| The Matrix | Rhetoric of Reggae Music | Reggae Links | Dread Library Catalog |
Music has been a dominant source of change in our society, throughout the world, and spanning the generations. It is a source of change, expression, culture, symbolism, and in Jamaican music, particularly reggae, it can even be a silent, peaceful revolution. There are various ideas of what reggae is, or what it does, which will be a main concentration. The music of Jamaica is a changing structure as well, from mento to ska to rocksteady to reggae to dub. Dozens of people are responsible for the spread of the popular music of the Caribbean island known as Jamaica. There are the big producers, such as Dodd, Reid, Buster, and there are others like Perry, Blackwell, Higgs, and Gibbs. Without them the music of Jamaica would have been contained there, and never would the world have learned in quite the same personal way about the vast unhappiness and oppression of the majority of Jamaican society. Artists like Jimmy Cliff, Toots, U Roy, Winston Rodney, and especially Bob Marley have created a significant part of the culture of Jamaica through their lyrics of angst and frustration at their political and economical situation. Because music is also an industry of ever-changing circumstance, the lineage has proven to be much harder to trace and follow than previously expected.
A fitting statement was made by a reggae musician concerning the mystery of the island and it's music:"Jamaica: fragment of bomb-blast, catastrophe of geological history (volcano, middle passage, slavery, plantation, colony, neo-colony) has somehow miraculously-some say triumphantly-survived. How we did this is still a mystery and perhaps it should remain so. But at least we can say this: that the secret and expression of that survival lies glittering and vibrating in our music."(Edward Kamau Brathwaite, reggae artist)
The music of Jamaica began five centuries ago, when Columbus colonized the land of the Arawak Indians. This dates the start of oppression in this small island in the Caribbean. After the Spanish came the English, both extremely ethnocentric groups when dealing with"inferiors", or"minorities". Blacks were brought in as slaves, and although Jamaica has had it's independence since 1963, the tension of authority and control still reigns menacingly. Jamaica is a story of injustice, international influence, ineffective governing, and unequal distribution of wealth; all of these elements provide a solid base for the theme of oppression and the need for a revolution and redemption in Jamaican music. Reggae in particular reflects these injustices, in the poetry of the frustration at being at the bottom of a ladder, with no easy way to climb up.
The word reggae refers to a particular phase in Jamaican pop music. There have been other kinds of music in Jamaica, and different omomotopoeaic names have been given to the different forms since then, but reggae is the word that has been used primarily by the general public to label any Jamaican music. It has come to be the title for virtually all forms of popular music in Jamaica. It seems that this is almost an insult to the artists because there is a great gray area of transition in the music, not only due to the evolution of the rhythms and styles themselves, but also because of the frequency of artists and sound system men becoming producers. The different types of music do overlap, yet one can make the distinction through close listening, and the artists deserve recognition for what they are doing.
The people of Jamaica started singing slave songs, and eventually were forced to form an orchestra as well as sing for their masters. The song"By the Rivers of Babylon"by the Israelites reflects this situation poignantly:"By the rivers of Babylon (corruption, Jamaica, white supremacy, hell), there is a town, and there we wept when we remembered Zion (the African homeland, heaven). And the wicked carried us away, captivity, required from us a song. How can we sing King Alpha's song in a strange land?"
There is a sadness to this song, a sadness that expresses so much of the slaves' hardships in merely a few lines. This is where the tradition of songs used to promote emotion and argument stemmed. These orchestras were known as quadrille bands, for a type of popular European dance. After a while the dance became slightly Africanized, which commonly means loosening the knee movement which is very stiff in most European dances.
After the quadrille, in the 1950's, Jamaicans began playing another type of music, resemblant of calypso in Trinidad, called mento. In Jamaica the lyrics weren't nearly as witty and controversial as in Trinidad's calypsoes. In all Jamaican music there are links between drumming, religion, and resistance to authorities. There is an element of social criticism and sarcasm in the music as well.
