Singer Coco Tea (or Cocoa Tea as his stage name is often spelled) is a familiar name to the reggae massive in Jamaica and abroad as he has managed to establish his name in the forefront of conscious reggae music since he first recorded for the "Little Willie" label in the seventies.

Coco Tea was born Calvin Scott in the fishing village of Rocky Point, Clarendon JA, on September 3, 1959. He was also raised in this rural parish, which has produced its fair share of reggae talent as renown reggae artists such as Freddie McGregor, Barrington Levy, Toots Hibbert and Everton Blender were all born here too. Although one might expect that young Coco Tea had a love for the sea like most of the men in his village, he was more interested in music and thoroughbred racing at Caymanas Park. In those days he grew up listening to John Holt, Dennis Brown, Bob Marley and Bunny Wailer. Of course, "The King Of Reggae" Bob Marley belongs to his early influences, but Bunny Wailer was definitely one of Coco Tea's strongest influences... "because of the way Jah Bunny always focused on the music itself, infusing it with passion, using it as a tool to reach people." Still a teenager he recorded his first song, "Searching In The Hills", in 1974. The single was far from successful and he took his mind off the music business for a while. The next 5 years Cocoa Tea first worked as a race horse jockey, and then as a fisherman. However, he returned to his musical pursuits and started testing his lyrics on the various sound systems that came to play in his area. His success in the dancehalls strengthened his purpose and encouraged him to go further, so he began writing songs and training his voice. In 1983, two months after an impressive performance at a dance, Coco Tea moved from the countryside to the big city of Kingston. "Life was the same because when you move you only go to a different place but it is still you," states Coco Tea when answering the question... "How did you experience your move from a rural area to Kingston?".

In Kingston he met the late Henry "Junjo" Lawes ..because of the sound Volcano and dancehall vibes. Then hottest producer in Jamaica and recognized hit maker, Henry "Junjo" Lawes, also owner of the Volcano Sound System, was one of Coco Tea's early admirers. He actually was the right person to kick-start Coco Tea's musical career. With "Junjo" Coco Tea recorded his first hit songs "Rocking Dolly" and "I Lost My Sonia", and also released his first album, "Wha Them A Go Do, Can't Stop Coco Tea" on Lawes' Volcano label in 1985, actually the year that Henry Lawes temporarily withdrew from music business and migrated to the U.S.. In the early 90s "Junjo" came back into business with a new Coco Tea album called "Kingston Hot". We asked Coco Tea how it was working with one of the ace producers of the 80s? And what made him so successful as a producer? ... "I think his cool mannered approach and knowing just how to communicate with the artist was why he was so great." After the period with Henry "Junjo" Lawes Coco Tea started recording for King Jammy's, Firehouse Crew and the Witty label. However, he made his most notable move in 1989 when he teamed up with the current top dancehall DJ/rapper of the time, Shabba Ranks, and singer Home T (Mikey Bennett of the Home T4 group) on "Gussie" Clarke's Music Works label. This "brainchild of of Bobby 'Digital' Dixon," as Coco Tea recalls, became the dancehall sensation of 1989 and brought him huge hits such as "Holding On" and "Pirates' Anthem", the latter a worldwide reggae hit.

Then, during the first half of the 90s "gun talk & slackness" more and more started dominating the dancehalls. However, Coco Tea continued to release conscious music and attracted notable attention with singles as well as album releases such as "Riker's Island", "Another One For The Road" (with Cutty Ranks & Home T), "Authorized", "One Up" and "Tune In". It is at least remarkable that a cultural artist managed to be so prolific and thus "survived" in a time when there seemingly was no market for consciousness. However, not that peculiar for the artist himself, as Coco Tea says about that period in his career... "I survive on the premis that good is over evil."

