Chronixx In Antigua: Right Place, Right Time, Righteous Rastafari
One early April weekend in 2018, during what can only be described as a Reggae lovefest of epic proportions, the Universe showed once again that timing is everything. After touring the world for almost a year, performing at iconic venues like London’s Brixton Academy and the Stone Pony in San Francisco, twenty-five year old Jamar McNaughton was welcomed back to the Caribbean by the tiny island of Antigua – and what a welcome it turned out to be.
By Dee Lundy-Charles
As a grey-haired Irish woman who adopted Saint Lucia as home twenty-five years ago, I’m not an obvious demographic in his legions of devotees, but as a writer, former magazine editor and lifetime lover of reggae music, my invitation from Jump268 Multimedia Network to cover Chronixx Live In Antigua on April 7 was like a gift from Jah himself.
My own pair of twenty-something offspring have been members of ‘the Rasta youth’ since early on and are responsible turning me into a fan by sitting me down to listen to ‘They Don’t Know’ in the winter of 2016. It was love at first lyric. Ironically they live in Ireland now, so were hanging on the end of Whatsapp waiting for a glimpse of their idol should I bounce up with him.
Arriving from Saint Lucia on Friday morning, I stepped into the impressive VCBIA arrivals hall with a notebook of questions, butterflies of anticipation and no idea what to expect. Turned out Antigua had a lot of surprises in store for Chronixx – and me – during an unforgettable weekend of reggae, reasoning and real Rastafari.
Whisked to the press conference by the adorably nervous mum of one of the Jump268 team, I arrived in time to look around the quiet room of undeniably excited Antiguan media, sponsors and organisers, all of us trying not to look too uncool as the top table took their seats. A shuffle of entourage through the door and there he was, bringing us to our feet to catch a glimpse and applaud his presence.
Bashfully surveying the room, his watchful eyes locking individually with the now silent, breath-holding audience, Chronixx proceeded to deliver his message in a fluent, cogent and compelling Q&A conducted by Trinidadian media personality, Empress Jeanille, and instantly it was clear that we really were in the presence of greatness.
If timing is everything, his message of love has arrived when the world’s young people need it most. And if the inspiration and influence of Bob Marley’s One Love credo is obvious, the 21st century iteration of “Rastafari truth” that Chronixx preaches is not simply a retrospective regurgitation, but a pragmatic rework of Rasta’s fifty year old ideology for the troubling times we live in.
He is very much a product of his generation, with an expansive world view and benign philosophy that insists on transposing the traditionally romantic image of rasta into Babylon V.2018. He talks about the history, the faith and its philosophies, where Rastafari has come from and what they have undergone since the early years of violence and oppression of the infant movement’s peaceful brethren in Jamaica and across the Caribbean.
But with vision and wisdom that defy his youthful earth-age, Chronixx is more interested in the future of the Rastafari youth of which he has become the de facto leader, by virtue of a prolific body of work built up over only seven years. His music is the living, breathing soul of “everything,” with poetic lyrics delivering the harsh realities of financial and spiritual poverty in the world just as palatably as when they celebrate the beauty of nature and the planet.
Coming to Antigua a few weeks after the island took its first step towards decriminalising cannabis was another coincidence of timing. As only the second CARICOM state to relax the laws that outlawed Rastafari’s sacramental herb and made generations of its practitioners into petty criminals, it must have felt like an added bonus to the regional scoop for organisers Jump268 and Plus1 Entertainment. If the press conference was anything to go by, we were all in for a treat the following evening.
Meanwhile, the Chronixx entourage were en route to their next appointment at the village of the Nyabinghi Theocracy Order of Antigua, where Elder of the Nyabinghi House of Big Creek, King Osagyefo and his vibrantly-clad community were awaiting the arrival with a feast of ital lunch and a palpable sense of expectation. As serene Nyabinghi queens tended their bubbling pots and beautifully behaved kids whispered their impatience to finally see the man himself, there was a sense of reverend anticipation that felt more like religious fervour than fandom for a famous music celebrity.
After taking time to replenish his energy by walking around some of the seventeen acre farm – and without warning or fanfare – Chronixx finally walked into the small gathering of visitors and Nyabinghi who were by now listening to the reasoning of the King. Like kaleidoscopic moths to his irresistible flame, the children arrived with their mothers and teachers to watch and listen as the most famous twenty-five year old Rastaman on the planet greeted his Elder with deep respect and genuine humility, took a seat opposite and sat down to talk about the future of Rastafari.
Despite all my attempts to find non-religious descriptives, I can only return to the observation that pervaded and coloured the rest of the weekend. Watching the joyful, awestruck reaction of the Rastafari community to this man was like witnessing a messianic moment. Bringing Chronixx a calabash of lunch and a thirst-quenching jelly coconut was a privilege, evidenced by the beatific smile on the faces of the ladies who served him. Hearing his thoughts on the plight of Rastafari and the new day that needs to be seized by the brethren was certainly an unexpected privilege for me, and the afternoon was more enlightening than any book or documentary discovered in my Rasta-research.
