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Poland contest winner to record at Harry J

Published:Monday | July 6, 2015 | 12:00 AMRoy Black
Burning Spear, who also recorded at Harry J.
Frederick ‘Toots’ Hibbert

Harry J. Recording Studios, which became the happy hunting ground for several early successful Jamaican singers and musicians, including Bob Marley and the Wailers, Toots and the Maytals, Bob and Marcia, Burning Spear, and The Heptones, is again poised to be in the limelight.

The studio at Herb McKenley Drive (formerly Roosevelt Avenue), Kingston 6, will host, facilitate, and record the winning entry of the Ostroda Reggae Festival and World Reggae Contest 2015, slated for Poland from August 6-9.

Outstanding sound engineer Stephen Stewart, the present managing director at Harry J, is particularly elated about the venture. "We feel that it is a good thing because Jamaica is where this sound emanated and a lot of high-standard stuff has come out of Harry J. Studios," Stewart said, naming a number of outstanding performers who have recorded there such as Jimmy Cliff and Third World.

"I have been privileged to have worked with some of them," Stewart added, "so we thought it quite appropriate in my accepting to record and produce the winning group." His judging skills were also requested by the Ostroda organisers based on his more than 30 years' experience in music.

According to Stewart, he will be one of the judges in the final stages of the competition after submissions and eliminations through voting. This will narrow the list of competitors to 10 and then five. Stewart's skills will then come into play when the top-five entrants compete on stage on August 8. The top entrant will be facilitated at Harry J. Studios for five days to record his or her winning song for an album before January 2016.

Stewart and Sam Clayton, in their capacity as Jamaican judges, should be leaving the island in the first week of August to attend the prestigious event. The festival saw entries from Peru, Brazil, and European countries, among others, including Jamaica, from which Earth Cry reached the top 10.

In 1968, the year that Jamaica's popular music enjoyed a paradigm shift that resulted in the creation of reggae, the name Harry J. came to public attention, conceptualised by Harry Zephaniah Johnson. The Beltones were the earliest in his stables with one of the first reggae songs, No More Heartaches, which explored the parameters of romantic love with the lyrics:

"Searching so long, just for you,

Now that I found you, please be true."

Johnson followed with Lloyd Robinson's Cuss Cuss before he created history in 1969 with his self-penned instrumental production Liquidator, which climbed to number one and number nine, respectively, on the Jamaican and British charts. He commanded further respect for the Harry J. label a year later by producing Bob and Marcia's Young Gifted and Black, which sat in the top five on the British charts.

Johnson established his own studios at 10 Roosevelt Avenue in 1972. His other outstanding works as a producer include the celebrated Wailers albums Catch a Fire and Burnin' and the Bob Marley and the Wailers Rastaman Vibration.

The Harry J. legacy continued in 1999 after a period of dormancy when Stewart, who began working with Harry Johnson as a 15-year-old, returned and restored the studio through a major refurbishing and restoration exercise. Since then, the studio has been graced with Grammy-winning albums by Toots and The Maytals and Burning Spear.