This interview was originally printed in France by Reggae Vibes Magazine for Issue # 70, in circulation Apr-July 2020. It has been translated from French to English. You can order a copy of Rockers: The Making of Reggae’s Most Iconic Film on gingkopress.com.
Can you tell us more about this book, Rockers? Is it a simple autobiography, a photography coffee table book, a making-of of the film Rockers, or?
Sébastien Carayol: It’s a bit of all of this in one book! Besides his talents as a director which earned Rockers a screening at the Cannes Film Festival in 1979, Ted Bafaloukos was also an excellent photographer. Some of his shots taken in Jamaica appeared sporadically on record sleeves: Yabby You, Augustus Pablo, etc. And then, over the course of a decade a few books started to appear. Two or three self-published Rockers books, in Japan, with crazy formats (a very large and flat one, then another edition almost pocket-sized and very thick), featuring his photos of the film and other behind the scenes photos of Rockers… I was intrigued. I finally got to meet, a few years later, the person behind these books: Cherry Kaoru Hulsey, the NYC resident Japanese widow of film producer Patrick Hulsey who has all his photos, and their rights.
I found out from her that before he died, Ted Bafaloukos wrote an autobiographical text, a memoir spanning from his childhood raising goats in Greece, up to New York where he discovered reggae when it was very underground – his first show was an Augustus Pablo concert in Brooklyn that was interrupted with gunshots! – before he decided to go make a documentary in Jamaica… It turned out a fictional piece: Rockers. His autobiography tells everything, the good the bad and the ugly: pressure from guys in the kingston ghetto, how Ted he got kicked out of Jamaica by the government during his first visit etc… I’ll say no more!
Several authors are mentioned by the publishing house for this project. What was your role?
S. C.: It’s a bit of a hybrid. The publisher has me credited as “fire bringer” in the summary… Basically, Bafaloukos’ bio was so well written that I shared all of this with the American publisher Gingko Press, with whom I released a book in 2014. They later signed the project. I also chose the art director, suggested cover, etc. You could then define me as matchmaker, I suppose. But the real flames that really got the pot boiling, initially, are Ted’s widow Eugenie Bafaloukos and Cherry Hulsey, who had self-published the Rockers books together in Japan. I just put everybody together and made sure that the ideal book would come out.
This work will be published soon in English, do you think a French translated version could see the day?
S. C.: This bio from Bafaloukos deserves it! Especially since today there are several quality publishers in France, specializing in Jamaican music…
How old were you when you were discovered Rockers on a screen for the first time?
S. C.: Sounds a bit late to the game, I was twenty years old. With a friend from Narbonne, Claude Damas, we were stuck on the scene where Jacob Miller gets all upset from Horsemouth stealing a piece of chicken from him!
What scene did you enjoy the most in this film?
S. C.: There are two very strong ones for me: Burning Spear singing Jah No Dead a cappella on the beach, with Horsemouth listening attentively… I get chills every time, and even more when Ted tells the story behind the scenes in the book! And, on a lighter note, of course the nightclub scene when Horsemouth and Dirty Harry hijack the disco DJ booth to play The Techniques’ “Queen Majesty” instead: “Remove ya!”
Why do you think this film is considered a benchmark for a lot of reggae lovers?
S.C.: Because Bafaloukos really found out how to capture this golden age of sorts – the Jamaican music scene of the 70s. It’s really a fiction that doubles as has a documentary.
Unlike rap or rock culture, that of reggae is weakly represented on the big screen through fictional films. Do you have any idea what could explain this?
S. C.: The fact that the global cinema industry is centered in the United States can explain this unbalance. The few fictional films that do come out of Jamaica find it difficult to find distributors, I think.
Do you have some titles to us advise (except documentary films)?
S. C.: So there’s one I love, which I showed a very small part of in my 2017 exhibition Jamaica, Jamaica!: it is called REW/FFWD, an amazing film object, both an artistic film as well as documentary fiction, which tells the story of a Canadian journalist sent to Jamaica, when his car breaks down in the middle of Trenchtown – forcing him to meet the real people of the ghetto. It is a small bizarre masterpiece… all the more intriguing, it was directed by Denis Villeneuve, who is now a very well-known to science fiction filmmaker (he made First Contact, etc.).
You dedicate part of your life to share with as many people as possible your passion for reggae (journalist specialist, film and books, curator…) Can you already tell us what will be your next reggae stamped project?
S.C.: Right now, I am living through a bit of a dream: my Jamaica Jamaica! exhibition is currently mounted in Kingston, in Jamaica’s largest National musuem, the National Gallery of Jamaica, until June 28, 2020. [Editor’s note: It will be extended to December 2020 due to Covid pandemic] Go deh!