Mento is similar to the quadrille line-up, with a banjo, hand drums, a guitar, and a rhumba box ( a large thumb bass piano). There was frequently a bamboo saxophone, a penny whistle, and possibly a steel pan. The songs were usually upbeat, humorous accounts of daily, and often sexual, life. Mento is still played, but it is no longer the prominent sound in Jamaica, since sound systems began replacing live bands in the 1940's. The mento band known as the Gaylads recorded"Sunshine Is Golden"for Clement 'Coxsone' Dodd in 1967. Another mento artist that recorded for Coxsone was the legendary bamboo saxophonist Sugar Belly in the mid 1970's, and the Jolly Boys were another mento/folk band.
Following this period R&B (rhythm and blues) became popular in America. This style was also popularized in Jamaica through the sound system men, who were very excited to play international music over the new sound systems. At the time, Clement Seymour 'Coxsone' Dodd was a disc jockey, along with Arthur 'Duke' Reid and Cecil Bustamente Campbell (Prince Buster).
The all-important dj's would sit behind the record decks mounted on a stage, presiding over the dance for which they provided the music. The equipment for a sound system is called a set. This includes turntables, mixers, tapedecks, CD mixers, echo chambers, amplifiers, speakers, power supplies, wires and cords, storage and travel parcels, and backup equipment. Each system may own thousands of records and CD's, and a good one may own out of print valuable records, like classics on Studio One and Coxsone labels.
The dj's Reid, Coxsone, and Buster were larger than life characters, performers in their own right. They often played with images of violence, in a joking yet menacing fashion as criminals, gangsters, and legendary bad men. Reid would preside over blues dances in a long ermine cloak with a pair of Colt 45's in cowboy holsters, a cartridge belt strapped across his chest and a loaded shotgun slung over his shoulder, with an enormous gilt crown perched on his head.
Behind the goofing around, sound systems are an extremely serious business. They could make fast money if they could only coerce enough people into buying entrance tickets to dance and hear the system. The scene would quickly become competitive when the dj's began vying for the crowd's attention.. Each system had its own hired crew, which was comprised of roadies, bouncers, dj's, and engineers, as well as a throng of supporters.
Two systems were often booked to play the same hall in one night, so each system would try to blow the other of the stage with rawer and rougher R&B sounds. By midnight sometimes the place would clear out as the bands fought. Sometimes Reid would fire his shotgun just over the crowds heads to show who won. Each system would try to win the crowd by playing the best of the U.S. imports. It became nearly impossible for fans to enjoy both systems; they were either a Reid's Trojan fan or a Coxsone's Downbeat fan. Sound systems had an abundance of support with all the people supporting their favorite dj. When Coxsone and Prince Buster set up their systems within hearing distance of one another the police were usually called in to control the fights that resulted among the fans.
Lee 'Scratch' Perry started off his career as a gopher (go for, or an errand man) for Coxsone Dodd's Downbeat system.. In those days the"boss sound", or dominant system, was Reid's. According to Perry,"Start time we was definitely the smallest of the systems. Duke had some big bad guys operating for him. So my job was to fight down this...go out and find the best sound. We go out and find them and really upset Duke and them others. It come up we start to have top record all the while and sometime we meet other systems in a club, slug it out toe for toe. Soon we a top shape."
Each team would send out scouts to mainland America to find the best of the R&B releases. Once in their possession, the dj would scratch off the labels or stick on new ones to screw up the others, so they wouldn't be able to find the same thing.
Dodd's second sound system was the most successful system of the three dj's. It was called Sir Coxsone's Downbeat , and it eventually got up to four sets playing in different locations on the same day. Reid's system was called Trojan, and was also a multi- set system. Vincent"King"Edward popped up and started what became the most powerful system on the island, referred to as the Giant.
By the late 1950's, the influx of imports decreased, so the three dj's began to produce their own primitive R&B recordings using local session musicians. They called the records they cut the rudie blues, and they began calling themselves producers. These albums weren't for public sale, they were cherished possessions of the system owners that financed them. The majority of these albums were R&B instrumental covers (re makes of the authentics); some were original compositions in the New Orleans style. Even though they were copying New Orleans style, their was a flatter, more even rhythm, which distinguished Jamaican music from the sounds of other areas of the world.
