Arts, Culture & Media

Global Hit - Compass Point Studios

�The Rolling Stones were down there, Talking Heads were down there, Dire Straits in the early days, AC-DC doing the Back to Black album.�

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That's music writer David Katz talking about some of the bands that have recorded at Compass Point studios.

Compass Point was the brainchild of music producer, entrepreneur, and impresario Chris Blackwell.

The Jamaican helped put Bob Marley on the international stage. Blackwell also knew that part of Marley's success wasn't just Marley. It was his rhythm section: Sly Dunbar on drums and Robbie Shakespeare on bass.

Sly and Robbie became the axis upon which Chris Blackwell would spin a new dream.

�Assemble a core of session players that could rival the all time great session players of studios like Stax or Motown, and get them together and let them jam and see what came out of it. And then bring down other artists that had no connection to the Caribbean, and have them interact with these musicians. And I think that's partly what makes this music so great.�

OK, so perhaps your recollection of pop music in the 80s isn't so warm and fuzzy.

One listen though to a new collection of the progressive sounds musicians were creating at Compass Point in the 80s ought to balance things out.

Tina Weymouth and Chris Frantz of the Talking Heads recorded their Tom Tom Club side-project at Compass Point.

"Genius of Love," became a huge hit for the Tom Tom Club in Europe, then landed on dance floors in America.

Ever since, "Genius of Love" has been a staple for hip-hop producers, and has been sampled dozens of times.

Chris Blackwell had hoped the musicians he gathered at Compass Point would be creative.

And that's precisely why he decided to locate the studio in the Bahamas, not his home of Kingston, Jamaica.

David Katz wrote the liner notes to the collection titled "Funky Nassau: The Compass Point Story 1980-1986."

�The idea was, get all of these folks together, put them in a very relaxed tropical setting, with a brand new, state-of-the-art studio but with nothing else around it. Just some apartments with a view of the beach above the studio, and aside from a little place to eat, nothing else nearby. So no distractions. In some ways it's the polar opposite of what one encounters in Kingston, Jamaica. You know, when you go into a recording studio in Kingston, you're in a little bubble. You're making music. As soon as you step out of the studio, it's total chaos. You know, endless distractions and quite a volatile atmosphere. Well Compass Point was exactly the opposite. You step outside the studio, there's nothing but tranquillity. And in fact, Sly Dunbar, when I interviewed him about the music on this release, he said, hmm, Compass Point, you could describe it as oceanic sounds, the sound of the sea coming into the music.�

One of the musicians Chris Blackwell had recruited for Compass Point was the Paris-based keyboard player Wally Badarou.

Badarou's first appointment at Compass Point was to play alongside a promising disco diva named Grace Jones.

When Badarou got to the Bahamas, there was no Grace.

No Sly, no Robbie.

So Badarou waited.

He waited three weeks before the whole crew showed up.

And when they finally started playing, David Katz says Badarou didn't even find the music all that compelling.

But Compass Point, as Chris Blackwell had intended, created a fertile atmosphere that got all the musicians' juices flowing, even in moments of doubt�like the session for Grace Jones' dance hit, "My Jamaican Guy."

It too became a hip-hop staple.

�According to Wally Badarou, the keyboard hook came from some other piece of music he had been developing independently. And then I think Sly Dunbar was explaining the rhythm was partly patterned around an old mento beat, the old folk music of Jamaica, because of the way Grace Jones had phrased her lyrics, with a kind of pause in the middle. So that it was like "My, takka takka tak, Jamaican guy."

Disco faded. Chris Blackwell got distracted by other business interests. And by the mid-80s, an even more harmful factor pushed Compass Point past the tipping point.

�The entire Caribbean region was really sort of hit by a bad destructive force. Cocaine coming from Colombia and Peru was suddenly being transported in large quantities to the Caribbean to then be shipped on to American and Europe. And so you had really drastic consequences in Jamaica, and also in the Bahamas, especially on the island of New Providence which is where Compass Point was based.�

It was bad business for the island. Compass Point became as much a coke destination as a music destination.
Not surprisingly, little good music got produced and Compass Point shut down for several years to retool.

The sound the studio innovated lives on today.

Compass Point encouraged mainstream producers to fuse disparate styles and sounds on a single track.

And current electronic hip-hop styles in the UK like grime and dub-step owe a lot of their dance-ability to the innovations at Compass Point.

Compass Point is still standing. And musicians travel to the Bahamas to record there. But the days of the legendary Compass Point house band are gone.

�Maybe you couldn't replicate what was there from 79, 80 up to 86. You know. It was just a unique time and a unique set of players.�

Those players -- and what they created -- can still be heard on the collection titled "Funky Nassau: The Compass Point Story 1980-1986."

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