Aug. 29, 2005 – Many people in the Virgin Islands were forced to change their lives after the devastation caused by Hurricane Hugo in 1989. Lizette Llanos remembers that time well. At age 16, she was sent to Alexandria, Va., to live with family after Hugo ripped though the island. Soon she returned home, finished high school and went to Atlanta to attend college. After college, Llanos worked with several telecommunications companies in Georgia. In 2002, economic changes forced her to rethink her career strategies, and she returned to the Washington, D.C., area. This twist of fate offered her the opportunity to give back to her community in a way she never expected. She joined a small group of Virgin Islanders who founded Mt. Nebo Records and are promoting the conscious roots music of V.I. musicians to reggae fans all over the world.
Llanos was born and raised in St. Croix. Her childhood was typically Crucian: she was loved, encouraged and nurtured by her family and her very large extended family. A St. Dunstan's Episcopal School graduate — "I graduated one year before the school closed," she said — and an active member of the Rising Stars Steel band, Llanos said she was "surrounded by music" all her life. Her father, Felix Llanos, played with several local bands. Her brother, Andy, sings and plays drums and bass guitar, while her nephew, Ronald A. James, is a self-taught musician who plays several instruments.
After graduating from Spelman College, Llanos remained in Georgia, where she accepted a position with a telecommunications company. "It was a good job with a good salary and opportunity for advancement," Llanos said. But soon the economy took a turn for the worst. I was downsized because of [President] Bush," Llanos said. "The office eventually shut down." Llanos decided to move back to Washington, D.C., where she could be closer to her family.
"The most defining moment of my life is when I had to start my career over," Llanos said. "I never wanted to go back [to D.C.]." She would soon find out that when one door closes another one opens.
"It was a divine appointment, even though I was against the move, some circumstances were created that changed my life," Llanos said. Today she is the marketing director of Mt. Nebo Records, a small independent record company founded in 2001. The company promotes, distributes and records independent artists on reggae music's cutting edge.
Some of the artists represented on Mt. Nebo's label include Iba, Ijah Menelik, Ras Bumpa, Black Culture, Danny-I, Ibednego, Lady Passion, Army, Natty Empress, Dezarie, Ankh Watep, Yah Shiloh I, Pressure, Rafijah, Ickarus, Niyo-Rah, and Kimbe Don of Star Lion Family. Bambu Station is the cornerstone of the company, providing all of the live instrumentation for the artists, as well as producing award-winning music on its own.
Llanos credits her family for teaching her the values necessary to overcome adverse situations. "My family influenced me greatly," Llanos said. "We are very tight-knit. I never realized how special our family was until I was exposed to family life outside the Virgin Islands. People in the states are mostly disconnected from their family."
In July, several of Mt. Nebo Records' artists performed at the Sierra Nevada Music Festival in Angels Camp, La. Featured were Toots and the Maytals, Steel Pulse, Queen Omega, Luciano, The Abyssinians, Shaggy and Morgan Heritage, as well seven reggae artists from St. Croix and St. Thomas.
The V.I. artists included Army, Bambú Station, Batch, Iba, Pressure, Ras Attitude, and the Zioniers band. According to a review from one reggae music critic, the V.I. artists delivered a "true roots message."
For more information on this emerging V.I. company, visit the Mt. Nebo Records Web site.
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