A conversation with Menelik Shabazz the creator, director and producer of the documentary film Lovers Rock

This week we interview Menelik Shabazz the creator, director and producer of the documentary film Lovers Rock.  The documentary tells the story of how Lovers Rock music defined a generation in the late 70s and 80s hugely impacting on British Pop Culture.  The feature length documentary contains interviews, comedy sketches, dance, live performances and archive footage which are used to shed light on the music and the generation that embraced it.  Here is our conversation with Menelik Shabazz.

How did the idea come about to do a film on Lovers Rock?

The Story of Lover’s Rock came about as a result of seeing an advert in  our community newspaper about  The Lovers Rock Gala Awards organised by Castro Brown.  This Awards event featured over 20 acts who were the  real Kings and Queens of the genre what struck me  was that it was the first time  and only time that so many of these artists had come together. To me this was a historic moment that had to be captured. This was the spark that started the journey to make a film.

In the documentary one is lead to believe that Lover Rock genre originated in the UK. There are many in Jamaica that may dispute that.  What would you say to those critics?
Lover’s Rock is a UK genre of romantic reggae  that  is defined by it’s  harmony structure, girl power  and it’s UK context.  British reggae was seen as softer than  Jamaican reggae. and this difference found expression  in lovers music, drawing on influences from the US 70s, Philly sound. Later on Jamaican artists like  Dennis Brown, Sugar Minott, Gregory Isaac and others  came to England to embrace  this lovers style. Of course there is a history of  Jamaican reggae love songs, that pre-date lovers Rock  but this was dominated by male artists whilst in the UK  the female artists  where  the ones in front which had a strong impact in defining the genre.

In what countries has the film premiered?

The film has been premiered in the UK and US so far.

How has it received by these audiences?

The  audiences have been loving the film, quite a few has seen it more than once.  I  the film rolls back the years taking people back  to a time  of  first love, going out raving – a sweet spot in time for many. The film is in the top six UK box office for documentary films which is significant for this type of film.

Will the documentary be entered in any film festivals?

It has entered a few Festivals and where asked it will go but Festivals are not at the top of my list. I am more concerned with getting the film in the cinemas and doing business rather look for festival plaudits.

How long was it from concept to production?

The film has taken me three years to make.  I financed it myself along with the support of a lot of people.  I had to take my time  on this project  but it is also  been an empowering experience.

What was the earliest Lover Rock song you could find ?
In the film,  Caught You in a Lie by Louisa Marks is seen as the defining moment, even though the term was not used then.  This song had an assertive and confident feel  that even  though the lyrics are sad it somehow transcended into empowerment for many women, who still  sing that song today. There were other artists even before Louisa but there is always a song that defines any genre and  Louisa’s track was it.

Who are some of the unsung heroes of this genre?

There are so many. Artists like  Carol Thompson, Jean  Adebambo, Winston Reedy, Brown Sugar,  I could go on and on, there are producers like Dennis Bovell, Len Chin, Clem Bushay, the musicians like  Drummie and Tony Gad from Aswad, Black Steel, there were so many talented musicians who raised the bar as far reggae music. These players, singers and producers like the genre itself has never received the recognition in the UK yet they influenced British pop. It was in places like Japan especially that Lovers Rock really took off and has become an international brand.

As a Bajan what made you in made you interested in reggae music?

I  came to London since the age of 6  and was socialised with Jamaicans from that time like others from different Islands reggae was our music it was the music we could hold on to in an  hostile and racially charged environment.  So  I grew up with Ska, Eock Steady and reggae. This became was our identity in the concrete jungle.

What is one of the main message you wanted the film to convey ? Do you think this genre of music continues to influence British culture?

The main message in the film is to bring back the love that we have lost. Looking back helps us to move forward. I want our young to know our story, what we  created, what we achieved and also understand the struggles we went through. The film is not just about the music, it combines comedy, dance added to the confrontations we had being black in a white world. We in the UK and black people need more love because we are in spiritual and emotional dis-array.  This is reflected in the way our children are behaving. We can’t blame the youths. We need more love!

They say that creating films and documentaries is like sitting in a classroom learning about your subject. What are some of the thing you have learned doing this film?

The process of making film whether doc or fiction teaches you about yourself.  There have been challenges on this film financially when you think  that the road you are trodding has no end. Your mental state is important because it is that that gives you insight, strength, courage and belief that things will manifest in your favour. I also give thanks to my God and my Ancestors because we never go  through alone.  It was also whether after a break of 14 years away from film whether I could still make films and make them at a certain standard.  I  learnt that I can!

What other projects do you have planned for 2012?

I do have some film projects  I want to do but at the moment  I am working on a small theatre play  that has become my latest obession. I have never done theatre before so it a little bit of a detour but  the joy of being back on your creative path gives you the passion to try anything.  Film projects take years of your life and after 3 years making THE STORY OF LOVERS ROCK, I am just taking my time.  

Do you make New Years Resolutions?

New Resolutions – No . I am learning to take life as it comes.

What song is on replay on your iPod?

The song on my Ipod – is  Living in the Light a track by Fertile Ground.

What movie is on replay on your DVD?

The movie I am currently watching is an old Hitccock movie The Paradine Case

Any advice for upcoming filmmakers?

Advice to new filmmakers is – fortune favours the brave

Thanks for the interview and we wish you the best in the future.