California Roots present’s “Demarco our dancehall star, producer, video director and all-around Jamaican music legend!” He is playing The Monterey Fairgrounds Thursday, May 26, 2022!

Demarco is a dancehall star, producer, video director and all-around Jamaican music legend. His signature singles “Fallen Soldiers” and “I Love My Life” are indelibly woven into the fabric of modern Jamaica, while songs like “No Wahala” (featuring Akon and Runtown) have put him at the forefront of the burgeoning fusion between reggae and afrobeats. Behind the scenes, he’s produced some of modern dancehall’s definitive riddims (The Mission, Shoot Out) as well as crossover smashes like Charly Black “Gyal You A Party Animal,” and written songs for artists ranging from Bounty Killer to Rihanna. More than a decade deep into a career that’s taken him from Jamaica to the States and back again, Demarco is finally set to release his debut album, Melody, this year via Oakland’s Ineffable Records.

Born Collin Edwards, Demarco grew up in Portmore, a Jamaican city well known for birthing dancehall legends. His own entry into music came as a selector for local soundsystem Future Disco, a gig which led to work DJing at Jamaica’s largest club, Cactus, while still in his early teens. It was there that he first realized his potential as an artist when, on a whim, he entered and won the club’s After-Work Jam, a weekly proving ground for emerging dancehall stars. However, that initial run of local stardom would come to a sudden end when his mother uprooted the family to the United States.

Relocated to Baltimore, Maryland, Demarco dropped out of high school after just one day, turning to landscaping work and, eventually, the streets to generate income. Still focused on a career in music, he used his savings to buy studio equipment, and learned to make beats on an MPC. For a time, he even joined a rap group. When a benefactor from the local Jamaican community became aware of his production skills, he arranged for Demarco to place tracks with artists back home — including his idol, Bounty Killer. In 2005, with his production career taking flight and a pair of criminal charges hanging over him, it was decided that he should return to Jamaica to focus on music.

Repatriated, he became a fixture at King Jammy’s legendary studio in Kingston’s Waterhouse area. Working for Jammy’s record producer sons, Baby G, Jam2 and John John, he created some of the definitive riddims of the mid-2000s dancehall era, such as Warning and Sidewalk University. Employing techniques he’d learned making tracks for hip-hop and R&B artists in the States, he helped introduce a new flavor to Jamaican dancehall at the time, creating spacious, dramatic beats with a sinister edge.

It was in these same days that Demarco was inspired to write the song that would break him as an artist,  “Fallen Soldiers.” While building the rhythm track in his kitchen, he was struck by the sad quality of the melody he’d created, and decided to pen a tribute to friends who’d recently been killed in Kingston’s Marverly community. Demarco had just featured on tracks with Jamaican music stars Sizzla (“Kings and Queens”) and Elephant Man (“Our World”) that he figured would ignite his career. The latter even had the backing of Sean “Puffy” Combs, who selected it as one of the lead singles on Elephant Man’s Bad Boy Records release, Let’s Get Physical. “Fallen Soldiers,” much to Demarco’s surprise, leapfrogged all of these after becoming a staple at Nine Night, a sort of Jamaican funeral tradition that involves hosting guests around the clock. Jamaica, and Kingston in particular, was in the grips of gang warfare at the time, and the song seemed to capture the grief felt by so many.

The next thing Demarco knew, he was making nearly $1 million Jamaican dollars (about $6,700US) a night to voice dubplates with customized versions of “Fallen Soldiers” for DJs around the world. The song’s legend even reached Harlem, where Dip Set icon Jim Jones hopped on a remix.

Demarco proved he was no fluke in 2008 when he scored his second major hit as an artist in “Duppy Know Who Fi Frighten.” Recorded on his own Shoot Out riddim, the track found him outshining a who’s who of dancehall and reggae icons who’d voiced the same instrumental. Where “Duppy Know Who Fi Frighten” was a dark, foreboding track that flexed his gangster credentials, his next big hit “Love Come Down” (also known as “She Can’t Wait”) painted him in a whole different light, as he toasted to the joys of undercover love over a festive, horn-driven riddim.