Dodd released his productions on several labels: All Stars, Worldisc, Supreme, Cariboo, Coxsone, Sensational and Music City, D. Darling, Rolando & Powie, Wincox, C&N, ND, and finally, Studio One, which is the most famous label that he employed once he owned his own studio in 1962. Reid recorded on three labels: Treasure Isle, Dutchess, and Trojan. Buster used several labels as well: Prince Buster Voice of the People, Buster Wild Bells, Buster Wild Flowers, Buster's Record Shack, and Olive Blossom.
Live dj's did the vocals at the blues dances. They would scat, and eventually were recorded, and this was later given the title 'talk over', or 'dub'. Eventually the new recordings developed and gave way to ska in the 1960's, the new music with a jazzy beat, more horns and a very upbeat tempo. It had elements from mento, R&B, and traditional African song. Ska was partially influenced by Rasta and Burru drumming (which was still popular at the height of r&b). Count Ossie (Oswald Williams, a prominent leader in Rastafarian drum circles) and his Rastas would drum all night. Ska was"more to the African touch...more relevant to the drums"than R&B, states Joe Higgs, another dominant figure in the history of Jamaican music.
Prince Buster had the most successful ska sound system in the early 1960's. He was an ex-boxer who started working as a bouncer for Duke Reid and was quickly promoted to dj. He shortly left Reid and bought his own record shop on Orange Street. He set up his own system and started making his own records. Coxsone Dodd is said to have been the first man to truly produce ska, and then Reid, but Buster's success is what got ska so popular in Jamaica.
Music in Jamaica shifted again throughout the summers of 1965 and 1966. These summers were particularly hot, and the jumpy, energetic ska dancing became too difficult, so rocksteady emerged as a music to stagger and conserve the dancers' energy. Rocksteady has a cooler rhythm, with a repeat bassline that weaves through the horns, guitar, and drums.
Then the reggae era began, which evolved cleanly out of ska. This new music had a different vocal style; the call and response technique that is such an intregal part of African Christian groups was commonly employed in reggae. It comes from African-derived work songs and grave songs in Western Jamaica's Cockpit Country (part singing, antiphonal call-response chanting, and the repetition of single short musical phrases). The vocals were also much more real, more irregular, and more natural. The music didn't follow a specific pattern of notes, and thus, was able to express a wider variety of emotions.
Many reggae musicians deliberately draw on African traditions in their music. Reggae is currently filed with the themes and 'ridims' of the Rastafarian movement. The Rastas stress pride in African heritage."In recent years, 'roots reggae' with its references to 'dread' and 'ganja' has even become something of a cliche experiment."(Hebdidge)
This appears to be a negative comment in regard to the redundancy of reggae music. This is slightly offensive, as it seems obvious that that's the theme because that's where the music stemmed from, and what it is all about. Many reggae artists are Rastas, and they will sing about the religion. And, as black people , hopefully they will have some pride in their heritage. What makes this a redundant, cliche type music is the closed mind and the absence of exploration and acceptance in the listener.
The Collins Dictionary says reggae is: 'a type of West Indian popular music having four beats to the bar, the upbeat being accentuated'. The drum is very important in reggae as well; the third beat is usually heavy, called a downbeat, which is symbolic of oppression. The upbeat on the fourth note symbolizes the hope of some revolution or upheaval.
Reggae tends to use the left-hand side of the drumset (hi-hat cymbal, snare, and bass) for maintaining rhythm. The tom-toms and ride cymbal are used less often, usually just for decoration or emphasis. The bass drum beats on the second and fourth counts. It's always in 4/4 time with a slow, deliberate, weaving pulse. Any impression of speed is given by the rhythmic activity which takes place between beats. The snare usually plays rimshots:stick tip touches the surface of the drum skin, and the shaft hits the metal rim of the drum. Reggae drummers tend to prefer the hollow, resonating sound that occurs when the snare drum is turned off. The piano and the keyboard supply the inner parts of the harmony. The rhythm guitar is similar to keyboards. It supplies inner harmony on offbeats, but it's sound is more percussive than harmonic, because it's played with rapid strokes of the pick, and with the treble control of the amp cranked up.. This causes a staccato pitch where the notes are indistinguishable. The lead guitar keeps it's traditional role of providing melodic phrases in response to the singer, and to improvise extended solos over the chords. Other lead instruments are often the saxophone, trombone, or melodica.
