, mon."

VP's anniversary events are slated to include a fall photo retrospective at Eyejammie Fine Arts Gallery—likely showcasing photographs by Ajamu Myrie and Adrian Boot, among others—as well as the release of a commemorative CD box set. But the Radio City show, whose proceeds will go to selected charities, is the big-time bashment—official notice that dancehall has truly arrived.

The concert's all-encompassing lineup paints a holistic picture of contemporary reggae—at once sacred and profane, silly and solemn, dulcet and discordant. Soulful Beres Hammond will make like Marvin or Luther and have old-timers fanning themselves, while Wayne Wonder will give the younger set something to scream about. Shaggy will remind us how reggae crossover sounded in the pre-Sean Paul era. The Sparkling quartet T.O.K. will prove that *NSync have nothing on Jamaican boybands. Buju Banton might play the prophet Isaiah, rousing our passions and then softly soothing us with tracks like "Destiny" or "Untold Stories." And to cap it all off, send in the virtuoso clowns: "Energy god" Elephant Man, comic duo Tanto Metro & Devonte, and stage maestro Beenie Man, whose brilliant performances make us mirthful, merry—and forgetful of all those months we spent cold and ashen, hungry for the musical fix we somehow sensed was coming our way.

VP Records 25th Anniversary Concert, May 8, Radio City Music Hall, 1260 Sixth Avenue, 212.307.7171

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