‘Freestyling’ with Seani B of BBC Radio 1 Xtra
‘Black British kid from Caribbean background’ loves Jamaican culture
Name and face recognition are two things that BBC Radio 1Xtra DJ and presenter Seani B enjoys in Jamaica, where his respect is large within the reggae and dancehall community. When Seani B is in the island and calls on an artiste, he or she shows up, and, even more than that, the artiste does so with a genuine smile. His boss over at 1Xtra, Faron McKenzie, acknowledges that this level of access is Seani B’s “cultural capital”, and this is not something that the England-based DJ takes for granted.
For the past eight years, Seani B has been making a pilgrimage to The Rock, bringing with him a crew from the station to shine the videolight on Jamaican talent, music and the culture by curating sessions and freestyles with artistes, similar to the one they were working on at Tuff Gong Studio in Kingston last Tuesday. And he does this for no other reason than to showcase the vibrancy and genius that is Jamaica to the world.
This year, the mission is particularly special. BBC Radio 1 Xtra is actively joining in the celebration of Jamaica 60 and also the 50th birthday of dancehall icon Bounty Killer, and the team is on the island to gather content which they will disseminate throughout the year.
Seani B, without apology, is the biggest fan of the music and the unadulterated passion in his voice when he speaks about it is unmatched. Although he wasn’t born in Jamaica, he is viewed as “one a wi”. During our interview, standing just outside the door of the studio, it was almost a rite of passage for artistes to come over just to ‘Bless up Seani B’ and express their gratitude. But, Seani B believes he is the one who ought to be grateful.
“I am a black British kid from a Caribbean background,” the respected DJ shared with The Sunday Gleaner. “My father is from Dominica and my mother is from Jamaica… Lawrence Tavern… up in the hills in St Andrew. I just have a love for this music and I have a love for the culture. It is what has created me as a person named Seani B. From teenage years, I’ve always been around Jamaican culture. When kids from Greenwich Farm and Jungle come to the UK that was my introduction to Jamaica.”
Seani B could easily talk for hours – maybe even days – about his love for Jamaica and his entire being lights up when he gets started.
“Jamaica for me is like Wakanda; there is just so much magic that happens here. And when I bring the 1 Xtra team down here, they absorb the culture and the vibe of Jamaica. Some of these people just want to be in the downtown [Kingston] area and in the vicinity and going to the street parties because they feel that vibe and they feel the energy,” he said in a half-Jamaican, half-British accent.
Pride in his Jamaican heritage is something he wears on his sleeve, and his only regret on this part of his sojourn is that his beloved mother, Icilda Campbell, is not here to witness him in full flight. He comforts himself by saying that this is payback to her “for everything that she’s been able to give me as a black British kid”. He recalled with a laugh his mother’s words of caution whenever he would visit Jamaica.
“I said to Marcia Griffiths that seeing the Jamaican flag there in the background, I’ve had many moments where I have choked up. I think of my Mum and my grandmother. This is her place, and my grandmother’s place. And just to know that I am walking on these streets… she talked about coming from St Andrew, coming down to town and staying in Jones Town and Denham Town, and she would be like ’When yuh a go a Jamaica mi nuh waan yuh go a dem place deh yuh know.’ And I’m like ‘Mummy, that’s where the excitement is. I am safe.’ It honestly feel like the people of Jamaica hold me as a adopted son. They look after me. They see that I come down here with a genuine heart,” Seani B said with much fervour.
Brimming with excitement, he shared a bit of what he and the team have been capturing.
“This year, we will be focusing on Jamaica 60th year of Independence. One of the projects that we will be doing is documenting 60 years of reggae and dancehall music. The session that we did yesterday with Marcia Griffiths and Freddie McGregor that was very special to me because we are documenting the ‘50s and ‘60s, going into the ‘80s with two of the kings and queens of Jamaican music. Who better to use to document 60 years of Jamaican music?” he asked rhetorically to highlight two of the icons of reggae music.
A special moment for him was Beenie Man performing one of Bounty Killer’s song, in tribute to the ‘general’. “But I don’t want to give away too much,” he repeatedly reminded himself.
And is this “mission complete” for Seani B?
“Mission is never ever complete... there is always so much more,” he said soberly.
That will certainly be music to the artistes’ ears, and Seanizzle summed up that feeling in a recent Instagram post: “Bless up SeaniB... always appreciate the love and effort placed into what you and your team are doing.”