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A Tribute to Father German - Rise in the Power of Reggae
04/17/2020 by Amy Wachtel
The sudden passing of Father German, on Thursday morning, April 2nd 2020, due to complications from the Corona Virus (Covid-19), has left so many in the NYC and worldwide Reggae Community bereft, stunned and heartbroken.
When Reggaeville tapped me to write a tribute for Father German, I was deeply moved, and very honored. Father German had ties with so many different people, and in tracking them down and talking to them about him, I discovered it was a way of keeping him alive. It was like putting pieces of a jigsaw puzzle together; there was always another piece; each different, but with a unified theme. Each call led me to the suggestion of a next person to check. There were many more people I reached out to, but not everybody responded or was available. The list could have gone on for weeks. I’ve never written for Reggaeville before this; and one night, while talking with Rootsman Chin, who provided so many of the beautiful pictures for this piece. I realized that somehow, this was Father German’s gift to me.
Father German, who’s birth name was German Vera, Jr was best known in New York reggae circles (and beyond) for his countless events and parties at The Den in East Flatbush (Brooklyn), King Lion Entertainment (King Lion Sound), and for the Power of Reggae media company (POR). He could be seen at any given time, at any given hour, in a New York club in various boroughs, or overseas, holding up his iconic POR sticker, or having an artist – either legendary or up and coming, proudly posing with it.
The Power of Reggae, complete with its Monday night radio shows live from The Den with a talented cast of DJs and talents, was made possible by a team of people. To many, Father German was it’s face.
Whether you knew Father German from the mid-to-late 1990’s when he was doing road work with Junior Reid, or from King Lion Sound, from later on in the 2000’s forward with The Den, Soul Beat/ Soul Jah Sundays, Leftfield for Link Up Tuesdays, Milk River, and more, he was a person who always made a room feel better; safer; more welcoming.
Once Father German sited up Rastafari, his sound and his mission became strictly conscious Reggae music only. His goal was to spread this music and it’s message wherever he could, however he could, in a world wide way.
In addition to being a devoted father to his two children, many others also felt a fatherly, or brotherly connection to him. Father German would give you the shirt off his back. He was particularly supportive of women in reggae, and often booked shows featuring women artistes and DJs. People felt safe, encouraged and protected by Father German. Word Sound has Power, after all, and his name was FATHER German.
German lived by the credo “Support Those Who Support You.” This sentiment was reiterated by everybody I spoke to in preparation for this article.
DJ Ayanna Heaven, who started at POR radio at the end of 2019, would see Father German once a week, on Mondays, when she came in to do the radio show. “He was a good, kind, person who cared about what he did. He had a mission. He gave people opportunities, no matter race, creed, gender, or background. He showed respect and care to people from all walks of life.”
Brooklyn-based Charlie Brown, of BBC HiFi and CEO of Top of the Hill Music Group, was also struck by Father German’s ability to “bring together so many different people under one flag – women, men, black, white, Rasta, baldhead, young, old. And that’s rare.” Brown reflected on how Father German wasn’t about the money; he spoke of his character, and of his generosity, “He was smart. He knew good music. He wanted people to be happy. He was the host with the most.” Charlie Brown said that “once he knew how to make his own flyers and stuff, and knew how to run his company – that was enough”. He knew Father German from 2005. One summer, Father German asked Charlie Brown if he could feature one of his mix tapes on his website. Brown was “honored for the call and request for permission; and was honored for the endorsement.” As time went on, Charlie Brown would see Father German in Jamaica promoting P.O.R. “He was all over. All boroughs, except Staten Island.”
Photographer Rootsman Chin recalled having a discussion with Father German one time at Public Records in Brooklyn. Primarily,Father German had told him that he was “on a mission to spread reggae music and was trying to help upcoming artists.” Chin mused that “nobody will really have his commitment”.
DeeJay Gravy, founder of Large Up said German’s passing was “super hard. It’s hard to process anything right now; it’s such a vacuum of a time.” With German “everything was just one hundred percent positive. He made everyone feel a part of it; like a huge community.” Jesse Serwer, Large Up editorial director, said that he isn’t that public and doesn’t hang out at a lot of events. But, when he met Father German, he “was touched by his sincerity.”
Whether you knew German well, or just casually from the scene, his quiet, yet big presence, his kind eyes, his warmth, radiated. His big, ginormous, bear hugs was one of his trademarks, as well as the sign of the Lion Paw with his hand.
Father German held shows at Milk River, a venue in Brooklyn, for a stretch of time. Carter Van Pelt, of VP Records and founder of Reggae on the Boardwalk recalls the Horace Andy show there being quite memorable. Father German wanted to come in as a sponsor for Reggae on the Boardwalk. When there were no funds, there was always barter. Father German’s ability to dream big, and treat people right, opened many doors and created opportunities.
