Concerned about some of the negative effects dancehall music is having on young people and some societies, multi-talented artist and Juno Award winner, Claudja Barry, has produced a film that explores the genre of Jamaican popular music that has become a symbol of explicit sexual imagery and violence.
Losing Paradise and Music, shot in Jamaica and the Greater Toronto Area over a two-year period, will be aired on OMNI 1 TV on Sunday, February 17, at 6 p.m. Barry wrote the music and directed the one-hour film, which is her first major production.
“I didn’t really want to bring myself into this film,” said Barry, who was a top disco singer. “It’s a point of view film. My music was fun, interesting, it made people happy and it also made them forget for a time about the things that made them angry. It was feel good music and my time was also a feel good time. I acknowledge we are in a different era, but I wanted to find out what was the legacy of the ‘One Love’ that Bob Marley sang about and what has come after him.
“Marley’s music was uplifting and positive and it provided hope. ‘One Love’ was a call for people to stop fighting and unite as one. That was the message in that song and I don’t see it now. Most of the messages in dancehall music contain negative vibes that are simply not inspiring. Children live with what they learn. It stays with you.”
Jamaican-born Barry, who migrated to Canada with her family as a seven-year-old just over five decades ago, interviewed a range of people in Jamaica’s marketplaces, school and communities for the film.
“I wanted to know what dancehall music meant to them and how it related to them in their daily lives,” she said. “I got a wide range of responses. There are two little kids in the film and they know all the moves and some of the lyrics. When I asked one of the mothers why she allows her child to listen to dancehall music, she told me she had to learn and know about it. When I mentioned that her daughter was just about four or five, the response was that she had to learn it and she might as well do so now. That disturbed me because a child at that tender age cannot make choices for themselves. The adult should be making the good choices for their children.”
Barry said her request to interview Grammy award-winning artist, Beenie Man, for the film was turned down.
Raised in Scarborough, Barry graduated from North Toronto Collegiate Institute and headed to New York where she landed a role in the European versions of the stage musicals Hair and Catch My Soul. The play toured Europe, including Germany, where she released her first single, “Reggae Bump”, in 1975 and joined the studio group – Boney M – the same year.
“Boney M was an amazing experience during the few months I was with them,” said Barry. “I however left because I felt I was valuable and they didn’t want to pay me what I thought I was worth.”
Barry, who is fluent in German, has the distinction of being the first Black female artist to win a Juno Award and the first Black woman to be inducted into the Canadian Black Music Hall of Fame. She and the late pianist, Oscar Peterson, entered the Hall in the same year.
When she won her only Juno in 1979 in the Most Promising Female Vocalist of the Year category, she opened for the show and sat at the same table with late Canadian Prime Minister, Pierre Trudeau.
“Performing in front of Trudeau and singing for 40,000 screaming fans at the Tokyo Music Festival in 1980 are two of the highlights of my career,” said the nine-time Juno Award nominee.
Two of Barry’s recordings – “Dancin’ Fever” and “Boogie Woogie Dancin’ Shoes” – were major mainstream pop hits in Canada.