Talk about being in the right place at the right time . . . We hung on their every word, experiencing a fascinating exchange on the role of Rastafari in today’s dystopian reality, and the real future potential for Haile Selassie’s people as seen by Antigua’s Nyabinghi king and Jamaica’s crown prince of reggae.
Almost two hours later, after High Priest Selah led the chanting for blessings bestowed on the Nyabinghi village by Chronixx and a ceremonial pipe of the King’s best herb was shared, it was time for the community to say a melancholy goodbye – at least until the big event.
Fast forward to Saturday night at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium and the most wonderful surprise as I made my way to the front of the stage to scope out a good spot in the press pit. There they were in their glorious finery: all my new friends, from the tiny ear-muffed baby and solemn, wide-eyed students of the Nyabinghi Theocracy Church School to their stately teacher Kai Davis with the sistren and brethren who had stunned Chronixx on his arrival at the airport by drumming and chanting Antigua’s welcome, and broken bread with him on that unforgettable afternoon at Big Creek.
For the next three hours, I watched a top line-up of local reggae acts that blew me away with their talent and energy, all cheered on from below the stage by a singing, dancing, Lion-of-Judah-flag-waving tribe of the happiest people I’ve ever seen at a concert. The Antiguan crowd were frenetic with excitement as the hour grew later, but they certainly love their homegrown reggae and the vibe never faltered throughout sets performed by The Strays, Hempress Divine, Zambai, The Dan Juba – all backed by the super-cool Wadadli Rebels – Promise No Promises, Souljah Man, Drastic, Hughe Andrew, and the surprise appearance of Dilgin from Jamaica at the last minute.
Finally, it was time for Chronixx and the Zincfence Redemption, and at last I realised why the entire Nyabinghi community was there, as they took the stage to once again with a chant of ‘catch-a-fire, Nyabinghi fire’ to welcome in their own inimitable style, the special visitor from Spanish Town, Jamaica.
The rest, as they say, is history.
For this writer at least, it was a unique experience and one that has lived on for days in the form of random smiles that appear with each memory and a head full of Chronixx music as a daily soundtrack. Highlights included an appearance by his father, the original bearer of the name ‘Chronicle’ from which Jamar’s home moniker originated, and the emotionally-charged reaction from my ‘Binghi babies to the anthemic hit ‘I Can’.
Antigua’s youthful and more experienced entertainment media will assess and review the 135 minute performance, others will critique the event production by Jump268 which I rated top notch considering the multimedia network has been established for only three months. But for a middle-aged Irish-Lucian fan, every moment of Chronixx Live In Antigua was sheer, unforgettable bliss.
For two and a quarter hours, every lyric – familiar and new – rounded back to the message I had heard during my time in Chronixx’ company, giving a new power to the conscious music and charismatic persona that had motivated my quite uncharacteristic plea to Jump268 for an interview with my kidults’ reggae idol.
But when the last song was sung and the scheduled time came, I made a decision that surprised even myself.
Without asking him a question, he had answered them all, telling me everything I wanted to know and more, to the point where an interview would have felt like my own ego tripping on a man who had just given himself to Antigua with every fibre of his being. As the crowd moved off, I walked to the carpark full of irie vibes and infinite gratitude, leaving Jamar McNaughton to be rewarded for his efforts by the Antiguan love that had been the backdrop for a very special weekend.
Timing is everything, and perhaps in my future there will be another chance to interview Chronixx, but for now I am content and eternally grateful that I was able to observe and listen to him up close and personal at this particular time in his trajectory.
Meanwhile, I would like to thank some people from the bottom of my heart.
To the Chronixx Music family, it was a pleasure to meet every generation and I appreciate your warmth and candour. To Zack and Omari at Jump268 Multimedia Network, thanks for inviting Wordsmith Agency all the way from Saint Lucia and congratulations to the entire team. Also Laura Hall – thanks for the excellent photography. As a first event for this particular collaboration, it was a night that will be remembered for a long time and a launchpad for the future of world class entertainment in Antigua. .
To King Osagyefo and the Nyabinghi brethren and sistren, blessed love and heartfelt thanks for welcoming me to your community on such an important day and for sharing your world view as well as your food. Thanks and bless up Empress Jeanille for insightful interviewing and appearing with a camera at just the right moment; to Jenny and Tony for hosting and chauffeuring duties and to every friendly Chronixx-mad Antiguan I met in St. Johns on the afternoon and evening of Saturday, April 7th.
Scratch what I said at the top, it was a Chronixx Lovefest of monumental proportions and a weekend that will live long in the minds of many Antiguans – and me.