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Cocoa Tea highlights Reggae in the Springs Festival 

click to enlarge Dancehall star Cocoa Tea will perform his hits “Rocking Dolly,” “I Lost My Sonia” and “No Blood for Oil” at the June 10 Reggae in the Springs Fest.
  • Dancehall star Cocoa Tea will perform his hits “Rocking Dolly,” “I Lost My Sonia” and “No Blood for Oil” at the June 10 Reggae in the Springs Fest.
The outside observer probably wouldn’t tag Colorado Springs as a reggae hotspot. Certainly, at least, not since the days of 32 Bleu, which played host to genre legends such as Toots and the Maytals.

That said, the city does have an ongoing habit of attracting both contemporary reggae and crossover chart-toppers (New Kingston, Matisyahu, Gyptian) and venerated luminaries (the Aston Barrett-led Wailers, who graced the Fine Arts Center with their presence in January).

Now, the Springs’ premiere purveyor of Jamaican cuisine, Spice Island Grill, is presenting their second annual Reggae in the Springs Fest on Sunday, June 10. With the one-day festival, so arrives another esteemed performer in our own backyard, Cocoa Tea, joined by veteran touring and recording artist Harry Mo in support (whom we’re happy to claim as a local reggae gem, his having been based in the Springs for years).

Past internationally acclaimed acts who’ve performed at Spice Island include the legendary Jamaican trio the Mighty Diamonds. And while Cocoa Tea might not be a household name throughout the U.S., he’s a performer you shouldn’t miss, even if your reggae knowledge only extends to Bob Marley and a few tracks from the soundtrack to The Harder They Come.

Born Calvin Scott in the small Jamaican town of Rocky Point, Cocoa Tea recorded his first single under his given name at the age of 14 after singing in school and church choirs during his childhood. His musical career didn’t take off immediately, however, so he spent the next few years working as a racehorse jockey and fisherman.

In the early 1980s, he moved to Kingston and took his performing name (based on his love of hot cocoa, or as it’s called in rural Jamaica, cocoa tea). He recorded a string of hit singles with highly influential dancehall producer Henry “Junjo” Lawes, including “Rocking Dolly,” “I Lost My Sonia” and “Can’t Stop Cocoa Tea.”
After Lawes relocated to New York City, Tea began working with another enormously influential producer, King Jammy, and continued his success with two albums and further hit singles. In 1985, Tea accepted the Rastafarian faith, which was reflected in the lyrical and thematic content of his music.

In 1989, Tea recorded with a supergroup that also featured Home T and Shabba Ranks, and the resultant album, Holding On (also known as Pirate’s Anthem), was a huge hit in Jamaica. But Tea’s 1990 single “Rikers Island,” and the subsequent “Oil Ting” and “No Blood for Oil,” introduced a striking element of social commentary into his music, generating both worldwide success and controversy. The anti-Gulf War sentiments found in “Oil Ting” found it banned in the UK.

Throughout the ’90s and beyond, Cocoa Tea remained one of the only early dancehall artists to enjoy a consistent touring and recording career, and managed plenty of further notable achievements — he released his 1997 LP Holy Mount Zion on Motown records, started his own label Roaring Lion, helped arrange the annual New Year’s Eve festival Dancehall Jam Jam in Jamaica, and released a single in 2008, “Barack Obama,” in support of the then-presidential candidate.

Meanwhile, in case Cocoa Tea’s sweet jams don’t supply you with enough rhythm for the week, swing by Sunshine Studios June 9 and 10 for the 2018 Drumming Up Hope Drumathon. The event, designed to raise money for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, features — as you might have guessed — 24 hours of continuous drumming.

Whether this is, from a musical standpoint, a dream come true or your worst nightmare, I suppose depends on the individual and their percussive inclination. However, it’s all for a good cause, and the recent Fort Collins edition of Drumming Up Hope managed to raise over $11,000 for the cause (as well as setting a world record for group drumming at 81 hours). So, Colorado Springs drummers, it’s finally your time to shine.

Send news, photos, and music to reverb@csindy.com.

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