Voices of JamaicaSunday, May 31, 2020
When Jon Baker and Steve Beaver decided to upgrade Geejam Recording Studios and open a small but exclusive boutique hotel in San San, Port Antonio, back in 2008, they were fully aware, having both enjoyed long and successful careers in the music industry, just how unique Geejam needed to be, when it came to the hotel. “We saw our expansion into tourism and hospitality as complementing our product, as well as enhancing and promoting what has become our vocation in life — being a catalyst for the Port Antonio renaissance,” Baker explained.
Over the years, this has led to an abundance of music sessions being recorded at the property, from an enormously diverse artiste roster including Drake, Amy Winehouse, Alicia Keys, Gwen Stefani & No Doubt, Diplo, Gorillaz, Snoop Dogg, Florence & The Machine, Grace Jones, John Legend, Björk, Lily Allen, MIA, Harry Styles, Shawn Mendes, and countless others.
Aside from the recording sessions, the undeniable energy of the property has led to an ever-increasing number of record and publishing companies, including Jay-Z's Roc Nation, Universal, Warner, BMG & Sony setting up songwriter retreats and camps at Geejam and sending their artistes, writers and producers to write and record in this beautiful environment. Dua Lipa and her creative team wrote and recorded several of her hits at Geejam. These exclusive retreats generally last seven to 10 days, but can extend to over two months, as in the case of Harry Styles, who wrote and recorded much of his debut album there.
Last year, in unison with the UK arm of the Jamaica Tourist Board, Geejam sponsored an annual retreat that would bring some of the world's most promising artistes together with Jamaican talent, such as Protoje and Sasco, Bella Blair, and Sevana. Voices of Jamaica was conceived, curated and produced by Oliver Rodigan aka Cadenza. He's a producer in his own right and someone who's on the cutting edge of music today. In addition Rodigan had interned at the studios several years earlier and was someone with whom Geejam had an ongoing association. “Jamaica has played a major role in the music I make today so to bring all the different artistes and producers I work with from the UK and US back to the place where my core sound developed from was a very special experience,” shared Rodigan.
To augment this mix, the iconic UK music and style publication The Face magazine, produced a film of the event, to give the world an insight into the process of creating these happenings and the impact, locally, of such an event taking place in Port Antonio.
SO has the exclusive.
Words: Davy Reed
Director: Marcus McSweeney
Photographer: Michaela Quan
Date: April 30, 2020
GeeJam is a paradise. The recording studio and resort was set up in Port Antonio, Jamaica by Jon Baker — a British music industry veteran, former fashion designer and reggae lover who secured his Jamaican citizenship in 2002. The weather is usually perfect, the views are beautiful and it has hosted artists like Björk, Goldie, Gorillaz, Beyoncé, Drake and Harry Styles.
Cadenza (born Oliver Rodigan) is, like his dad David, a specialist in Jamaican music — and so GeeJam is naturally close to his heart. Cadenza's tracks are usually rooted in dancehall and reggae, but listening through his discography you'll hear elements of trap, Afrobeats, ragga and the harsh edges of experimental club music. And over the years, he's released collabs with a long list of artists including Killa P, Flohio, Ms Banks, Shenseea, Yxng Bane, Young T and Bugsey and Equiknoxx.
Last year, Cadenza was talking to his friend and collaborator Jorja Smith about how he'd love to get a crew out to GeeJam so they could clear their heads and have studio sessions under no pressure. He started making a wish list of songwriters, producers and vocalists, resulting in a week where artists like Aminé, Mixpak's Dre Skull, Miraa May, Kasien, Protoje, GuiltyBeatz and Stalk Ashley took residence in GeeJam's various cabins, having breakfast together every day and then writing and recording until the early hours.
The Face was there to document it all. The result: Voices of Jamaica: Making Music at GeeJam, a documentary directed by Marcus McSweeney.
This film lets us into the magic of the island and shows how it inspires the creativity and flow of the musicians. We are let into the process of making music and this talented group collaborate and create the songs you are about to hear. Including brand-new tracks from Jorja Smith, Mira May and Stalk Ashley.
The Face (TF): What is it about Jamaica that's so special to you?
Cadenza (C): I've seen it from two sides. I used to go with my parents every year as a young kid and very much stay at the hotel and the beach. Then when I grew up, I used to go to Portland, where GeeJam is, and I got a whole different experience — just seeing the culture first-hand, the parties, the Stone Love party in Kingston. All this stuff, it gives you a whole different perspective on the energy in Jamaica.
TF: What are the parties like, compared to clubbing in London?
C: It's just more wild. And there's a fairly primitive set-up, like Stone Love is literally in a courtyard in a parking garage. And there's huge speakers set up, a pop-up bar, and people going crazy.
TF: How do you think GeeJam affects artistes emotionally?
C: You're waking up and basically it's a very jungle-like setting. There's greenery everywhere, usually the sun's out, there are amazing views of the ocean. So I think that has a big effect on people's state of mind and how relaxed they are. It just makes you more at ease.
TF: How did you first get involved with GeeJam?
C: I asked Jon if I could intern in the studio when I was 18, and he let me come out there and live with him for six weeks, and [I was] like assisting the studio engineer and setting up stuff.
TF: Of all the artistes, is there anyone who brought a particularly special energy into the studio?
C: Miraa was definitely on fire. She really took control that week; every second she was in [the booth] she delivered. I'd worked with her on the Be Honest record with Jorja. She's just very talented; the melodies come very naturally to her.
TF: How does it work in terms of choosing who's going to be on a track?
C: Most of the stuff there was created on the spot. Because we were all living there, there was no forcing anything. Like GuiltyBeatz might wake up, come downstairs, start playing around with something and whoever's in the room might pop up and try something. It was very free, everyone throwing their hat in the ring and helping out.
That was one of the things I wanted to get right — I wanted everyone there to feel comfortable with each other. A lot of those writing camps can feel a little bit forced, and you feel like on the first day of school, like you have to go with this person and write a song, and you're like 'I don't know if I want to open up to this person'. Everyone [at Geejam] had a mutual respect or vaguely knew each other, so by day two or three it was so relaxed and open, everyone's cracking jokes. So by the end of the week, it was like family.
Voices of Jamaica: Making Music at GeeJam was recorded at Geejam Studios, Jamaica in November 2019. Special thanks to the Jamaica Tourist Board.
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