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Cleveland “Tony Java” Wedemire, 44, thinks reggae doesn’t get any respect. Despite the fact that reggae has become a citywide turntable staple in recent years, branching beyond U Street and Adams Morgan, this burly promoter believes it needs a lift. So Java has decided to do the obvious ’90s thing: He plans to hold the first annual Metropolitan Reggae Music Awards and Dance on Feb. 28.
“Awards shows are done in every scene,” Java asserts. “A reggae awards show has been done in New York, Chicago, and Miami. I think Philadelphia is doing one also. We have just enough support and entertainers.” Although Java, who is solely responsible for picking the nominees, has steered clear of naming musicians he works with in every category or putting his name in the running, he will be giving a piece of himself to each winner. The awardsdiamond-shaped hunks of glassare modeled after Java’s own logo.
While Java has yet to secure a proper venue for the show, he has named judges (a reggae manager, a couple of devout fans, and himself) and has started a small promo tour. He’s hosting fund-raising events every Tuesday at the Songhai (1211 U St. NW), starting this week. This project is a culmination of Wedemire’s life’s work. Emigrating from Jamaica in 1976, he has worked in Chicago and D.C. as a radio personality, club DJ, and promoter. Java has seen reggae help a whole generation of frat kids get stoned. He has seen Jamaican artists such as U-Roy inspire the genesis of hiphop. Yet reggae is still considered a curiosity by the mainstream. “This [show] is for the purpose of the music, taking the music to another level, promoting the music, and for the love of it,” Java asserts. “No one is taking the step to recognize the people….It has not reached the heights [in D.C.] of R&B and hiphop.”
The award categoriesranging from “Best Reggae DJ Artist” and “Best Reggae Female Contributor” to “Best Sound SystemQuality” and “Best Reggae Food Caterer”are set up to honor the entire industry. Java sees the event as not only promoting skills but encouraging Jamaican unity. He may want reggae to go beyond the dance halls, but he doesn’t want any sellouts in the recording studios. “It’s still a lot more to be done,” Java says. “It’s a lot of politics. Whenever an American company signs a Jamaican artist, the first thing they do is tell them to change their songs….Look at Shabba Ranks. Nobody wants to hear him, because he doesn’t have his roots. He betrayed his roots for the crossover.”Jason Cherkis