Like most people, my introduction to Jamaican music began with Bob Marley, whose collection of hits lives up to his name. Legend set my standard for all other reggae music. Soon after, I discovered Peter Tosh, Toots and The Maytals, Black Uhuru, and more.
A family trip to Jamaica in the spring of 1987 exposed me to the dancehall styles of Admiral Bailey and the smooth, soulful sounds of Gregory Isaacs as well as the incredible vistas and fragrant smells of this beautiful island. Etched in my olfactory memory banks are the scents of salty sea air, wood smoke, fertile jungle, wildflowers, tropical fruits, sugar cane, rum and of course ganja.
In the summer of 1987, I joined my long-lost cousin Ross in San Francisco for a trip to the epic Reggae On The River festival in Humboldt County where (I think) I saw bands like The Mighty Diamonds, The Italys, and Culture. This experience only deepened my love for Reggae music and Jamaican culture.
Today I am happy to say that I have made some wonderful new discoveries online. It all started by looking for reggae bass lessons on YouTube and coming across excellent instructional videos by Devon Bradshaw, longtime bassist of Burning Spear. Devon is accompanied by best drummer Donovan Miller, which has its own episode with essential reggae beats and grooves. These men have the knowledge and the feeling necessary to teach you the reggae rhythm!
One of the great things about YouTube is that it often lets you follow threads to the unexpected. Such was the case when the following video showed Bradshaw and Miller backing up heavy Rasta music led by wizened and dreadlocked elders, including Johnny Walker and The Dissappointers with American saxophonist Henley Douglas Jr.
With documentary-style footage, Walker’s air “Busyboasts, “You think you’re busy, you’re not busy like me.” ” “In the streets” allows a glimpse of Jamaican street life. As powerful is Jah Youth sing and give tours of his farm in the jungle.
Filmed in the hills of Nonsuch, Portland, it’s all part of a documentary titled Reggae in the Ruff and features real Rastafarian musicians named Kultural, Stannie, Splick, FarEye, Bassey, Bushman, Jah Roy and the aforementioned Johnnie Walker and Jah Youth. Sadly, a few of them died, and searching for the movie online only turned up expired links. I will keep looking as this promises to be a real situation, like a Jamaican Buena Vista Social Club.
Watching all of this led me to a fantastic show called Ras Kitchen produced by Matthew Pancer, a young Canadian with a background in media production, astute camera skills and access to high-quality equipment that allows him to capture stunning images, including spectacular aerial views of the surrounding countryside .
Strong since 2010 and now in its 4th season, Ras Kitchen focuses on the backyard and family life of Rastaman “Mokko” who runs Riverside Cool Cottages, a small group of rustic cabins in Sunning Hill in the parish of St. Thomas on the eastern tip of Jamaica.
Mokko is a sweet, fit, wiry guy with amazing 45-year-old seven-foot dreadlocks. In one episode, he shows how he keeps them clean by bathing in a nearby river with strawberry shampoo. Once they’ve dried, he neatly tucks them away under a variety of giant, funky hats.
Mokko’s culinary expertise shines brightly as he works languidly over a smoky open fire over an old oil drum and guides the viewer through a variety of recipes including Ital Stew, Janga (fried river prawns), chocolate tea, Irish moss, etc.
“Spliff Cats” is a series within the series, where Mokko burns sacred grass and scatters sweet wisdom. He said, “If you sit down, nothing will come to you. No one should be surprised. When a man’s time comes, a man’s time comes. That’s it …! Ya man. Every man has a day, every man has a time. And I tell you: ‘Every hoe has a bush!’ “
This loosely translates to “Carpe Diem, and there is someone for everyone.
Luckily for the viewer, this is all subtitled, as it would otherwise be difficult to understand Mokko’s thick Jamaican patois. It has its own classic expressions like “pas de fuck”, which basically means “no fuck”.
Mokko knows everything that lives in his garden and their medicinal and dietary properties. He planted bananas, plantains, potatoes, yams, coffee, coconuts, akee, breadfruit, dasheen, cocoa, soursop, pumpkin, Scotch Bonnet peppers, etc. He cooks Italian dishes, vegetarian, all natural and from the land. Although he doesn’t eat animal protein, he can cook “any type of food you want” and can be seen preparing fried chicken, fish and janga (river prawns) for Matthew. in various episodes. “Good for the reptile” (male stamina), he says. All of this is offered to guests staying in the cottages.
A pack of puppies, chickens and her adorable grandson Rattie, aka “Rat Rat”, always ready to do mischief, are always running around the yard. Other family members come in and out. Doret, Mokko’s wife, bakes tasty banana donuts in one episode, while her daughter Shannel takes the lead in cellphone shopping during a family trip to nearby Morant Bay. It’s a taste of authentic Jamaican life.
Other highlights include hiking to the top of the Blue Mountains with Rasta Buru aka Judge Abel who imparts more Rasta wisdom. “We are not here to judge, we are here to listen.” With Mokko by his side, he later performs his excellent track “Ranking officer,” praising Jah and extolling the virtues of the herb for “healing the nation”.
What’s special about this show is Matthew’s relationship with Mokko and his family. The two have friendly, jovial banter, and Matthew’s sincere desire to capture the real Jamaica comes through.
Stylistically Ras KitchenThe cinematography is smooth and effective, stitching together candid, hand-held footage with more complex drone shots for an organic view of Jamaica, which helps the viewer feel like they’re there. Ras Kitchen has a fundraising page for those who want to support this unique show: https://www.gofundme.com/f/helpmokko.
In an episode titled “How Ras Kitchen Began,” Matthew explains his original vision to market it as a travel show, his encounters with various networks, and their appreciation but ultimately rejection of the concept. All the better because the production has an independent, artisanal vibe that allows things to flow naturally without interference from network producers. And it seems to be doing well on its own. Ras Kitchen airs nationally on Jamaican Flow TV and lives on YouTube with 351,000 subscribers. One can easily imagine the show on Netflix, but if it ever gets there, hopefully Matthew and Mokko can keep it real. I believe they will.
Ras Kitchen, Reggae in the Ruff, and Jamaica are filled with real, larger-than-life characters. The depth of personality on display is a big part of every show’s success. Discovering this fantastic music, cuisine and culture is like opening a chest containing sunken pirate treasure, a secret waiting to be discovered.
For more on Ras Kitchen, Mokko and Riverside Cool Cottages, check out https://raskitchen.com and http://rastamokko.com. Respect to all the artists and people mentioned in this article. I dream of returning to Jamaica one day and hope to meet these wonderful people in person. Bless!