In times of political, societal and economic discord, lifting up and loving outward seems all the more necessary. It’s the foundation of reggae—a music genre many turn to for its good vibes but which feeds the soul even more.
“Reggae music is message music,” says Kimberly McLaughlin-Smith, also known as “Night Nurse,” from her radio show Reggae Redemption, airing on Modern Rock 98.7, airing Sundays from 10 a.m. to noon. “Its origins are of course in Jamaica, by way of disenfranchised Afro-Jamaicans who grew to prominence dating back to the 1930s. Their rise was a direct response to the far-reaching and overwhelming British colonialism at the time, much like the colonialism that America suffered then.”
For McLaughlin-Smith and many Rastas worldwide, reggae is worship, meant to lift the name of Haile Selassie, who some considered a human prophet that found sanctity in every individual. He was crowned emperor in Ethiopia in 1930, and Rastas look to his fulfilled biblical prophecy of becoming a black king as a mark of hope.
“A huge misconception is Rastafari is an ‘ism’ or a religion,” McLaughlin-Smith clarifies. “Both notions are false. Living ‘Rastafari’ is a way of life. . . . It is rooted on so much goodness and light.”
Reggae Redemption is going on 27 years of being a Wilmington staple. It began in 1993, after McLaughlin-Smith walked into NPR affiliate WHQR’s offices, inquiring about bringing her favorite genre to their airwaves. She loved listening to reggae on a station in her former town, Durham, and couldn’t find anything like it in Wilmington. Having no experience in radio, she managed to convince WHQR to launch Reggae Nites, and learned the ins and outs of producing a radio program from mentors like Jim Tremble, Jemila Ericson and the late, great Flamenco guitarist Paco Strickland.
“The general manager at the time is one of my Earth angels, Michael Titterton,” McLaughlin-Smith says. “He was the one who looked at my wonky show concept on a yellow legal pad and said ‘yes!’”
Thus the Night Nurse was born. McLaughlin-Smith did the show for free for the first three years. “That is how much I loved and still love this music and the culture attached to it,” she says. Ocean Broadcasting’s Rock 104.5 caught the positivity in 1996 and offered Night Nurse a new home. She stayed there for almost a decade. In 2004 SeaComm Media—original founders of the Carolina Penguin 106.7 (now owned by Local Voice Media as Penguin 98.3)—came knocking. McLaughlin-Smith also became the station’s marketing manager for a short time and hosted Reggae Redemption at the Penguin until December 2011. Then, Sunrise Media’s Modern Rock 98.7 wanted to add the show to its lineup.
“When I first came to Modern Rock 98.7, I produced Reggae Redemption from my home studio,” McLaughlin-Smith tells. “I am a private contractor and not an employee of the station, so it made sense. About six months in, there were technical difficulties and I began producing the show in studio.”
Last Sunday, March 15, 2020, Reggae Redemption returned to its roots due to precautions from COVID-19. The station heads were taking measures against the spread of the coronavirus and mandating social distancing.
“I was told by management they were in need of placing the show on hiatus, unless I could somehow produce it outside the station,” McLaughlin-Smith says. “I am very grateful for that alternative offer. I have received tremendous support from my colleagues at Sunrise, in terms of making the remote production efforts work.”
On March 22, with the help of her co-executive producer Chuck Denson, she broadcast from home and with a new tag of “bringing the people and the music to the people.” Since Rasta is spiritually rooted in social commentary, it felt fitting to keep the message and music flowing.
“So often simple-minded folk think [reggae] is what they hear on cruise ships and at vacation resorts,” McLaughlin-Smith adds. “This music isn’t for folly. For those of us who live it and study the teachings, it is holy and divine, meant to lift up the name of Emperor Rastafari. As the reggae band Third World sang, it’s ‘Serious Business.’”
McLaughlin-Smith’s audience loves all the classic reggae artists and those who maintain the same respect for the classics’ style and delivery. She plays songs from internationally acclaimed performers, down to locals who have yet to record an album. Naturally, folks hear genre icons (Steel Pulse, Bob Marley and the Wailers, Peter Tosh, Annette Brissett, Della Grant and the Mystic Revelers), plus contemporaries like Morgan Heritage, Jessie Royal, Chronixx, and the new Queen of Reggae, Koffee—the genre’s first female GRAMMY winner in 2020. Local and regional artists, like Treehouse Reggae Band, DHIM, and Zion Roots or Pure Fiyah, also get air play.
As McLaughlin-Smith begins a new journey for her programming, she also will curate a bit differently than normal. Every Sunday, with the help of EJ Smith, she will be going live on social media. The idea is to connect more directly with listeners during a time of physical disconnection globally.
“It will make it possible for fans to show their love via a fan page, which is under construction as we speak,” McLaughlin-Smith says. She asks fans to create video testimonials that will air on her social media. Folks also can call her hotline and make requests, Thursday through Saturday, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.
“Just leave a voicemail, and we will grab it and spin it on the show,” she promises. “With a couple of decades on air now, I know this is my true purpose. This now is my nondenominational musical ministry.”