Demarco’s star reached another level in 2011 with the release of “I Love My Life,” a feelgood anthem born from dark circumstances. “People think that’s an inspirational song but, really and truly, I’m cursing my ex-wife and her mother,” Demarco says of the track, penned at a time when his marriage was ending and his first son was about to be born. Far from just hitting in the Caribbean, “I Love My Life” helped make him a household name in Nigeria and across Africa. He’s since gone on to perform in nearly a dozen nations around the continent, from Ghana and Kenya to Ethiopia and Seychelles.

“I Love My Life” would also catch the attention of Rihanna, who posted a video of herself singing the track on Instagram. It wouldn’t be the last time the Bajan superstar would rep Demarco on the social network: In 2014, her BFF Melissa Forde posted a video of her and Riri doing the namesake dance from his hit song “Puppy Tail.” More recently, it’s been reported that Rihanna tapped Demarco as a writer for her long-rumored dancehall-inspired album. Demarco, for his part, offers only a succinct “No comment.”

Rihanna’s not the only mainstream star to have sought Demarco’s talents. He’s produced for Missy Elliott, and appeared on several tracks by Busta Rhymes, including “We Miss You” (from 2009’s Back on My B.S.), a track partly inspired by Demarco’s own “Fallen Soldiers.” In 2015, he made the Jambe An Riddim, a dancehall rhythm that’s best known as the backing track for Charly Black’s massive international hit “Gyal You A Party Animal.” That song recently became the first track by a Jamaican artist to be certified Diamond in Latin America.

Demarco’s global reach also caught the attention of African-born pop superstar Akon, who signed him to his Konvict Muzik label in 2017. Together they helped bridge Africa and the Caribbean on Demarco’s “No Wahala,” one of the first afrobeats tracks by a Jamaican artist to have success both in the Caribbean and African music core.

As if singing, writing, producing and engineering music wasn’t enough, in true Renaissance Man fashion Demarco has added another skill to his repertoire in video production. (He’s also dabbled in acting: He appeared in 2019’s Sprinter, a Jamaica-set film that was executive produced by Will and Jada Pinkett Smith, as the conscientious gangster “Bossy.”) Since forming his own production company, he’s directed over a dozen videos for himself and other artists, including Spice (“Money Walk”), Vybz Kartel, and Konshens (the upcoming Davido collaboration “Boom Bang”).

“In my mind, I believed if you are doing something in entertainment you are supposed to cover all corners,” Demarco says. “I know how to get my music done. I know how to build beats, engineer, select. I figured I needed to know how to shoot.”

Demarco is putting all of these skills to use as he prepares his debut album, Melody, through Ineffable Records, the new label from multi-faceted Oakland-based music company Ineffable Music Group. He produced all but four of the album’s 14 tracks, and directed the video for its first single, “Mover” featuring Konshens. The title, Melody, acknowledges both the melodic sensibilities that define the album and Demarco’s youngest daughter, Melody, who was born last year as he completed the project.

With a track record as deep as Demarco’s, it’s hard to believe that he’s never issued a full-length before. But he believes when fans hear the project, which features appearances from Sean Paul, Shaggy, Spice, Stephen Marley and Sarkodie, among others, they will find it was well worth the wait.

“A lot of people don’t know this side of Demarco,” he says. “These songs are timeless music. When you sing about love and relationships — the real things that people go through — there’s no time limit on that.”


DEMARCO

Thursday, May 26, 2022

SPONSORS & PARTNERS

Deep Eddy Vodka
Altamont Beer Works
Alvarado Street Brewery
Firestone Walker Brewing Company
Big Sur Canna Botanicals
Deep Eddy Vodka
Altamont Beer Works
Alvarado Street Brewery
Firestone Walker Brewing Company
Big Sur Canna Botanicals

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