Search I-Reggaenation

Friday, April 2, 2010

Echo Park’s Reggae Cave holds the World's Most Comprehensive Reggae Collection?

Archive in the Hills: Roger Steffens shows some of his archives of the musical form, which he first discovered and began compiling 37 years ago.

By Courtney Cady Courtesy of CaribPress/
A cave in the hills of the Echo Park district northwest of Downtown holds an unlikely treasure: A collection that is likely the world’s most comprehensive archive of reggae music, photographs, and other memorabilia.

The reggae cave is actually the home of Roger Steffens, an eccentric, wiry-haired white man who has dedicated a career to recording and preserving reggae’s history in the U.S. His efforts have led to a lot of that history—thousands, upon thousands of reggae-related items—being nestled with care in Steffens hillside home, which offers a panoramic view of the city’s center, the Hollywood sign, and even the Pacific Ocean on a clear day.

The archive takes up the entire second floor of the house, where visitors will find all things reggae—posters, tapestries, buttons, drawings, and photographs flashing red, gold, black and green among walls lined with shelves holding records, tapes and CDs.

Steffens has acquired, photographed and collected any reggae-related tape, film, CD, flier, drawing, poster—you name it—he’s come across for the past 37 years. He’s received a trove of memorabilia from friends and colleagues around the world as well. His cache includes what he describes as the largest Bob Marley archive in the world.

Steffens says that his love of reggae began when he read an article in Rolling Stone magazine back in 1973. The piece, written by Michael Thomas, delved into reggae—a musical form that remained practically unknown in the U.S. at the time. Steffens says the article intrigued and inspired him. He became determined to find this “new” sound, and soon purchased a used copy of Marley’s “Catch a Fire,” which is now autographed by the musician and stored in the Echo Park archive.

Steffens lived in Berkeley, California, at the time. That’s where he became one of the first non-Jamaican music buffs to make the reggae scene in the U.S. He met fellow reggae enthusiast Hank Holmes a year later in Los Angeles, and the two created a radio show. It took four years and a few failed attempts to broadcast on various Los Angeles-based radio stations before the pair landed a permanent slot on KCRW in 1979. Their Reggae Beat became known as “the most popular non-commercial radio program in Los Angeles,” according to the LA Weekly, eventually expanding to reach the airwaves in Santa Barbara, Palm Springs and San Diego.

Reggae Beat started off with a bang, hosting Marley as its first musical guest. Steffens provided hand-drawn sleeves for archival tapes of every show for Reggae Beat’s eight-year run, including guest appearances. A musician named Chili Charles soon began filming live performances on Reggae Beat—and those sessions are also part of Steffens’ archive in Echo Park.

The audio tapes and films were later meshed together to form a television show called LA Reggae, a compilation of live performances on Reggae Beat. Steffens says that he attended “virtually every reggae show in L.A. during the 1980s.” He adds that he captured the music at most of them by plugging into the mixing boards to make live recordings for his archives.

CC Smith joined the Reggae Beat team in 1982, creating a newsletter with a concert calendar for reggae shows that were still few and far between. The newsletter immediately drew 300 subscription requests, and the high demand led to the birth of what was initially known as Reggae Beat Magazine. The publication later evolved into African and Reggae Beat Magazine—and became known simply as Beat Magazine in the late 80s. The magazine published for more than 20 years before ceasing in December of 2009.

All of Steffens’ work and his wide connections in the reggae world have brought high-level recognition in the music industry. The Recording Academy has acknowledged his efforts, and in 1984 the directors of the organization asked him to play a key role in creating a reggae category for their annual Grammy wards. He remains the chairman of the Academy’s Grammy Committee.

Steffens has written and edited many other books on reggae, and continues to give lectures on the subject. He is currently working on an autobiography of Bunny Wailer—the Wailer in the Bob Marley and the Wailers.

Meanwhile, Steffens says that he will not part with his archives without the confidence that his collection will remain intact, although some transfers of portions of the archives to Jamaica has been discussed in the past. He is currently working with representatives of USC to digitize his archives, and he says copies will eventually be sent to Jamaica.

This story is from CaribPress via, an Internet website that has been established by New America Media and features contributions from a number of publications that cover various ethnic communities in the Los Angeles area. Both CaribPress and the Garment & Citizen are members of


Post a Comment