Sun | May 31, 2020

Electronic music from Ja to US and back - Festival promoter sees genre's origin in boyhood home

Published:Thursday | November 29, 2018 | 12:00 AMStephanie Lyew/Gleaner Writer
Ray 'Lil Ray' McKayle, executive producer of Jamaica Frenzy House Music Festival.
Ray 'Lil Ray' McKayle

Raymond 'Lil Ray' McKayle, promoter of the longest running free house music event in New York City, Clubhouse Jamboree, is on a mission to change Jamaica's view of house music's origin as he moves to introduces a new festival called Jamaica Frenzy. It is slated to take place on island's the western end next March over five days. The festival will showcase some of the distinguished house music disc jockeys, including Body & Soul; The Ritual with Anane and Louie Vega; Manoo from France; and Timmy Regisford, former VP of Motown Records, and also invites new talent to utilise the platform to showcase what they know.

"Even with my understanding that this will be the first house music festival of its kind in Jamaica and of this magnitude, I know there is an underground dance music scene in Jamaica and am sending out invitation to come on out," McKayle said.

Lil Ray was born in Jamaica, but migrated to the United States in 1979. There he attended the American International College in Springfield, Massachusetts and took control of one of the top reggae radio shows there for five years. He was introduced to house music which at the time was more popularly called club music or underground dance music, during that period.

"The first time someone took me to hear club music was at the Paradise Garage in Manhattan, NY, which was ruled by Larry Levan, one of the most influential disc jockeys of the genre," he says. "I remember listening to the music Levan was playing and thinking that it was the same music my father, who is a collector of music, was playing back in Jamaica."




He says the music was always present in Jamaica in various forms and used to be in regular rotation by the Jamaica Broadcasting Commission (JBC), recalling shows like Sonny Bradshaw's 'Teen Age Dance Party' that was popular for playing foreign genres and revolutionised the local music culture in the 1970s.

Lil Ray was a regular at Paradise Garage and continued to follow the genre through its extraction from Chicago underground music culture to the creation of its stepchild, EDM, until he graduated to hosting events in and around New York. In the 1990s, Lil Ray took embarked on a project to create a premier outdoor event that would literally shine some light on house music. "As my friends and I got older, we wanted to show the younger generation what held our interest and decided to bring the inside outside," he said. That's how Clubhouse Jamboree started and has existed for 25 years at Prospect Park in Brooklyn.

By the book, house music is an electronic-type music characterised by a repetitive four by four beat that is created mainly by drum machines and is measured as fast rhythms. However, Lil Ray prefers to say "it is body thing a soul thing a spiritual thing similar to local culture all house music aficionados wanted to do was dance - to hear the best music on the best sound system and dance."

"That image of seeing the youth in a euphoric state, almost zombie-like, that's not house, and many DJs will tell you their first introduction to the music was more moving, soulful and happy. And some persons get turned off by it because it is of that high energy but, once properly introduced, will only compare the feeling to that of rejuvenation after exercise," McKayle said.

"There is a lot we want to do but the first year is to concentrate on introducing the festival and to give the best quality music mixed with the best of what Jamaica has to offer, it's the one chance to make a first and lasting impression," he concluded.