Andrea Davis: International

BY RICHARD JOHNSON Observer senior reporter

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

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This is seventh in an eight-part feature on the impact of women on reggae as artistes, administrators and managers. Today we feature Andrea Davis.

MENTION International Reggae Day and the name Andrea Davis will most naturally follow.

After all, this global media celebration of the power of reggae, observed on July 1 since 1994, is her brainchild.

It was during the historic 1991 visit to Jamaica of South Africa freedom-fighter Nelson Mandela and his wife Winnie that the seed for International Reggae Day was planted.

Davis recalls: "I was one of the fortunate few who was able to squeeze into the Oceana Hotel to hear Winnie speak at a function for women. The thing that struck me was hearing her speak to the power of reggae as a motivating force for them in South Africa under Apartheid."

Under the white supremacist regime, reggae was banned in South Africa. Therefore, Winnie Mandela's description of huddling 'underground' to listen to music from Jamaica, which had been smuggled into the country, struck a chord in Davis.

She thought, "If it can do so much for foreigners, why not for us".

Davis had long been disenchanted with the local media landscape; which she says had turned its back on reggae, giving in to dancehall and foreign music.

Whatever she would devise coming out of the Winnie Mandela 'epiphany' had to incorporate her concern about the music being played on Jamaican radio, as well as to motivate and empower through reggae.

"What resulted is International Reggae Day — a 24-hour global celebration of the music — focusing on the best of the best."

Initially, her plans and proposals were met with resistance. Davis remembers there were potential key players who could not see her vision for a day when radio stations globally would tap into the various incarnations of the Jamaican sound.

"For many persons, its was like taking sunshine to Jamaica. They felt that because it is all around us, everyday, there is no need to have a specific day set aside for the promotion of reggae music here in Jamaica. One person even suggested that perhaps if it was a reggae and soca day, it would be more accepted."

But Davis was undaunted.

Today, she is proud of what the event has become. Through her work and development of technology, she says she has been able to win over the majority of sceptics.

Despite her ties to International Reggae Day, it is by no means her only involvement in the music industry. She will tell you she first became attached to the music business as a fan during her university years in America.

Like most college students, Davis earned money doing odd jobs and somehow music always seemed to find its way into her forms of employment.

She worked as writer and photographer for Dubmissive, one of the early reggae magazines, and laughs out loud when she mentions working in a record shop, noting that most youngsters would not know what that is.

"I worked in the record shop at the height of the change from vinyl to CDs. I clearly remember taking records off the shelves to replace them with CDs," she tells the Jamaica Observer.

But her most significant move would come in the late 1980s when her brother and sister, having entered their high school talent contest and won, were encouraged to join friends to form the reggae band Crucial Substance.

"I became default manager, booking agent, publicist and all things in between; as the band began getting gigs from Key West to South Beach in Florida."

At one of these performances, the band caught the ear of a manager for The Mighty Diamonds, who immediately asked them to accompany the 'Diamonds' on a 42-city North American tour.

This was Davis's first taste of the mainstream.

Crucial Substance would dissolve due to what Davis calls "bad timing". She explains that the roots-reggae band got lost in the mix due to the popularity of dancehall at that time.

That sent the pint-sized Davis into other areas of the music.

"I started doing other stuff. Marketing and consulting for other artistes as well as event planning.

Today, she is recognised for her work in the industry, formulating policy and contributing to the development of Brand Jamaica through the creative industries.

One of the main ways in which Davis keeps her feet planted is as manager to one of reggae's most recognisable acts, Toots and The Maytals.

"It's a privilege to be part of this team. Toots is a simply amazing artiste with a career that spans decades and has made a legitimate impact on the industry both here and overseas."

Her work with International Reggae Day and the formulation of entertainment policy remain her proudest moments.

But what of her disappointments?

"The lack of confidence in our music; the continued selfishness among many industry players and the persistent hustle practised by many, which undermines the greatness of the music we represent."




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