Floz Panseri, long time tour manager for The Skatalites, came to Brooklyn from her native Italy in 2015, and met Father German early on in 2016. They became close friends. “I can say that he was the most generous person ever, he was working hard. Waking up at 3am to go to the City to work till 1, coming back home on Monday working on the radio. Doesn’t matter his schedule, he was always out there to support people.”
So many people I spoke to echoed her sentiments about Father German’s ability to forego sleep. “He wasn’t worry to don’t sleep, but he was concerned to support the people; he was protecting and supporting women badly, he was all for the Queens, as a father, a protector,” Floz said. “I think that he did for many people and we can see that from the love and the devastation that he created all around with this loss. For artists like Lila Iké, Iba Mahr, Naomi Cowan, Tuff Like Iron, he was the one that once they came to NYC for the first time, he just carried them everywhere. He always introduced people to people. He was just like that, he wanted to see people together; he wanted to create connections.”
Maddie Ruthless of the Far East Band echoed that sentiment: “He was the great connector, a beacon of strength. He introduced you to everybody at the dance – Horace Andy! Sammy Dread! He was always supportive with positivity and encouragement. He was always hatching a scheme on your behalf!” Maddie recalls that “he kind of came out of no where in her life, and then became an Angel. He’s so inspirational. He was the glue of NY Reggae. He genuinely wanted to see a more woman-focused reggae scene.” A bit of a mystery, Father German always seemed to want to know more about you, than he was willing to share about himself. Such a rare breed of humility and care, Maddie called him an “unmatched person”.
Don Miller, a young selector who lived in NYC around 2012-2016, passed through a party in the early days of The Den, at the recommendation of Ras Teyo who he randomly met while buying records at Deadly Dragon. There he met German and Beanz, “who were welcoming and kind. Beanz was cooking food out on the grill, and German introduced me to his sister Karla, who was bartending”. Miller goes on to say “that started my relationship with Soul Beat, later Soul Jah Sundays. There were some other names over the years, too, but The Den was the location where we held parties most of the time, and eventually the group of selectors that played there, grew tight like a family: German, Beanz, Tayo, Lioness, Sweet V, Real Ras, DJ Rich and Kandu (from King Lion), African Violet, Azad One Wise, John Dubstar, Willow Tree, Granty Hi-Fi, Mikey Spectrum, Snypa Movements, Jonny Go Figure, King Shane from Black Talons, Ras Smack, Shawne/Black Empresses 368, and others that played less regularly.”
Miller continues, with a variation of a sentiment and story, that many of the folks I spoke with echoed. “Throughout all of my time at The Den, German was the one that welcomed everyone in, threw parties for everyone’s birthdays, got there early to set up, stayed late after everyone left – often going upstairs to shower and go straight to work, without even a chance to sleep [Editor’s note: The DEN was the basement of Father German’s home in Brooklyn. He lived on the second floor]. I was blown away when I found out he had been washing windows at the same building for over a decade, taking the train daily from East Flatbush to Upper Manhattan. I’d get home late from the Den, wake up and drag myself to work the next day, only to be on the subway and see his “Blessed Rising” posts with sunrise and sky-high views from the side of a skyscraper in NYC. His dedication to reggae music and his musical friends and family was unwavering.”
German’s sister Karla Vera, has been his partner in everything, whether it was bartending a party, working the front door, or doing whatever had to be done. Out of four siblings, German and Karla were like the middle children, and they share the same group of friends. She remembers that it’s since his teens that he first got into reggae. Once he was Rasta, Karla recalled, he gravitated toward Consciousness. He began The Den. They made a musical family from a bunch of different walks of life. They had heartfelt conversations. She was proud of her brother. The things he did, “he did it for the love of reggae. He surrounded all of the things he did with Love.”
Karla said that her brother “knew how to organize.” I make mention of the fact that he was a Virgo (astrologically known to be very organized). “Yes,” Karla acknowledges, “he’s a Virgo and I’m a Pisces, so we work perfectly together.” (Pisces is completely opposite Virgo on the astro wheel). “I was his rock.” She also said that her brother could be “silly, and somewhat of a comedian.”
In speaking with Karla, I couldn’t help but notice that she had the same powerful, steady and positive traits as her brother. Here she was, mourning the sudden loss of her best friend, brother and partner. Due to the current situation with the Corona Virus (Covid-19), which is what ultimately took Father German’s life, she cannot properly mourn her brother; no gatherings with family or friends. No hugs of consolation and comfort. All of New York is currently “staying at home.” Karla spoke with a strength and a faith that commands respect and admiration.
