It's a Sunday afternoon on Fort Lauderdale beach, where a brief thundershower and an onshore breeze have temporarily tempered the muggy scorch of August. On the patio of the beachfront Atlantis nightclub, bare-chested men and barely dressed women sip beer and frozen drinks to the strains of reggae classics like "One Love/People Get Ready," "No Woman, No Cry," and "Jamming." Appropriately enough, at one point the pungent odor of ganja wafts through the air from a spliff.
Lucky for the clandestine tokers, their smoke session doesn't coincide with one of the periodic visits by police, who show up trying to keep the sidewalk clear of crowds swaying to the beat of reggae outfit Soca Man Cliff and the Wildfire Band. Every Sunday afternoon and into the evening, the four-piece group pumps out mainstream covers by Bob Marley, Steel Pulse, Peter Tosh, and other superstars of the Jamaican-born sound, and when the mellow tunes draw more listeners than the patio and sidewalk can handle, the plug gets pulled on the sound system.
This isn't a bad thing. For the band, Atlantis management, sponsor Red Stripe beer, and promoters at Tafari Music and Culture, the overflow crowds are actually a good sign. A sign that mainstream pop-reggae does indeed have an audience -- if still a limited one -- in Fort Lauderdale. Such signs of encouragement keep Tafari's owners, Judith Charlton and Tanto Garrick, going when things look bleak in the reggae biz.
Just over a year ago, the pair of native Jamaicans began sponsoring weekly reggae afternoons at Atlantis and booking monthly concerts at the club featuring A-list reggae acts. That includes an August 27 Inner Circle/Third World show and a Burning Spear concert scheduled in November.
The business partners, who also happen to be a couple with plans for eventual marriage, hope to turn enough of a profit through shows to open a reggae record shop somewhere near the beach.
"People love red, green, and gold," the colors associated with the Rastafarian movement, claims Charlton. "They just love it. People love reggae music, so that is our goal."
For now they're keeping their day jobs, he as an inspector for the Florida Department of Agriculture, she as a Broward County administrative assistant. So what chance do a pair of 40-year-old government workers have of making it in the unquestionably narrow field of reggae concert promotion and record sales? If Tanto's lineage and past successes are any indication, it wouldn't be wise to count them out, especially when you factor in Charlton's support and business prowess.
Growing up in Kingston, Garrick was surrounded by Rastafarian culture and music, and his family ties linked him strongly to the scene. His cousin, Neville Garrick, was a touring companion, publicist, photographer, and biographer of reggae demigod Bob Marley.
"They call him Uncle Neville," the dreadlocked Garrick recalls of his cousin in an accent thickened with patois. "He worked for Bob [Marley] all through Bob's career, you know -- travel with him, take pictures. He has a lot of books out, like [Marley biography] Catch a Fire."
In 1984 Garrick sat down with his cousin to talk about his desire to become a part of the music business. "He started giving me some ins and outs," says Garrick, "and I remember I started producing my first records then with Bugs."
"Bugs" is the nickname of Roger Wilson, a bass player for the then-popular Kingston band the Mighty Diamonds. With his cousin Neville, Garrick helped produce some singles featuring Wilson and guitarist Rupert Bent, Jr., who currently slings a six-string for Third World. None of the songs became hits, but Garrick had developed a taste for the entertainment industry. He became a talent scout, continued to produce, and opened Tanto's Records in Kingston. Eventually he got into booking bands.
"I used to send artists on tour from Jamaica, you know, to small islands like the Cayman Islands," he recalls. "And then I decided to come to America, bring the music over here."
In 1986 he arrived in New Hampshire, where he had some friends. "I was going to school," he says, "but it was too cold, so I decided to go to El Paso, because another friend was there, Bertrand Cameron. He was a runner for Jamaica, and he used to go to University of TexasEl Paso, so that's how I got down there. And that's how I got into radio."
The local public radio station was affiliated with UTEP and in search of volunteer DJs. Garrick spun jazz records for four years before landing the reggae show.
"And in the meantime, doing that, I used to bring in all of the reggae artists: Burning Spear, Lucky Dube, Pato Banton, the Wailers. I used to do them just the same way we do concerts here," he says.
While Garrick was on the air in El Paso, an investor in a new Santa Fe radio station caught his show and offered him a job. Garrick moved to New Mexico in 1990 and did the Sunday show for six years. The highly rated program had him traveling to reggae festivals throughout the Four Corners area for live remote spots, and he even went to Jamaica and broadcast back to the station.
But, tired of the Southwest, Garrick moved to New York and lived there briefly before relocating to South Florida, where he DJ'd at a couple of contract stations at first. Not happy with his time slot at the second station, he gave up the reggae show and went to work for the ag department six months ago.
Charlton entered the picture in April 1998, when she and Garrick met at the now defunct Bumblebee nightclub in North Lauderdale.
"We met there, and a few days later, we met again on the beach," she says. "And what he spoke to me about was that he needed somebody to organize the business he wanted to start."
Garrick's initial concept was to fund a reggae radio show of his own by selling advertising, and he and Charlton formed Tafari Productions. When that didn't pan out right away, the pair forged on, intent on promoting a reggae concert while they worked out the radio idea. But a friend suggested they rent a storefront near his, on NW 31st Avenue near Sunrise Boulevard, and open a record shop instead. "We could do our concerts out of that office, as well as sell CDs and T-shirts," says Charlton. "The location wasn't fabulous, but we thought it would be a good starting place for us, and so in October of '98 we opened our record store, Tafari Music and Culture."
Using Garrick's contacts, they pulled off a Mystic Revealers concert at Atlantis in July of 1999 and a Yellowman concert in September of that year.
"It's international artists that we're working with," says Charlton. "And the good working relationship that Tanto has with these bands, it's remarkable. They will work one-on-one with him rather than go through their booking agents."
"They trust me," Garrick interjects.
"Over the years he has provided everything for them," Charlton continues. "He has provided rooms and food, and they go to his house and cook and wash their clothes. They are like family. He treats them really well, so they come back to him.
"But after the Yellowman show," she recalls, "we decided we were putting more money into the store than what we were making, and that maybe what we should do was just close it and continue with our concerts."
"What our goal is," she reiterates, "is for our concerts to provide us the funding to open a store closer to the beach."
They've been able to bring big names like Maxi Priest and Bunny Wailer to Atlantis, although to date the only show on which they've turned a profit was Steel Pulse.
Says Garrick: "What's keeping us alive right now, it's not the money. It's the total togetherness and friendship that we have with these musicians and bands that come through, you know? A lot of them come through, and we can't pay them, but because of that friendship and that trust that they have in me, we can do it.
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