Words by Jesse Serwer
“I don’t like contrivancy,” Vaughn Benjamin told us when we met up with him on the waterfront in his hometown of Frederiksted, St. Croix, last summer. “Mi mus’ talk real.”
The founder and frontman of Virgin Islands reggae kings Midnite rarely grants interviews, so we knew if we were to catch him on our visit to the USVI, we had to meet him on his own turf. So we linked our good friend Laurent “Tippy” Alfred of I Grade Records (producer of many of Midnite’s finest recordings), gathered Vaughn’s fellow Virgin Islands reggae ambassador (and frequent collaborator) Pressure Busspipe, and made a beeline for Frederiksted as we started our Virgin Islands journey. Arriving just in time to catch the last, glowing rays of St. Croix sunshine, we let the camera roll as Vaughn and Pressure spoke on their music, their friendship, and the history of the islands they call home. No contrivancy — just real talk.
History is all around you in Frederiksted, a place better known locally as “Freedom City.” Framing the background of our shoot is Fort Frederik, a reminder of the island’s past as a Danish colony, and the site of both the 1848 revolt that led to the abolition of slavery in St. Croix, and “Fireburn,” an 1879 uprising that put an end to the neo-slavery of the contract labor system.
“Fireburn,” recently dramatized in Pressure’s video for “Stand Firm,” emerges as a topic in our video, as does the rebellious spirit of St. Croix, and the volcano-like eruption of conscious reggae currently emanating from the island. Thanks in no small part to the efforts of Vaughn, Midnite and Pressure, the Virgin Islands as a whole have emerged as an important hotbed for reggae music in recent years. But St. Croix is without a doubt the epicenter. Pressure, a product of St. Thomas, describes how he gains inspiration from the vibes and energy of St. Croix, noting: “The true Virgin Islands history culture is preserved on this island.”
The opening of the video is set to “The System,” a yet-to-be-released collaboration between Pressure and Vaughn recorded just moments after our interview. In fact, you can see a snippet of that session, at Christiansted’s Aqua Sounds studio, in the clip.
Watch the webisode, entitled “Vaughn Benjamin + Pressure Busspipe Hold a Vibes,” below; see more from our visit to Freedom City with Vaughn and Pressure here; and check out our full Virgin Islands Nice series here for more music, life and culture in the USVI.
Directed by Martei Korley
Produced by Martei Korley and Jesse Serwer
Edited by Paul Cusin and Josiah Winans
Additional Footage by Rashad Martinez
Special Thanks to: Laurent “Tippy” Alfred and I Grade Records, Heather Gibbs and the US Virgin Islands Dept. of Tourism.
“The System” by Pressure feat. Midnite (D. Brown, V. Benjamin, L. Alfred, D. Goldfine)
“The Sound Instrumental Mix” by SoundPonics (L. Alfred and P. Coursey)
“Nothing No Wrong Instrumental Mix” by Zion I Kings (L. Alfred, A. Bain & D. Goldfine)
“Virgin Islands Nice” by Pressure (D. Brown, L. Alfred, D. Goldfine, P. Coursey)