Wearing a bright blue graffiti-sprayed jacket, oversized shades and braided hair, Jewish reggae artist Benny Bwoy stands out at the Kingston hotel where a conference on the Jewish community of Jamaica is taking place.
That’s Benny Bwoy, who grew up in Far Rockaway, N.Y., as Tzadok Bentzion and for a dozen years was a Wall Street investment banker.
Minutes later Bwoy is called to the stage to give the conference crowd — mostly white-haired, straight-laced academics — a taste of his block-bustin’ beats. In a heavy Jamaican patois, Bway sings about Jewish pride, racism, violence and drugs. The animated performance has the mostly middle-aged members of the audience waving their hands in the air.
Not everyone, however, is won over. Joseph Adam, 16, a Jewish Jamaican, has mixed feelings.
"That was odd," Adam says. "But on second thought, it’s not weirder than some of our local singers, like Elephant Man."
Bwoy almost didn’t make it to the conference. After hearing about it and not receiving an invite, the 39-year-old singer recalls wondering, "How can you have a conference on Jewish Jamaica without the original JEWmaican?" the 39-year-old singer recalls wondering.
So he contacted the leader of the Jewish community here, Ainsley Henriques, with whom he has been in touch since he shot his video clip "Hot Girls" on the island three years ago, and hopped on a flight down to Kingston.
Following his conference gig, during a visit to an old Jewish cemetery near Kingston Harbor, Bwoy enters a rap-off with a group of local Jamaicans in a scene that appears to be taken from Eminem’s "8 Mile" or Al Jolson’s the "Jazz Singer," depending on one’s point of view.
Bwoy/Bentzion figures there’s nothing unusual about an observant Jew who grew up in Queens singing reggae in Jamaican patois. It’s his passion after 12 years working on Wall Street; he says he is now fully dedicated to promoting his singing career.
"I’m waiting for that one big hit and boom, it’s going to be a tsunami," he says.
His take on Matisyahu, a popular Chasidic reggae artist?
"He’s not a reggae artist; he’s a mix of different things," Bwoy says. "He’s like The Police — he’s reggae-influenced. The whole thing is a schtick."
Bwoy’s biggest success has come with "Saddam Hussein, I’m Gonna Mash Up Ya Brain."
"It was big in Israel in 1991," he says.
His catchphrase: "Fala mi name!"
And influences: Admiral Bailey, Tiger and Bob Marley, "of course."