Sunday. 12:00 p.m. Not a soul at CiTR. I was sitting in the lounge, waiting for a tentative Discorder meeting. I heard what I thought was the ghost mix emanating from A-Control, the on-air studio. Suddenly, the studio’s music became louder. I heard laughter and a merry Jamaican voice. I realized someone might actually be on the air. I smiled as I turned up the radio in the lounge. What I heard for the next three hours were positive vibes that would keep me smiling for many Sundays to come.
Fueled by the rhythm of the show’s ska and reggae beats, I did some research on the awe-inspiring host. By 3 p.m., there was only one thing left to do: ask for an interview. And even though that Discorder meeting was postponed, I did not wait in vain, because I’ve now met a man who loves reggae with every inch of his soul: George “Reggae” Barrett, host of The Rockers Show since October, 1982.
- Chirag Mahajan
[Interview has been condensed]
Discorder: The Rockers Show is among Vancouver’s longest running reggae shows, second only to The Reggae Show, which you started in 1976 on Co-op Radio. Since then, you’ve received many awards for your broadcasting work. How does it feel to receive such praise from the community?
George Barrett: When I started The Reggae Show, it wasn’t that popular because a lot of people didn’t know reggae music. Some people even called it “reggie” [laughs]. Still, the community really enjoys what I play on both these shows. Now, many people know there are stations they can tune in to on the weekends to hear these vibes. I’m very proud of myself for starting something from scratch, like watering a plant and seeing it grow for 30 years. It feels so good to be a part of this community.
D: Over the years, you’ve collected over 4,000 seven-inch singles, over 3,000 LPs, and over 10,000 CDs. How do you select your show’s playlist from this massive collection?
GB: I have so many records. Too much! [laughs] I still get vinyls from people almost every week, especially from England. I listen to so much reggae that I am reggae. That’s why people call me George “Reggae” Barrett. [laughs] I select the music when I’m at home. I sit down on Saturday night and listen and select. Some songs are good for some days, like February was Black History Month, so I try to pick songs for that. It takes some time to select my show, but I try to do it right, because sometimes there can be some swearing in the songs, so I have to listen carefully. On a Sunday, everybody wants it nice, warm and easy.
D: Few people here know that you’ve met the King of Reggae. How did that happen?
GB: Bob Marley! Yes, he came here in 1978 [on the Kaya tour]. I left Jamaica in 1972, so when I heard that a band that we cherish over there was arriving in Vancouver, I was so excited! Bob played two sold-out shows in the same night at the same place, the Queen Elizabeth Theatre. I stayed for both shows! And when Bob was on stage singing “No Woman, No Cry,” everyone had their lighters out! It was overwhelming! After the second show, I was in the dressing room with all of them: Bob, Carlton [Barrett], “Family Man” [Aston Barrett], everybody was there, chanting and talking about Jamaica. Carlton asked me, “George, what’re you doing in Vancouver? There’s nothing here!” And I said, “You’re joking!” [laughs]. I hadn’t started The Rockers Show yet, but they were a big influence. I played a lot of Bob Marley on the air to show how happy I was that Bob had come to town.
D: What has been your most memorable broadcasting moment?
GB: There are several. I interviewed Burning Spear; I interviewed Joseph Hill from Culture. Another was when I received the Peter Tosh Memorial Award at the Canadian Reggae Music Awards.
D: If you could only bring one album to a deserted island, which would it be?
GB: Bob Marley’s Catch A Fire.
D: What is your favourite CiTR radio show, besides your own?
GB: I really like the Friday night shows, like African Rhythms with David Love Jones, and The Bassment.
D: What does the future hold for The Rockers Show?
GB: The future holds a lot, because CiTR will be moving to the new studios in the new building, so I’d like to stick around for that. The community is changing, too. New vibes are coming in, because younger people now love the roots and dancehall. Even dub is rising up, and they’re calling it dubstep. I like how they do it. They’re using the same old dub, but they speed it up, put those effects on, they add in more bass, and then you hear “WUB-WUB-WUB-WUB.” [laughs] I love it!
The Rockers Show airs Sundays from 12pm to 3pm.
Podcasts of the show can be found here.
Interview by Chirag Mahajan