Buried Treasure

Take a tour of South Florida's best roots stash

"I started back in the Sixties," Chin Loy explains. "I knew the Skatalites. I knew Bob Marley and Peter Tosh. You heard of Pablo Augustus? I gave him his name." Indeed he did. A cousin of Leslie Kong, another pioneering producer, Chin Loy produced keyboardist Augustus's unique Far East sound on classics such as "East of the River Nile." The merchant's own Aquarius Dub (a young Chin Loy graces the cover) from the early Seventies was seminal in the burgeoning dub form. These days his projects are few and a far cry from earlier Aquarius productions, considering the Kenny G-inspired CD from 1997 he hands me as an example of his more recent work. "I do some producing," he says, "but I need to be in Jamaica, where the musicians are."

The last stop on the tour is hidden at the back of the 183rd Street indoor flea market, inches from the Miami-Dade-Broward line. Behind rows of wigs, barbershops, and neon-color camouflage pants lies Life Time Records, which offers African art, books on black consciousness, and, yes, reggae music. Owner Percy Chin, resembling a clergyman in black tunic and puffy hat, checks the quality of a stack of 45s on his turntable and tests presses of the latest from Barrington Levy and other roots artists produced by his partner, Hyman "Jah Life" Wright, at Jah Life Records in New York.

"A dancehall release is around for six months and then throw it in the trash bin," Chin says of the shelf life for the typical artist in the DJ/rap stylings of dancehall. "But the roots stuff is still going strong." Chin's heart clearly is set on the roots side of reggae, even though the success of his New York affiliate has much to do with the booming baritone of early dancehall pioneer Barrington Levy, discovered by Jah Life more than twenty years ago. "My partner was in Jamaica at a singing competition and heard Barrington sing," recalls Chin. "My partner called up and said, I found someone; send me some money. This guy is tuff.' We [recorded Barrington] through Channel One."

Herman Chin Loy holds forth at Aquarius Records
Steve Satterwhite
Herman Chin Loy holds forth at Aquarius Records

Even as Barrington endures, the roots revival continues. Serious vinyl collectors around the world are a boon to record shops like Life Time. "A guy from Holland came into the shop and wanted everything on the Bullwackie label," says Chin. "I sold him everything I had."

Roots Map

Aquarius Records
9487 SW 160th St.

Blue Note Records
16401 NE Fifteenth Ave
North Miami Beach

JaPee Records
13800 NW Seventh Ave.
North Miami

Life Time Records
18200 NW 27th Ave.
Carol City

Rankin Records
164 NE 167th St.
North Miami Beach

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