"If I had sold music alone, I wouldn't have been able to survive," says Elliot Leib, who cofounded Trade Roots with Renee Romano 20 years ago.
Leib had a master's degree in African studies when he earned a Fulbright Scholarship to study in Jamaica for a year. While there, Leib and Romano (a '68 SD High grad) produced a film on Rastafarian culture. The pair came up with the idea of Trade Roots, and when they arrived in San Diego in the early '80s, they set up shop in a South Park garage. Their merchandising concept (selling Jamaican clothes, art, jewelry, and records) enabled Trade Roots to outlive two stores that sold reggae records only (Ratner's Records, Strictly Records).
Leib and Romano presented all-ages reggae shows in the '80s and early '90s. They founded the Zion High label, which has released two albums by Yami Bolo (of Jamaica) and Ras Attitude (of St. Croix).
"We always wanted to educate people about the Rastafarian movement," says Leib. What does he have to say about the current Spanish-language dance music -- reggaeton -- that has none of the spirituality of pure reggae?
"Bob Marley said this music will keep growing and growing until it finds its right and proper audience. Even though [reggaeton fans] may not have the awareness of [reggae's] Jamaican roots, original rhythms are driving this music."
"Tribute to the Roots," a show commemorating the 20th anniversary of Trade Roots, is this Saturday at Soma; Horace Andy, Cornell Campbell, Martin Campbell, Kush, and Fiyah Angels play.