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New Kingston keeps reggae music in the streets

Published:Wednesday | January 17, 2018 | 12:00 AMStephanie Lyew/Gleaner Writer
(From left) Courtney Jr, Courtney Snr, Steve and Tahir make up the New York-based reggae band, New Kingston.
Father and son, Courtney Snr. and Courtney Jr (left) of the New Kingston band on East Street during recent visit to Jamaica.

At a time when most Americans have been exposed to a more pop-influenced style of reggae music, New Kingston (a band comprised of a father and his three sons out of New York), is dedicated to the preservation of Jamaican reggae and its message.

Even though for years the fast-rising musicians have been overshadowed by a society that embraces a more marketable sound with less meaning, their music continues to speak volumes.

Courtney Panton told The Gleaner that the band "came about from a need." Panton was already on the New York reggae scene after migrating from Jamaica to the USA in the 1980s. He founded the Kingston Studio and was an active member of the Kingston Crew Band.

"There was a time I was just working in the studio and my sons were just running around in the streets." Taking a break from the studio was unavoidable in order to bond with his sons, Tahir, Courtney Jr and Steve (the eldest) through music.

"Naturally, in life you need proper role models," Courtney Jr., explains, "not that we were keeping up 'badness' in the streets, but we were doing other things with no real vision to the future."

The at-home sessions were to educate his sons more about their heritage and the music business with hopes for transformation into a career that not only benefits them, but contributes to raising awareness of the culture - and that it did. It blossomed into the New Kingston band, representing the new generation of reggae musicians.


Band dynamics


New Kingston graduated from the living room to live shows, first covering songs of the greats like Bob Marley and Burning Spear until other entertainers noticed the innate talent. They acted as a backing band with Tahir on keyboard, Courtney Jr, on drums, Steve on guitar and their father supporting on bass guitar, for the likes of Richie Spice, Collie Buddz, Shaggy, Chuck Fenda, Ninja Man, and Sister Carole.

"New Kingston has a grassroots style so by 2013 playing for artistes was not the main focus having built up a bit of steam by playing our songs first for warm-up although it helped because the shows wouldn't require an opening act," Courtney Jr., added.

Although the four-member band enjoyed performing alongside many of their biggest influences, they continued to release EPs and complete albums with them also adding vocals to original compositions. The band's 2010 debut album, In The Streets, was a mixture of dancehall and reggae featured Collie Buddz, Mr Vegas, and Lexxus. Now their music is primarily reggae, though it incorporates other genres.

According to the band, the live reggae scene is widely represented by white Americans. They say, "people are saying it is rare to see a black face," and when introduced to an audience, "persons identify our face with black people rather than Jamaica and reggae".

Panton expressed that "there is a need for more representation of reggae music and the culture overseas."

"People have adapted our culture and turned it into a real business. We cannot go against people that have accepted our style of music. Instead, wherever we not only perform but talk to anybody about the culture and heritage, [we should be] constantly feeding them the knowledge. We need more people in America doing that," he added.

In its first year as an independent act, the band did 150 shows. Then in 2015, when the band's third studio album Kingston City topped Billboard's reggae chart for approximately three months. The band shows no sign of slowing down in 2018. Last August following Rototom Sunsplash in Spain, the band released a new album, A Kingston Story: Come From Far with a general message for upliftment of self.

The lyrics, 'look how far we come from, look how far we haffi go. So many seeds, water them and they will grow' of the title track, Come From Far speak to that story as well as the promotion of the culture.

"It's really up to the new and existing bands to take over the controls. It takes a little bit of transition because of the difference, but persons still try hard to come over to create a balance despite lack of funding," Panton said.

"For us living in New York, it is easier to drive from state to state several times a year and it is important for us trying to break down barriers and stereotypes," he added.

New Kingston has scaled down to 17 cities tour because of the time and energy it takes to drive the motorhome and trailer of equipment from one city to the next. The Come From Far tour got started this week, and will run until the third week of February.