Expanding Reggae’s Audience Internationally

BY TRONE DOWD

Not many might assume that the face of Caribbean music’s proliferation in the United States over the past 40 years is a lively 77-year-old woman from Jamaica.

Patricia Chin, founder of VP Records in Jamaica, is the music guru responsible for bringing a piece of home to the millions of Caribbean New Yorkers looking for a cultural connection to their country of origin.

Hailing from Kingston, Chin and her husband have created a name for themselves back home. Following her longtime interest in the music industry, Chin said that the couple have been able to cut out a niche for themselves. In 1959, at age 18, she opened up VP records in Kingston, building a base of loyal patrons and supporters who hunted feverishly for the latest albums released by the label.

The small company enjoyed moderate success, thanks to personalized expertise that the Chins offered. The success they saw selling records eventually allowed the couple to dive into the world of creating music. They expanded into music production and recording, occasionally teaming up with some of the biggest acts of the time.

In 1977, despite their unbridled success in her home country, Chin decided to take a risk by moving to New York City. Her brother-in-law, who had moved to the U.S. a decade prior, encouraged the relocation.

“He said that New York would be a good place for us,” Chin said. “He thought it was a good place to be. We knew there was a lot of migration of Caribbean people in Brooklyn and Queens. We chose Jamaica because it reminded us of our hometown.”

With high hopes and very little to their name, Chin and her family took a plane to Southeast Queens, starting from the ground up all over again. Working hard to rebuild, within 12 months VP Records would find a new, albeit smaller, home, with plenty of room to grow.

Chin told the Queens Tribune that it didn’t happen overnight. In fact, she said that she had to make an effort to win over a new audience, as she didn’t fit the image of an average Caribbean music expert.

“We would encourage people to expand their horizons and try new things,” Chin said. “A lot of times when I would do telemarketing, they would say to me, ‘Put a man on for me,’ not realizing that I knew the music outside in. I was living the music 24/7 behind the counter in Jamaica. I sold the music; I knew all the rhythms; I knew all the singers and producers. It was one of my biggest obstacles. As a woman and a Chinese woman at that, I was asked how I knew about reggae music.”

Chin said that starting a business in a new country provided its own set of obstacles.

“It was hard,” she recalled. “The money, the language, the place. The way things are done on a little island like Jamaica—everyone knows each other. Not the case here. Coming to America, we had to start all over again.”

Today however, VP Records is just as big as it was in Kingston all those years ago. The label recently celebrated 40 years in Queens, and has since expanded to locations in South Africa, London, Kingston and Japan. The Chins have also been pioneers in educating artists on the importance of digital music.

After having become established as a Caribbean success story in New York City, Chin said that she is happy she can bring such a vital piece of her culture to the United States and around the world.

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