Luxury Caribbean Getaways - Geejam in Jamaica
Words by Juliet Austin
There is just something about Jon Baker, former head of A&R at Island Records, New York, and co-owner/visionary/driving force behind Port Antonio’s unorthodox Geejam resort along with the ying to his yang, Hong Kong-based partner-in-crime, Steve Beaver. Perhaps it is his disarming passion for his six-acre hillside haven or maybe his glorious punk rock irreverence for the ‘hospitality’ industry. Whatever it is, you cannot help but like him as he muses:
“What you’ve got to understand about Geejam is that we didn’t come out of tourism or hospitality. Our roots are in the entertainment and music industries.”
Emblazoned on Geejam’s branding, the artist, Banksy’s graffitied slogan sums it up fittingly: ‘It ain’t about golf!’ “And as for golfers,” quips Baker, “they just shouldn’t bother coming!”
But Geejam is neither defined by nor confined to its antiestablishmentarianism. It is very much the real deal: an authentic, bona fide, hip Caribbean hideaway, with a touch of rock ‘n’ roll thrown in for good measure. Anchored heart and soul in Port Antonio – what Baker calls “the hidden draw” – on Jamaica’s north shore, it dances not only to its own drum but to the beat of the Caribbean prompting it to be nominated by the international press as,
“One of the most fascinating places to hang out,”
and simply classed by some as,
“the coolest place on earth.”
Acquired after decades of globetrotting – staying at the best hotels money could buy during his music exec days – in 1991, Baker threw caution to the wind, purchasing a derelict house that he would later transform into the trendsetting getaway favoured by a host of international glitterati. So began the story of what he considers the ‘perfect’ hotel: an unspoilt chic retreat shrouded by the legendary Blue Mountains and inspired by pop culture – a far cry from the slew of all-inclusive ‘fake nirvanas’ where guests stay corralled within high walls, never to experience what it means to be in the real Jamaica.
With original house design by Anthony Wade (brother of Grand Slam champion Virginia) and an Ann Hodges’ annex added in the early nineties, under Baker’s creative masterminding, the property soon metamorphosed into its signature NYC hip-meets-rainforest incarnation. Artfully pairing sleek, contemporary minimalism with its bespoke, down-to-earth, organic vibe, Geejam’s guests can relax on the resort’s private Macks Bay beach where, in great rock legend style, they are given their own luxurious ‘beach bedroom’ in the sand – complete with four-poster bed, bedside tables and mirror – or explore other local beaches and the nearby marina. Issuing cell phones with twenty minutes free international calling at check-in, guests are encouraged to immerse themselves in the local community for an experience, that Baker assures is guaranteed,
“to cure the neuroses of even the most stressed out guests.”
Yet what really sets Geejam’s version of paradise apart is the fact that, in a characteristic stroke of Jon Baker genius, the resort also doubles as a state of the art residential recording studio, creative sanctuary to the likes of Joe Cocker, No Doubt, the Gorillaz, Sly and Robbie and the inimitable Amy Winehouse. “It’s not a them and us kind of feel though,” explains Baker.
“Guests are part of the bustle of things going on at Geejam.”
Once the red light of the recording studio goes off, expect to see anyone and everyone hanging out at the Bushbar where Errol Flynn’s widow, Patrice comes to listen to The Jolly Boys, former personal and private band to her late husband and the latest music phenomenon to come out of Geejam.
Having played together for over fifty years the septuagenarian band’s ‘mento’ style is credited with coming straight out of the cane fields. A cousin to calypso, mento predates reggae, rocksteady and ska and was in danger of dying out before it caught the attention of the old punk in Jon Baker. Delivering his Midas touch, The Jolly Boys have been catapulted into unlikely international superstardom with a debut album, Great Expectations, released on Geejam Recordings in the US and Caribbean in May 2011. Masterfully pairing vintage mento with modern covers from, among others, The Clash, The Stranglers, Iggy Pop and the Rolling Stones, the outlandish combination has signalled something of a rebirth for Jamaica’s music industry and sealed Jon Baker’s fate as something of a pioneering innovator.
To learn more about staying at Geejam call 1 888-4GEEJAM or go to www.geejamhotel.com
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