Video producers spend big bucks to promote the Jamaican beat

The shoot this evening is at Sundays on the Bay, an upscale bar and restaurant in Key Biscayne where patrons can pick at their eggs Benedict and drop breadcrumbs into Biscayne Bay. The dockside dance floor is now closed off, though, while a film crew sets up its shots. Anthony B is there, supercool, in a pair of Academic-brand jeans and a red, yellow, and green sweater vest, his dreads tucked into a tam. He holds a marijuana roach in his right hand, and every few seconds, he takes a puff from the smoldering joint.

"I'm trying to do for Jamaica what Bob Marley did for the country back in the '70s," he says. "I want to build a subway here for reggae music."

Anthony B pauses to take another drag on his reefer. He glances at his Jamaican manager, Richard Bell, sitting calmly at a back table, rolling a joint in one hand and holding a lit cigar in the other. Bell, who has been clutching the cigar in his hand for a while now, has not actually lifted the thing to his mouth. The sole purpose of the cigar, it appears, is to disguise -- albeit not very well -- the smoking joint beneath it. Anthony B is more straightforward, waving his joint around as he speaks.

Lead girl singer Aisha (left), sporting the ever-popular Marley gear, waits for her turn at the mic. Above, featured extras Romina Buroz (left), “CJ” Johnson, and Joanne Lee.
Colby Katz
Lead girl singer Aisha (left), sporting the ever-popular Marley gear, waits for her turn at the mic. Above, featured extras Romina Buroz (left), “CJ” Johnson, and Joanne Lee.

"Do you know," he asks, "that Bob Marley is still the only Jamaican in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame? What does that say?"

Marley is dead and gone, of course, but he is still an unavoidable presence on the set. Half the extras sport T-shirts with the late singer's name and mimeographed face, and his picture pops out here and there on the walls of the restaurant. The name seems always on the lips of investors and producers, as if all the references might rub off a little and bless Anthony B's new video.

And why not? For Anthony, Jamaican music begins and ends with the reggae patriarch. What about Sean Paul and Elephant Man? somebody asks.

Anthony B pauses for a second, sucking at the roach. "It's true that Sean Paul has opened up a lot of ears, but we're part of two different genres," he says. "Reggae has a slower beat; you need to stop and listen to what's being said. Listening to hip-hop is like going to a gym. It's supposed to make you dance till you sweat."

Will American listeners absorb reggae any easier than American dancers have adjusted to the beat?

"That's what the Rastafarian culture is all about," Anthony B says. "Faith and togetherness. That's the message we're trying to get out with this shoot."

Anthony B holds out his fist and pounds it gently against his inquisitor.

"Togetherness," he says, grinding the spent roach into the floor.

South Florida is a video maker's dream haven. Blue-green water, waving palm trees, and bleached white sand provide the perfect cinematic backdrop for the estimated 3,000 videos and feature films that are lensed down here each year. The Hours and 2 Fast and 2 Furious were shot here. Iggy Pop was here in September to shoot the video for his newest single. And singers like Lil John, Busta Rhymes, and Elephant Man are frequent video visitors.

The effect is not lost on Broward commissioners. Video-making and its cousin, television, generate about $200 million in revenues for the county each year, about as much as for its Miami-Dade neighbor. State-wide, the industry accounts for 2 percent of Florida's gross domestic product. It comes as no surprise to anyone, then, that county film commissioners bend over backward trying to entice producers to set up shop in South Florida.

Not that it takes that much encouragement.

"People like to come here," says Jeff Peel, director of the Miami-Dade mayor's Office of Film and Entertainment. "It's not like going to Topeka, where you're basically bored out of your mind. And the Cayman Islands, yeah, it's pretty, but after a few days, it's like, 'Now what do I do?'"

There's a distinctive Florida look to videos made here. Tropicality, of course. Sunlight, babes in thongs, surface-skimming ocean shots, and -- according to Tim Bourque, a jaundiced crew member who's worked in the industry for more than 20 years -- a certain vehicular consistency. "If the stars aren't on motorcycles," he says, "then they're gonna be on Jet Skis."

Of course, Anthony B has more Florida attachments than sugar cane has roots. Jamaicans are the largest immigrant group in South Florida, 300,000 of them in Broward, Palm Beach, and Miami-Dade counties alone. The production studios backing the shoot are all Florida-based veterans on the scene. Reggae has grown up here too, a diaspora stepchild to the compelling music of the homeland. For years, while hip-hop reigned in the clubs, reggae lived like a homeless man on the streets of Miami. But it grew strong, particularly around Miramar and Lauderhill. And it was here, at underground parties, that Green, a half Moroccan white guy from Coral Gables who has earned a Source award for his Caribbean-themed music videos, first learned about the scene.

Green and Dayo, good friends from their days at New York University's film school, collaborated on the treatment, incorporating their Caribbean sensibility --Dayo grew up in Brooklyn's Crown Heights section and is part Trinidadian -- into the shoot. All they want to do, they say, is showcase the love Anthony B has for his girl and epitomize the passion, love, and "togetherness" of Rastafarian culture.

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