In the previous instalments of this story we saw the kid from Grande move on from the family’s snackette to build the most popular sound system of the 1980s. He then led the team that created the top radio station of the 1990s into the 2000s.
Then just as one thought Anthony “Chinese Laundry” Chow Lin On would, as they say, rock back and cool himself, he picked up the pace and was again moving up and forward full speed. Chow decided to delve into music production and assembled Link Up Productions.
Permit me to retrace Chow’s pathway to Link Up and future explorations into the jungle that is T&T’s music arena. To be real, some within the local entertainment circles and some not directly involved in the business of music have not been kind to Chow or in their opinion of him.
“Whah dah Chinee know bout producing music?” And “How he jump in jus so? He was never de DJ. He used to jus pelt out money,” were only a couple of the things I personally heard people say of Chow in those early days. People who don’t know or care for the truth will always create conspiracy theories, especially those craving to be the centre of attention in a lime and have no real conversational skill.
Early on Chow’s father and uncle encouraged him to be a part of whatever they were doing. “When I was around 10 or 11, I was in Uncle Ellis’s office at KH Studios and him saying a new artiste dropped a box of cassettes for him to listen to and I should take a listen. As I was running through the tapes, I told him I liked a song called ‘Tempo’.
“Uncle Ellis went on to record a song called ‘Jake and Blake’ but he also recorded ‘Tempo’ for the B side of the 45. ‘Tempo’ ended up being a runaway runway hit for Maestro.
“To this day, I have no idea if my recommendation was actually the swing factor in Uncle Ellis’s decision to also record ‘Tempo’. But that’s the version of the story I prefer and the version I tell to this day,” Chow said, laughing.
In the years that followed Chow continued to develop his ear and the ability to predict what song would become a hit. This served him well as a DJ and then as a radio programmer. Chow also developed a desire to be involved in the production of music and as soon as he was in a position where he could, he created the platform from which to do so.
“In the mid 1990s, I decided to pursue my ambition to be like Uncle Ellis and become a record producer and assembled Link Up Productions, now known as Chinese Laundry Music. We amalgamated, in my view, some of the best young producers and engineers as well as a few of the tried and proven veterans.
The team comprised the likes of Robin Imamshah, Carl “Beaver” Henderson, Ken Holder, Jason Lee, Kirk Mitchell, Lyndon Livingston, Terrence James, Brian Morris and Ricky Dan. We also outsourced additional talent like Graeme Wilson, Martin “Mice” Raymond and Joey Ng Wai.”
Link Up launched the careers of many top tier artistes among them, Destra, MX Prime, Three Suns, Jadee, Precious, Kings of Origin, and Shurwayne Winchester to name a few. We produced Bunji Garlin’s, ‘Fete is Fete’. The first soca songs for Jamaican artistes Beenie Man and Capleton were produced at Link Up. We did songs for Alison Hinds and other Caribbean artistes,” Chow said. I should note here that Link Up did not only produce soca music.
For example, early recordings of Destra included rhythm and blues, pop and gospel. They also produced a form of dance music as well as a unique hybrid of soca and dancehall, something different to raga-soca.
Constructing a brand
Chow always had a vision that Chinese Laundry would be not only sound system, but a brand encompassing every element of entertainment. His vision began with being a DJ and evolved into a full-fledged sound system. From there he and his associates saw Chinese Laundry parties, the invitations and tickets for which were customised, and even their own fashion line.
“In the early 1980s I started to do party promotions with two of my closest friends Peter Samuel and Hollis Kam. I also did some modelling and was a part of the vibrant fashion scene at the time featuring designers such as, Cyprian Thomas, Andre Burke and The Cloth.
“A bond was forming with my friend Curtis Popplwell who was also a DJ. Curtis was a dapper dresser and I had a reputation for the avant-garde, it was not unusual for me to turn up at any given party with my two hoop earrings, a skirt, long flowing open back shirt and costume jewelry for boys. Looking back I’m saying to myself, what the hell was I thinking? Lol. Curtis and myself started to develop a DJ sound system that not just reflected our personal taste, but what we felt was a void in the party circuit and a need for something new and innovative.
“We started to work on designs for party invitations, enlisted Trevor Craigwell to manufacture an exclusive clothes line with our label on it, build on set designs to present ourselves on stage and so the Chinese Laundry movement was born,” Chow said.
Chow was one of the first DJ’s to invest in dub plates from Jamaican artistes back in the 1980’s. He regularly travelled to Jamaica and developed friendships with many of the artistes out there.
This led to the many sold out concerts featuring
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the most popular reggae and dancehall artistes.
“I started bringing artistes like Cutty Ranks, Beenie Man and Buju Banton. I also started taking soca artistes to Jamaica to perform alongside us. As a promoter under my other brand 96.1 WEFM, now known as OJO, I racked up what might possibly be the largest collective of acts presented in concert here by a promoter,” Chow said. The list includes Lionel Richie, Maroon 5, Evanescence, Dionne Warwick, Chris Brown, Boyz II Men, Brian McKnight, Roberta Flack, Damian, Steaphen, Julien and Kymani Marley, Sizzla, Shaggy, and many others.”
A Zen state of mind
Some of those acts were Featured at the Zen Nightclub on Keate Street, Port of Spain. Together with Johnny Soong, Chow’s business partner at 96.1 WEFM, he invested in extensively refurbishing the Deluxe cinema, transforming it into an ultra-luxurious entertainment centre in 2005.
Zen immediately became the place to party, especially from Wednesday night through Sunday. The venue also became the one of choice for corporate functions and major brand unveilings. Unforgettable concerts there includes shows featuring Third World, Barrington Levy, Fat Joe, Neyo, Richie Spice, Bunji Garlin and Machel Montano.
Zen eventually grew silent as happens with all such places, even the most popular. Most people believed that Chow was done with the entertainment hustle. Maybe it was time to invest in a takeaway food service and wrap some fork in napkins.
Not this man from OJO who used to fall asleep on the chairs in the Grand Stand at Panorama after about ten hours of pan when he was five. Not this man who turned away from the secure family business to DJ and be called insane by his own father. His vision had evolved from technicolour, to HD to 4K.
There was much more ahead for Chow. In Part Four we’ll bring his journey to the present, first revisiting his “Shortpants” days, escapades with a Monk, basking in Blue hues all the way to making music with MAHA and introducing some Jah Melody into the soca.