Dread Reckoning

Dub architect, crossover dreamer, music exec, and all-around nice guy, Mikey Dread has kept the reggae fires burning for almost twenty years

He has edged his way into the spotlight often over the years, from his days as a radio star in Jamaica in the Seventies to his work with big-name British bands such as the Clash and UB40 at the beginning of the Eighties. His image was beamed into British homes when he narrated one series and produced another for Britain's Channel 4 in 1981 and 1982. And albums have flowed from him all along, from 1979's Dread at the Controls to 1993's Obsession.

Miami seemed to offer yet another chance for Dread to explore the possibilities of the media spreading his faith in reggae. He moved here in the fall of 1993 to take a job with the Caribbean Satellite Network (CSN), a Miami-based TV linkup to 53 countries with programming emphasizing island culture. News, sports, and even cooking shows were included in the mix, as well as a plethora of Caribbean music videos. ("It was a good idea to have the station," Dread says now. "A novel idea.")

CSN was the brainchild of Jamaican entrepreneur Delroy Cowan, who in 1992 sold three houses and three businesses he owned to come up with the seed money for the venture. In October 1993, Cowan hired a new program director for CSN A Michael "Mikey Dread" Campbell. But things didn't work out for Dread. By June of this year, Cowan had fired him, and shortly thereafter the owner pulled the plug on CSN altogether, citing financial problems. But Dread thinks Cowan's vision was too broad for the network to succeed. As program director, Dread made a mark with CSN's coverage of Jamaican-related material: Bob Marley's induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (which he claims to have covered using his own money); the Miss Jamaica Miami pageant; and a "dubplate" show in which Jamaican acts would lip-synch, creating instant clips for songs that otherwise would go videoless. But his efforts regarding the rest of the Caribbean fell short, causing him consternation.

According to Dread, Cowan and others felt that Mikey's hard-core reggae sensibilities left little room for the rest of the Caribbean. "I got shit from inside the network," Dread says. "The CSN logo used Rasta colors, but the Trinidadians wanted more calypso. They didn't understand that there weren't enough new and exciting videos coming from Trinidad." (Delroy Cowan declined to be interviewed for this article.)

Dalton Narine, a CSN colleague now working on a screenplay and book about his experiences in Vietnam, sympathized with Dread's plight. "He was willing to get into other areas of Caribbean culture," Narine says, "but like all Jamaicans, he was loyal to their music. To me reggae is a lifestyle, not a music. Still, he was willing to go to Trinidad to host a two-hour special on calypso."

It wasn't enough. Station management was criticized constantly from within and without for tapping a dreadlocked reggae star to be program director. "He weathered that storm," Narine says. "But I remember one time he showed me a letter criticizing him, and he asked me, 'What am I doing wrong?' I told him you've got to be you. Once [calypso singer] Mighty Sparrow was in town and we needed an interview with him. Mikey asked me to do it. That's how sensitive he was to the backlash."

To this day, Dread believes CSN was "good for the industry." But he also complains that the network had a poor relationship with record companies, that some programming changes he didn't approve of were made (such as the airing of a show he considered a Caribbean version of the Home Shopping Network), and that CSN lacked the budget to realize some of his programming ideas.

"He faced tremendous odds," Narine continues. "Certain employees didn't cotton to the direction he was taking the station. He was perceived as egotistical, that he wanted everything Dread's way. I don't know. He was hired to do a job, there were no parameters other than that he should try to get CSN on its best footing. He had all this experience [in England], but he was entrenched in the Jamaican mystique and culture. Others felt they had a right to be heard, too. So he faced pressure inside and outside."

Because of his green-card status, which prohibits his absence from the United States for a year or more, Dread decided to stay in Miami for a while after CSN fired him, even though the opportunities offered in England tempt him often. "I try to keep a clean record," he says. "I might get famous, and people dig up skeletons, find out I violated immigration law. Maybe I won't get famous, but maybe I hit the lottery. Also, I have no defeatist attitude. It's cheap for me to fly to Jamaica, so I decided to settle here and try to get something going." (Though never married, Dread says he has a half-dozen progeny, including a daughter and two sons living in Jamaica.)

After his demise at CSN, Dread began approaching local commercial radio stations with his pitch for a reggae show. "No opportunity," he says. "There are lots of Jamaicans here, but nothing for us, no way to transmit our culture to our own people."

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