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THERE was no groovier sound to Steve James than lovers rock when he partied back in the day. Even today, the softer side of reggae still gets the disc jockey going.

James is host of the twice-weekly Real Rock show on Bess FM. He will be a participant in the Back To Africa Music Festival which takes place January 20-25 in Gambia. The six-day event is scheduled for the city Butukunku, and marks the 30th anniversary of British reggae label Ariwa Records.

Founded by Guyana-born music producer Neil ‘Mad Professor’ Fraser, Ariwa is a mainstay of lovers rock, the reggae spin-off that had a massive following in Britain during the 1980s.

Real Rock — which airs Thursdays from 7:00 pm-10:00 pm and Fridays from 10:00 pm - 2:00 am — has a strong lovers rock content, though James also reserves considerable air time for dub and roots-reggae.

James admits he has a bias for the softer side of reggae which he believes has been neglected by local radio.

“A lot of people tend to follow the dancehall hype. You don’t hear a lot of lovers rock because disc jockeys are not giving it justice,” he told the Observer.

Many of the artistes James features on his show are not readily known to Jamaican audiences. They are mainly British acts like John McLean, Sandra Cross, Tippa Irie and Bitty McLean.

The latter has gained considerable popularity in Jamaica in recent years with well-received covers of Bread’s Make It With You and David Ruffin’s Walk Away From Love.

James says the Ariwa invite is a shot in the arm for his show and Bess FM which first aired Real Rock four years ago.

“It’s an indication of the positive nature of the show,” he said.

A long-time admirer of legendary reggae producer Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, Fraser is known throughout Europe and parts of the United States for his dub productions. In England, reggae fans are familiar with him as one of the leading producers of lovers rock.

Perry and Aswad lead singer Brinsley Forde are among the headliners for ‘Back To Africa’. So too Brown Sugar, Sandra Cross, John McLean, Tippa Irie and Levi Roots, some of Ariwa’s most successful acts.

Back To Africa will also have panel discussions, a seminar and a Miss Natural beauty contest.

Lovers rock exploded in London during the 1980s, hot on the heels of roots-reggae which dominated the British underground music scene the previous decade.

Inspired by Jamaican balladeers like Alton Ellis, Dennis Brown and Sugar Minott, British singers like Maxi Priest took the scene in that country by storm with a series of hit songs that gained the attention of major American labels.

Bonafide, Priest’s platinum-selling 1990 album, is regarded as a lovers rock masterpiece.

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