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Asian-American Heritage Week: Chinese Jamaicans Help Reggae Music Evolve

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TWC News: Asian-American Heritage Week: Chinese Jamaicans Help Reggae Music Evolve
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Reggae music originated in the Caribbean, but some of the people behind today's reggae stars are actually from the Far East. NY1's Ruschell Boone filed the following report as Asian-American Heritage Week continues.

You don't have to understand the lyrics to like music, and you certainly don't have to be a Jamaican to love reggae.

The music is universal, and nobody knows that better than the Chin family; they are among a small group of Chinese Jamaicans who have been successfully producing and promoting reggae music to the American mainstream audience.

“Quite a few families in Jamaica do reggae music in different forms whether in distribution, pressing, or artist development,” said Patricia Chin, co-founder of V.P. Records.

VP Records is the record label credited with launching the careers of artists like Beenie Man, T-O-K and Sean Paul -- who's also Chinese Jamaican.

The business was a mom and pop studio in Kingston, Jamaica before its founders moved it to Jamaica, Queens.

“A lot of people are surprised when they see Chinese doing reggae music, very surprised, and astonished, but I love my culture and I wouldn't trade it for anything else,” said Chin.

The first Chinese immigrants arrived in Jamaica in the mid 1800s as slaves for the British sugar plantations. Later on, many began to migrate to the island voluntarily.

“My mom came from China, my dad came from India, and they settled in Jamaica,” explained Chin. “I'm the third generation and then I lived in Jamaica all my life and then I came to America; it’s been almost 30 years now.”

In the 1960s some Chinese Jamaicans, like the Chins and legendary producer Bunny Lee, who is Chinese Indian and Jamaican, began experimenting with reggae, and they have been instrumental in helping to develop the sound from the days of ska and roots reggae to it current form -- dancehall.

In many liner notes there are a number of Asian last names like Chan, Chung, Lee, Hookim and Chin. And some of the music's top Asian producers, both past and present, say that's something that makes them very proud.

“It's just a work we're doing that we love,” said Lee. “We're just carrying on the tradition.”

They are carrying on a tradition that continues to evolve.

-Ruschell Boone
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