With the rise of a new generation of cultural artists such as Luciano, Sizzla and Morgan Heritage a significant shift to a new breed of roots & culture took place in the second half of the 90s. In 1996, Cocoa Tea recorded the hit single and the excellent album "Israel's King" for Phillip "Fatis" Burrell's "Xterminator" label and the following year he began a two year stint with Bobby "Digital" Dixon's "Digital-B" label, which brought the reggae fans the hits "Holy Mount Zion" and "I'm Not A King". Then came Coco Tea's first album release, "Holy Mount Zion", on a major label (Tamla Motown). Shortly after, in 1998, he launched his own "Roaring Lion" imprint and started operating his own studio. What was his main intention to do so? "My main intention was to have a place where I can teach the youths about good values and attitude and the importance of our culture and upholding the quality of reggae that Bob Marley, me and some of my peers has laid down as foundation for generations to generations to come."

Besides a number of singles by him and various artists and compilation sets which focussed on collecting quality roots and culture music Coco Tea also released the self-produced "Unforgettable" album. The title track of this debut album on the "Roaring Lion" label is a tender reworking of a classic Nat King Cole tune, which he turned into a great, heartfelt tribute to his sorely missed departed spar Dennis "Emanuel" Brown. Reason to ask Coco Tea what the impact is of his untimely passing for him personally and for reggae music in general. Coco Tea : "No doubt it has created a need for more people who can deliver reggae music at its utmost best roots and culture, as you know it used to be. So you see this man must be very well missed by a world of adoring fans."

Current Jamaican music can largely be divided into modern roots & culture and hardcore ragga/dancehall. Coco Tea has been on the cutting edge of reggae for more than a quarter century and thus has witnessed several significant changes in reggae and dancehall music. Does he have any concerns about the image that is reaching the youth through the current ragga/dancehall culture? Yes I do because I dont like the type of negative things being on display in the dance nor the lude lyrics being played to the people. This only helps to enhance violence and produce a generation of vipers in our nations, and it does not look very inspiring."

A conscious artist can reach his audience through his records, but on the other hand also needs to perform to deliver his message and to get in real contact with his fans. Since 1984 Coco Tea has been performing all over the world, including the USA, Canada, the Caribbean and Japan. However some reggae critics keep stating that.. "the only thing preventing him from becoming a major musical star is his apparent reluctance to travel." "I would say to them... Try to look. I probably used to be reluctant to travel, yes, but that was because I think I was not ready yet. Now I know I am ready because of my catalog." And indeed, some months ago Coco Tea did a couple of shows in Europe together with the Abyssinians and Winston Jarrett, including one in The Netherlands. Now another show, which also features Don Carlos, Charlie Chaplin & Johnny P, is scheduled to take place in The Netherlands in the month of November. However, it has been cancelled. What's the reason? Coco Tea : "This is because promoters don't really comply with the ethical part of reggae artists' business when they say they are going to, in the end we the artist is blame. Now I want you to tell me if this is right? On signing the contract with the promoter it was agreed upon that he would send us our plane tickets to fly from Jamaica to England and from England to Germany. Our contract states that we should get our tickets two weeks before the date of the engagement! We were supposed to leave October 30. We only got back our passport from the embassy October 29. The plane tickets came 2 o'clock that same day and when they came the tickets were only from Jamaica to London and back. We called the promoter and informed him of the situation and he told us that at this late stage we would be travelling by bus. We then told him we would need documentation to present to the immigration in London. He told us that he would fax the bus itinuary to us. However, the promoter fax us a reservation [in Dutch] for a hotel in Rotterdam and thus there was no bus itinuary to be presented to immigration in England and from that time I have not heard from this promoter. Now, I Coco Tea have always suffered from this kind of contractual abuse."

Talented and versatile, Coco Tea has stood the test of time and still continues to produce the finest conscious reggae music Jamaica has to offer. When asked what we can expect from him in the near future he replied... "Right now I have a new album on Roaring Lion and it is really hot. But I would like to get a distributor in Europe in order to really establish my thing in Europe and by the way.. I am ready to travel the world because nothing happen before the time."

Selective discography :

Article & interview : Teacher & Mr. T (November 2002)
Sources : Maestroentertainment.com, The Rough Guide To Reggae & Reggae Report Vol. 15#6, 1997.




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