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Reggae set to become all the rage Jamaican vibe in the air
By Andrew Chin

SINCE moving to Shanghai nearly a decade ago, South Korean-born, Japanese-raised Kim Young Soo has been a fixture in the city's reggae scene. The 30-year-old spins under the name DeeJay LaoBang and was exposed to reggae as a teenager skateboarding in Japan.

"When I came to Shanghai, nobody played reggae and I wanted to be a reggae boss so I named myself LaoBang," he explains.

Laobang is now a fixture at clubs like Geisha, Lune and the newly reopened LoGo. He will be playing at the Midi Festival on May 5, which is just one of the big reggae-tinged events that is happening in the city this summer.

On Saturday, Taipei-born, Shanghai-raised DJ/producer Selecta Tsunano will be headlining Boat Party Shanghai's Spring Fling and Virgo is hosting a Shanghai Reggae Channel night featuring local artists like Far East Lion and DJ Sal. Popular reggae-dancehall night Popasuda will be making its Beijing debut at the end of May.

"Reggae's a foundation sound. It's mixed into everything. Hip-hop and electronic music have always been sampling reggae," explains DJ Sal Haque. The Canadian associate producer at ICS's City Beat has been hosting the Popasuda nights every month in Shanghai for over a year and will be teaming with Ghana-born reggae vocalist Junior Revelation when it makes its Beijing debut on May 31.

"The crowds are crazy," says Junior Revelation. "It's fun, no barriers, just one love. Reggae is international but comes in different forms like roots, raga, dancehall and reggaeton. In Shanghai, few people have heard all the different forms and having a multinational crowd adds to the confusion. In the end, everybody gets what they want and most reggae nights run until 4am."

While he is busy studying for an engineering degree, Junior Revelation is optimistic about the music's appeal in China. A good friend to Rita Marley, he's working on a recording project that will take him to Africa, Jamaica and back to Shanghai.

"I feel the music industry in China is really attractive to artists and producers. It's very likely I will release my songs since there's a big market," he says.

In the past, Shanghai has held a number of esteemed reggae crews including Uprooted Sunshine and the popular reggae group, Lions of Puxi. It was during those days that the 21-year-old Selecta Tsunano got his start.

"I got into reggae in the summer of 2009. I was listening to a Bob Marley album and suddenly I felt I didn't need air-con anymore," he says. "The first time I was on the mic publicly was at a John Jam Session. He gave me the mic and told me I could sing. After I started to produce with Jado and founded Far East Lion."

While Tsunano feels that reggae was bigger a few years ago when the original LoGo and The Shelter were the scene's base, LaoBang is philosophical of the boom and bust cycle of reggae's popularity in the city.

"In Shanghai there were many good reggae groups but after a few years, members go back to their home country. Fans are the same. You have reggae fans who come out every night but after a couple of years, they go back home," he says. "So sometimes it's big and then it's small. That's how it goes."

The reggae community will get a shot in the arm with the opening of the new LoGo. Back near its original location on Xingfu Road, the club plans monthly reggae nights. Reggae artists have been helped to get bookings by newer party promoters like Dragon Events and 1 Love Shanghai. There is also a weekly bilingual online radio show, "U.N.I.T.Y." devoted to reggae, dancehall and hip-hop that plays every Friday night between 8pm to 10pm on udancecn.com/live.

"What we're trying to do with the show is telling the Chinese audience our history and enlighten them about our culture," says the show's co-host Lacy Sibblies.

The 22-year-old Jamaican-born host spins solely reggae and dancehall on "U.N.I.T.Y." and with special guests such as Laobang and Tsunano.

"Growing up in Jamaica, it's just a part of our lifestyle," she says. "You don't have to be rasta or live the lifestyle that Bob Marley did but you can still appreciate the music because when they sing, it's about life and what everybody has to go through."

Jamaica looms heavily in reggae's mystique. It's the country that produced the genre and titans such as Bob Marley, Peter Tosh and Beanie Man. Through his work as a CEO of an import/export business, LaoBang has been making an annul pilgrimage to Jamaica for the past eight years where he works alongside with reggae stars like Konshens and Protoje. While he makes sure to check out the hottest ghetto dancehall clubs in the country, Laobang has high praise for Shanghai's reggae fan base.

"It's different from Japan and other countries because we have European, Asian and Caribbean customers," he says. "I have to keep them satisfied when they come to our party so I play dancehall, lover's rock sometimes dubstep. As a DJ, it's good for me."

Selecta Tsunano headlines this Saturday's Boat Party. For more details, visit www.boatpartyshanghai.com. DJ Sal and Far East Lion will be playing at Virgo Club this Saturday and Laobang performs at the Midi Festival on May 5.

(Andrew Chin is a Shanghai-based freelancer.)

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