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Christopher Alexander Smith (born March 2, 1974, Kingston, Jamaica), better known by his stage names Irie Jah Chris or IJ Chris, is a Jamaican singer and songwriter. Chris has relative links with Ernest Ranglin who completed the arrangement of, and played guitar on, the international hit “My Boy Lollipop” by singer Millie (Millicent Small).
Christopher “Irie Jah” Smith was born in the parish of Kingston, Jamaica. Chris grew up in the volatile community of East Kingston and, as a toddler and having a strict and seldom quiet single mother, had to learn to demonstrate the difference between right and wrong.
His aspiration of becoming a singer and having a proper education was not forthcoming, as at the age of fifteen Chris had to take on the role of manhood, assisting his mother in taking care of his younger brother. With attributes such as perseverance and willingness, Chris struggled and hustled jobs to make ends meet in order to stay away from the negativities of the inner city while assisting his family. Despite the obstacles, and being the ambitious person he is, this did not deter him from being an honest individual.
Not forsaking his dreams he, however, became a father at the age of nineteen and realised that only with a strong conviction would he survive the hustle and bustle of being a taxi driver to provide for his son. Never losing sight of the prize of fulfilling his dream of being a singer, Chris would sing at every opportunity, and at particularly low periods, it provided some comfort.
Chris’ first songs made him realise that life was for everyone – you just had to go and capture it. So, you’ll find that his lyrics reflect some of his own life story, and the reality of normal living in today’s world. With a love for people and society, the consciousness of his songs is forthcoming and educating to the listening ear. Chris hopes to touch the heart, and to make a difference to people’s lives whilst shaping the right way for his son.
Chris began his musical career during 2004 by recording a number of songs that he had recently composed. The songs: “Babylon You’re Wrong”, “Oh My God” and “Everyday”, all had a conscious, political story to tell and were based upon everyday Jamaican life. They were recorded in a traditional, roots reggae rhythm style. Chris will admit that these songs were very ‘rough and ready’ and not really suitable for any serious promotion, but it did generate the enthusiasm and desire to create better things.
One of the good things to come from the early work was a rhythm track that would be remixed to form the basis of the first really serious recordings. Three different lyrical and mix version were produced: “Bun Down Babylon” with a strong political message, “Lonely” with a more commercial theme and “Living In The City” which was a humorous ‘take’ on life recorded with some spare studio time. The songs were finalised towards the end of 2004 and recorded and launched in early 2005. An alternate version of “Bun Down Babylon” was created at the same time using the backing vocals from “Lonely” and intermixing with the originals.
Chris had caught the ‘bug’, and a further two songs were created in the first half of 2005: “Where You Gonna Hide” with a very strong message condemning violence, and “Keep Pushing” with lyrics about the everyday struggles in life and keeping on the right path. Following some valuable input from Ernie Ranglin, work began on test versions of a further two songs during the later part of the year.
2006 saw the launch of “Down In The Ghetto” and “I’m A Man”. “Down In The Ghetto” was an upbeat song with a very strong rhythm that lyrically retold some of Chris’ own life experience. “I’m A Man” had a very subtle reggae rhythm and veered more towards R&B. The lyrics were based on a mixture of Chris’ own, and a friend’s, relationship experiences but could also relate to any number of people.
There was only one further song created during this period – the unfinished “So Close To You”. The song was an upbeat, commercial love song.
Up, down and out
During the first half of 2005 Chris had linked up with a recognised organiser/promoter and live public promotion of his work began. A notable performance occurred at the ‘Tear Down The Barriers’ event in Kingston. Chris performed three songs, and the audience response caused some embarrassment to the other established artiste’s who were headlining the event.
One comical and memorable venture in the later part of 2005 concerned a best friend’s stag night (Chris was Best Man). The group decided to frequent a well known Ocho Rios ‘Go-Go’ club. Rather than attending for the normal activities the venue was used to test PA the then unfinished “Down In The Ghetto” with the audience. It went down a ‘storm’ with numerous encores throughout the night.
In September of that year Chris was approached by a ‘promoter’ relative, and against all best advice, Chris swopped promotional allegiance. Work began on a video to showcase the song “Keep Pushing” and Chris scrimped and scraped to put together enough funds for further promotional activity.
During 2006 Chris promoted his work wherever possible and it became obvious that he was not getting the expected support from his chosen promoter. Chris was working constantly at his normal job in order to cover his living expenses and then organising and performing whenever he could in any spare time. Things came to head towards the end of the year and finally came to an end when his promoter left the country after using his funds for personal reasons.
Disheartened and at an all time low Chris gave up on his musical career.
The music lay dormant for a number of years but Chris’ interest started to return and he started song writing again. In January 2010, Chris’ best friend from the UK visited Jamaica and they spent some time together. During a humorous evening in local bar the conversation turned towards music and Chris said that his interest had returned. The conversation turned a little more serious and Chris was tested on his commitment and drive in going forward.
Things moved very quickly from this point and with his friend in support and now managing, Chris finished the writing of and recorded two new songs: “Rich Man’s Paradise” and “Hungry”. Both songs have up-tempo rhythms demonstrating Chris’ new enthusiasm, and the lyrics continue to express normal life in Jamaica, albeit in a much more commercial and global way. Careful coaching on format and the use of a new studio and team produced two very good songs and serious work took place in creating various Internet sites, promotion and support. A whole, new, different approach to what had occurred before.
The two new, and six of Chris’ earlier songs, were put together as a compilation EP under the title of “Life’s Messages”. In late August 2010 this EP was released digitally through the Internet on the Island Def Jam Digital Distribution label and also made available on-line as a physical CD through Chris’ own ReverbNation site.
2011 started well for Chris, and he became part of THE H PROJECT – a collaboration of conscious global reggae artistes working in aid of two Haiti charities. Four versions of a rhythm track composed and mastered by The Next Room, feature artistes who compiled and perform their own verses and then harmonise across the choruses. Chris composed the common choruses that link the versions together. Other artistes involved in the project are: Adele Harley, Brina, Geoffrey Star, JC Lodge, Jeck Pilpil, Kehv, Kym Hamilton, Lovella Ellis, Mackie Conscious, Peter Spence, Purpose, Ricky Grant, Sheldon Senior, Spanner Banner, Stuart Wilson and Winsome Benjamin
Whilst conscious roots reggae will always be at the centre of Chris’ musical heart he has the ability to embrace a number of more commercial musical genres and he is expanding his catalogue to include soca, R&B and more reggae-pop as well as other popular genres. Chris began working more closely with The Next Room Productions in the UK and Jon Ben Berger at Rhythmman Records in Sweden during 2011 in addition to his traditional Jamaican studios and rhythm providers.
IJ Chris’s tracks