The year's most impressive Reggae song impacted upon Jamaica with a force not experienced since Hurrican Gilbert, posting a question every man anoman had asked at least once in their lifetime: "If love so nice, tell me why it hurts so bad?" Utilizing the forceful baseline played by Aston "Familyman" Barrett on Bob Marley's timeless tune "Stir It Up" gave "If Love So Nice" a familiar underpinning even though the vocalist Junior Kelly, delivering a classic Jamaican blend of precision deejay timing and lovers rock crooning, was unknown to most Reggae fans.
Despite his seemingly sudden rise to success, Junior Kelly, also the writer of "If Love So Nice", has been assiduously toiling in the music industry since 1985. "Some say this is a lucky break, I say no, it's a result of hard work," explains the affable sing-jay Kelly who cut his first single "Over Her Body" in 1985 for Neco Records. "Some say that culture in the music is a dying art form but it's not. You have artists like myself who try to uplift the nation with words you can live by, there's just less attention given to us by radio disc jockeys".
Tall, dreadlocked Junior Kelly is a devout Rastafarian on a serious musical mission, which is manifested through the quality of his contemplative lyrics, the diversity of his substantial subject matter and his inspirational delivery. Born in Kingston 13, Junior was raised in nearby Spanishtown. Throughout his childhood, he was surrounded by music, his grandfather and father both played the banjo, his mother sang in the church and his older brother Jim was a popular deejay with the Killomanjaro Sound System.
There was a sense of comfort and security within the family; despite their poor economic status they were rich in other ways. "If it's soup tonight, we're happy, if it's crackers tomorrow, we're still happy," relates Junior, "because we knew we had each other to lean on." The family was plummeted into depression with the murder of Junior's oldest brother Jim. A part time caterer, Jim was the family's principal breadwinner and a role model for Junior. Jim regularly practiced his lyrical toasts in the family living room, greatly influencing the career path of his youngest brother.
After Jim's death Junior did roofing work to help support his family in addition to following sound systems all over the island for just the opportunity to demonstrate his vocal and lyrical talents. He also began auditioning for several of the producers comprising Kingston's crowded music circuit, attempting to record more songs. Adhering to his principled Rastafarian lifestyle, he refused to compromise his lyrical content by writing lewd lyrics or songs disrespecting women. Eight years transpired between his Neco Records debut and his subsequent single "Give Them A Bly" which launched Bob Marley's songs Ghetto Youths Label. In 1995 Junior released the single "Go To Hell" (for David Reid's Sky's The Limit Label), a scathing commentary on the social deprivation caused by Jamaica's political parties. Although the song was banned from the Jamaican airwaves it's provocative sentiment brought Junior some much deserved recognition.
Junior's career pace accelerated in late 1995 with appearances at major Jamaican stage shows including Reggae Sunsplash and Sting as well as shows in several northeastern American cities. While in America, he also recorded two songs, "Hungry Days" and "Good Tidings" for Willie Carson's Front Page label. He returned to Jamaica to concentrate on his song writing and met Michael Stanford of M-Rush Records for whom he recorded several singles including "Black Woman" and "If Love So Nice".
"If Love So Nice" took a detour through Europe along it's route to the top of the Jamaican charts, a position which it securely held for 15 weeks, making it the longest charting number one tune on the island for the year 2000. Junior had been unsuccessfully knocking on doors in Jamaica trying to the single played by the island's various sound system selectors and radio jocks. Meanwhile, England's Jet Star Records released the track in the UK on vinyl and CD single (along with "Rise" and "What Would It Take"). A disc jockey from Canada, Delroy G flew to England and while browsing through the Jet Star Record store he saw the CD single, played "If Love So Nice", loved the song, returned home and started to pump it on his radio station. Meanwhile, Jamaica based disc jock Richie B traveled to Canada for a tune for tune face off with Delroy G.
"Delroy drew that tune on him and the whole place lit up and Richie B asked Delroy if he could get a cut of that song," smiles Junior. "He got it and started playing it on his radio program, introducing me to the public as an English artist…. can you image that? Everybody started requesting it and it started playing until Richie B realized that this artist is in Jamaica. I got an interview with him and the English thing stopped. But it shows you, it goes full circle then back to Jamaica and I was knocking the doors there the whole time!"
Despite the attention "If Love So Nice" has deservingly received, Junior Kelly is more than one hit wonder; a listen to his Jet Star debut album "Rise" more than supports this claim: the self empowering title track, the spiritual cleansing detailed in "Purified", the gritty blues lament "Weep" as well as the romantic inclinations expressed in "My Heart" and "Let It Be ME" all demonstrate the diversity of his song writing expertise. His VP Records debut album "Love So Nice" scheduled to be released on April 3rd, 2001 continues along the same positive path presenting 16 new songs including the anti-gun "Juvenile", "Jewel of the Nile", "Jah No Dead" plus "If Love So Nice".
Junior's impressive performance at Montego Bay Jamaica's Reggae Sumfest in August 2000 and his extraordinary effort in his New York City debut at Queens Club Amazura in September are cited among the year's finest live Reggae performances. Just as humbly as he has dealt with his international chart success, Junior Kelly views the power of his live performances as a means to a far greater end. "When I'm in a crowd, it could only be 20 people and if someone say "I love your performance", that fills me up right in me heart," he states. "Artists have been pressured to go one route….. house, woman, car….. do not talk about nation buildings because you're not gonna reach nowhere. There's a message in the music and in the wrong hands it can be very dangerous, in the right hands, it can be very medicinal and therapeutic." And in the hands of Junior Kelly it's a correctly prescribed dosage of musical healing!
Written by Patricia Meschino and supplied by VP Records.