Why Jamaica loves Celine Dion and Air Supply and ‘Bad Taste’ Isn’t In Their Vocabulary

Last year, posters on the streets of Brooklyn, New York, announced the lineup for the Groovin’ in the Park reggae festival. It included classic reggae favourites such as Marcia Griffiths, Judy Mowatt and Bob Andy alongside new-generation roots singer Chronixx and lovers rock star Beres Hammond. But the headline act was Aussie soft-rockers Air Supply. On Gawker’s Concourse blog, music critic Andy Beta pondered “why reggae fans mysteriously love Air Supply”. This year, Michael Bolton will top the bill at the Groovin’ in the Park. It shouldn’t come as a surprise – Jamaica has a long and loving relationship with the kind of music that the rest of the world often thinks of as shlocky. In the past few years, Michael Bolton, Air Supply and Celine Dion have all performed on the island.

Air Supply’s lead singer Graham Russell was taken aback by the adulation his band received when they played their first Jamaican show in 2004. “We were told that they loved us,” he says, “but it wasn’t until we played the Jazz and Blues festival that we got to see first-hand how intense it was.” Air Supply are such stars in Jamaica that their involvement in fundraising for a hospital this year was headline news on Jamaican TV.

Russell attributes Air Supply’s appeal to their lyrics and focus on songs about relationships. Selector Geefus, of the legendary Stone Love sound system, lays it out. “People are only shocked because they don’t know the history. Back in the 70s and 80s, you had what were called ‘soul’ sounds: Stone Love, Klassique, Gemini, Afrique. You would hear a mixture of songs: Al Green, Air Supply, Kenny Rogers, the Commodores, Chicago, Billy Ocean and reggae too. That is what dancehall was for a soul sound.”

Via The Guardian