DJ Grace of Spades couldn’t recall exactly when they met. Funny enough, many of us can’t remember the exact moment Father German entered our lives, but once he did, it was a very good thing. Grace figures that she probably met him at a Deadly Dragon thing on a Thursday night where she DJ’d. He immediately invited her to come DJ at the Den for March Women’s Month. It was her first time at The Den, and it was her, Sweet V, Empress 368, Mama Lioness, and maybe also African Violet. “Everybody was doing it for the love; nobody was making any money,” Grace recalled. “Quietly, on the side German slipped me $30 cause he knew I had a long cab ride home. He always wanted to make sure that his people got home all right.” “He gave so much to the Community” says Grace, like the consensus of mostly everybody I spoke with said. “He’d always make sure that dates worked for everyone. She worked many of his parties, including Queens Night in March at Milk River."
Like Grace, like myself, Father German was a Virgo. Grace said that the shared sign was a big part of them; it was an almost immediate conversation and connection. I have to say, same here. I guess it’s a Virgo thing. Father German enjoyed celebrating his birthday, and generally held a big party. Floz says that “he was really focused on it, and it was very important for him to celebrate it with music, people and love."
One of the POR staples has got to be Jonny GoFigure. When he started, Jonny GoFigure used to play records on the radio show. No mic, just played music. I was told that he was a younger, different guy than the person he has emerged as today. It is at the Den that Jonny first developed as a selector, and then he grew as an artist. He and Father German were tight like brothers. Like best friends.
Jen G who does street promotion for POR, said that “he showed what seemed to be impossible was possible.”
Father German was one of the early supporters of the Ethiopian Worldwide Federation’s (EWF) petitioning for the UN to declare November 2nd an International Day honoring His Imperial Majesty, Emperor Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia. (H.I.M. coronation was on that date in 1930). Denroy Morgan saluted German’s efforts to get behind this cause. Check the petition @ UNDayforHaileSelassie.org
The Jamaican Newspaper, The Gleaner, shared a statement from POR and the King Lion Sound family detailing Father German’s vision and his legacy. “In recounting the genesis of the Power of Reggae (POR), the family explained that Knxtti Chris, an artist German worked with while managing the reggae/rap collective Thunderlions, agreed to partner with German to form a media company that would serve as a hub for reggae artistes spanning all cultures, races and languages. Out of this union, German’s passion for reggae music and promotions, and Knxtti’s knowledge of technology and design, Power of Reggae was born. A motley crew of reggae lovers came on board to make this mission a movement.”
Some of the POR staff include:
Father German Vera – CEO
Chris Knxtti – CEO
Droxy: King Lion Sound
Andre Madden: Interviewer/Radio Personality
Jen G: Street Promotions
Genie Sweetness: Public Relations Consultant
Jonny GoFigure: DJ/Personality
Diamond from Natural Mystic Soldiers
Snypa Movements, Bubbles, Cecily, Bingi, Ayanna Heaven
Father German was born German Vera, Jr in Brooklyn, NY on September 9, 1972. He is survived by his father, German Vera and his mother, Elda Mills, both of whom were born in Guatamala. German is survived by the loves of his life, his son Christopher and daughter Tahiri Jahnai (“Titi”), as well as his sister and partner, Karla, and his brother Eric. He was predeceased by his sister Ingrid. He died due to complications of the Covid-19 virus.
As already stressed, because of the lockdown situation and rules in play with physical distancing regarding the danger of spreading the Corona Virus, there was no funeral or gathering of any sort for Father German. A wildly successful GoFundMe Campaign was put together by the family to help with costs, attesting to the community’s love and support of this man.
Karla promises, that when the time is right, we will all get together and celebrate her brother. With hugs, and love and music. And each other. I commented to her how it often seems that throughout history, when you come upon a person like Father German – somebody who unites people, is calm, loving and a bit mysterious like a mystic or the Buddha – that they tend to leave the earthly plane at a fairly early age. “Yes,” Karla agreed, “there seems to be a calling for these kinds of people in the Higher Heights. I’ve got to believe it’s their time, and his work here is done, and it was done well. I wish it didn’t happen in this way and in this time.”
In what appears to be his last facebook post, dated March 15, 2020, he shared a Facebook memory from 2016 where he wrote: “Wombman can always tell you when u have negative people or energy around u ….Jah BLESS my ORACLES!”. In his 2020 repost of this, he wrote “Still to this day” with a praying hand emoji.
On May 7, 2019, almost 3 weeks after the passing of his sister, Ingrid, Father German posted a pic of himself in a thoughtful, meditative state. He wrote: “Meditation… LIFE is short … LIVE it to the fullest … Make your transactions POSITIVE…So in your HEART u know … if you can’t say GOODBYE to people you LOVE … You and Dem was Good … positively positive -Father G.”
Father German kept things right with people. We all wish it didn’t happen this way and in this time.
Amy Wachtel aka The Night Nurse, lives in NYC. She’s a radio DJ and publicist, who’s been promoting and writing about Reggae music since the early 1980's. Her radio show, “Rockers Arena” broadcasts every other Friday, from 9am-12 noon EST on WPKN-FM radio/ www.wpkn.org
Photos by Rootsman Chin - VisualsByChin.com and Karla Vera / Vera Family | Sketch by Zannah Marsh