Russell ‘Phred’ Hergert, head of the Switzerland-based Phree Music label grew up in Calgary, Canada where his close neighbours were a large Jamaican family – the Baileys. Each summer in the mid-1980s a dozen teenage boys from the Bailey family, an equally young Russell in tow, would head back to Spanish Town, St Catherine, where he developed a passion for dancehall culture.
Years later in 2004 outside King Jammy’s studio in Waterhouse his local business partner Lloyd Bailey (who had now made permanent the move from Spanish Town to Calgary) introduced him to a young female artiste, Terry Lynn, born Theresa Williams. The usual artiste-label interaction followed: A conversation; the artiste showing the label the music; and finally an undertaking to produce some music. Except what followed is unusual: Lynn did not appear overnight as a raw artiste crowded with many other releases on the same riddim.
“To take the time to develop a talent it’s very difficult. One of the things I had a problem with was my style, and my ideas of music were different. I always had a problem with an artiste being jumbled onto a beat with 20 artistes. A person who is upcoming is aiming at trying to get themselves heard in a unique way. If somebody should take up the CD it should be you!” says Lynn.
The intervening years have seen Lynn and Hergert travel back and forth between Jamaica and Canada to do recording sessions, with recent promotional and recording trips to Germany and Switzerland.
Now, five years after their chance meeting, Lynn’s album, Kingston Logic 2.0, finally gets its full release. Individual tracks have been made gradually available as free downloads from her website, KingstonLogic.com and 1,000 CD copies of the album distributed free in local communities to introduce her to Jamaican ears, independent of the media.
It is a distribution strategy that Hergert refers to as “for the people to the people – Phree!” His strategy is that the more people who know the music, the more revenue the artiste can generate from publishing rights and live performance.
Digital downloads and CD sales are viewed as a bonus.
Sampling Technologic by French electronica-duo Daft Punk the title track recites the get-rich mentality on the Kingston streets: “Want it find it see it get it/ Be rich now or just forget it/ Earn it, steal it, beg it, buy it/ Can’t stay broke you got to try it/ Dream it, plan it, chance it, risk it/ Bring your guns, machete, ratchet/ Load it lock it pack it strap it/ Handgun, long guns, automatic/ Hunt it search it time it find it…”
Named by The Times of London as one of ten artists to look out for in 2009, Lynn was compared by the newspaper to another female artiste, MIA, ‘but realer’. Living in the deprived West Bay Farm Road area of Waterhouse where Lynn was born and raised, her home backing onto the Sandy Gully, the subject matter is ripe.
“We chose that path and that direction due to the fact that there is a problem!” she says. “The economic situation down here is terrible and it’s a lot of factors that create that. I could talk about dancing and nutten wrong with talking about dancing, talking about sex because I’m good at talking about both but when somebody sees the body of work you want it to have a vision, a direction, a meaning.”
Her stark lyrical delivery is most graphic in the video for The System, which, filmed at a pig slaughterhouse by local filmmakers the Rickards Brothers, mimics the cycle of violence and police brutality played out daily on Kingston streets. If that does not seem like a normal dancehall video then it goes without saying, neither is its sound.
Stripped down and bare as many dancehall riddims the album’s production leans towards electronica. Introduced by Hergert, it took a while for him to convince Lynn that this ought to be the path, but as he reminds, the computerised Sleng Teng riddim is a foundation of dancehall.
And as Lynn shrugs now, “I like the way I flow on it, it feels easy.”
For Hergert, the domination of the industry by established artistes and the payola system has squeezed out new talent and stagnated creativity in dancehall.
“Waterhouse helped bring that sound in the first place. People cried the same way when there was a change when dancehall came, ‘Oh it’s not reggae!’ but now nothing musical has changed, it has just got musically really, really boring. Guys aren’t taking that time to do something different.”
Hergert has sunk four years of his life and savings (helped by Bailey) into this one artiste and with none other currently on his roster, he acknowledges its a gamble.
“In order to do it this way with no support you almost do need to focus on it full time. I really think Terry is a different type of artiste, she really has something to say and I really think we might be able to change how Dancehall sounds right now or at least open it up.”