Roots Musik Karamu Celebrates 40 Years

Apr 19, 2019

Osei Chandler and his wife Saadeka in the late 70s
Credit Osei Chandler

When Osei Chandler’s wife Saadeka wanted to move from Brooklyn in 1977 closer to her home in Summerville,  SC, the now reggae music show host couldn’t say no.  He was smitten.

“I remember the first time we met,” he said. “She was like six feet tall, with a mini skirt and afro. I was toast,” he laughs.

Looking back, next to his marriage and kids, moving  was one of the best things he ever did.

“I couldn’t be on the radio in Brooklyn," said Chandler. " I'd be too busy hustling, trying to get to work. I’d probably have to have two or three jobs."

"I mean as Bob Marley would say, it would be a real rat race.”  With that deep, soulful voice, it’s hard to imagine radio without him. 

Some things are meant to be.

The family left a large, more diverse, patchwork community for a small southern city,  still struggling with accepting its African history. At the time, they were a bit of an oddity to say the least.

“When we first moved here, I had dreadlocks. My wife had dreadlocks and my kids five and six, they had dreadlocks as well.”

But the family openly shared their African heritage, drumming at the battery and creating some of the city’s first Kwanzaa celebrations. Later, Osei would lead reggae block parties as part of the Moja Arts Festival and hold ceremonies of remembrance for Africans lost during the Middle Passage.  More than half of all Africans brought to America came through Charleston.

Osei at a festival

Born Terry Osei Chandler, Osei is his African name, one he gave himself. It means serious and he is serious about embracing his roots.

“Well, what’s a tree without roots? What’s it going to do?  It’s going to fall,"  he says. “You got to make your grandmother proud. You’re representing more than yourself out there.”

Osei has represented well. He was one of the first in his family to get a college degree, and ultimately a masters. He worked as a counselor helping adults who had not finished high school further their education and find careers.

He'd always had a love for music, so one day he asked to visit a jazz radio station in Charleston, records in hand. It looked a lot like his stomping grounds in college. The man running the show needed a break and offered Osei an opportunity to spin a couple of jams.   When he came back, he told Osei he  seemed to know what he was doing.  By chance, it was the man’s last day. He offered Osei the job and the keys, and that was that.

It was meant to be.

On the air, Osei shared with the city his love of Reggae, music much like himself; serious, yet laid back. Even the name of his show has meaning, “Roots Musik Karam";  that’s music with a “k” and Karamu meaning feast.  It’s a funky feast of African rooted music."

“Reggae music I found brings all sort of people together,” he said. “Most of the music I play is about peace, love and respect; you know equal rights and justice.”

He calls it, “heartbeat music,” quoting Bob Marley. “It synchronizes with your heart.”

As the show prepares to celebrate 40 years, the 72 year- old admits he’s beginning to feel his age. But he doesn’t dwell on it. His wife Saadeka is never far from his mind. It’s been nearly ten years since she passed away and he still lives in the house they shared.

“I miss her dearly,” he says.

Osei and his wife Saadeka at a Dragon Boat Race

“But at the same time I have to remember that I’ve been blessed with her for 40 years. She put up with me and helped make me a better man.”

He's positive, with an uplifting inner beat.  Osei flashes a peace sign as he waves goodbye.  He has no plans to hang up the mic.

"This Roots music Karamu is a life line for me. I guess I’ll stick around until they tell me we’ve had enough of you,” he laughs.

What will be, will be.

You can catch Osei's 40th anniversary show this Saturday, April 20th, beginning at 10 pm.