The Jamaican Tour Board issued a"recipe for reggae:"One part rocksteady, one part mento, a hint of ska tempo, mix well in the heat of West Kingston, bring to the boil with an increasing social consciousness, and you have reggae."
Reggae is in flux, constantly changing, a music that obstinately defies categorization, yet many people group all types of Jamaican music together as one. For Jamaicans, music is not only a source of pleasure but a healing balm and an aid in the struggle for survival.
Reggae is a recorded music, not a performing one. Underneath the harmonies and the bright, happy rhythms you can often hear the other voices-the angry threatening voices of the slaves and their descendants- the"rebel sound"of people seeking freedom or revenge. Reggae is outlaw music, primitive and tribal.. It is hypnotic, trance music. There is an emphasis on social criticism and social protest, with traditions of 'insult' and 'boasting'. There is also a 'roots' connection with city slums. Kingston's Trench Town and Back o' Wall (towns) gave birth to reggae. There is only one reggae club, called Roots, in the basement of the Chela Bay Hotel outside of Ochos Rios on the North Coast, and it's owned by Americans.
There is some discrepancy about he origin of reggae. There is one claim that the Israel Vibrations (a Jamaican reggae trio) started out as a group of social outcasts tapping out rhythms on tin cans, and this was the start of reggae. Coxsone, Perry and Blackwell offer different stories.
Toots Hibbert from Toots and the Maytals claims he started reggae with his song"Do the Reggay"(produced by Perry) in 1968. Perry says the idea came to him when he walked by a Pocomania Church:"...See, at them time, me used to go out town and stay late, drink some beer, thing like that. And one night me walking past a Pocomania church and hear the people inside a wail. And me catch the vibration and say, 'Boy! Let's make a sound fe catch the vibration of the people!' Them was in the spirit and them tune me spiritually. That's where the thing come from, 'cos them Poco people getting sweet!"
Perry wanted to break away from ska and rocksteady, and to produce a sound which would"upset"his rivals, especially Dodd. Perry goes on to explain,"'Cos they were doing something same all the way, man. All of them a just go 'ska-aska-ska-aska'. And when the people hear what I man do them hear a different beat, a waxy beat-like you stepping in glue. Them hear a different bass, a rebel bass, coming at you like sticking a gun."
Chris Blackwell (a white ametuer producer) recorded Millie Small's"My Boy Lollipop", which became the first West Indian record to make number one on the British charts. This also did well in Jamaica and the states, and so this"first attempt"at introducing the music of Jamaica to the world was successful.
The mighty Coxsone was always a step ahead of his competitors whether it was during the ska or rocksteady periods, and his claim that reggae began in his studio is a close claim. While preparing for a session with engineer Ivan Morris in 1968, session guitarist Eric Frater played a guitar strum through a newly acquired echo phaser and reggae's guitar strum was born.
The commentary on reggae music is quite varied. According to the artists:
"Reggae is protest formed out of suffering...You vibrate it back to those who oppress you. What I was playing was what I felt, y'know?... Hardship played out of the horn."(Rico Rodriguez, Jamaican trombonist)
"Reggae is just coming from the people, y'know? Like a everyday t'ing. Like the ghetto. So all of our music, our Jamaican rhythm, comin' from the majority. Everyday t'ing that people use like food. We just put music to it and mek a dance out of it. y'know...When you say 'reggae' you mean regular, majority.. It's the music from the rebels, people who don't have what they want."(Toots Hibbert, reggae singer, leader of the Maytals)
"Reggae is a religion to me."(David Hinds, member of the UK reggae band Steel Pulse)
"It is the black Rastaman line of message to the world."(Ras. Michael, reggae singer, drummer, and leader of the Sons of Negus)
"I think it's the same as jazz, with the same feeling as jazz."(Big Youth, reggae 'talk over' artist)
"All of reggae is still basically ska. The strongest sellers still have that good afterbeat."(Prince Buster, talk over artist and producer)
There are two views (at opposite extremes of opinion and enthusiasm) from the middle-men, the go-betweens of the music industry, the ones responsible for getting it out there for the general public:"Reggae is a music of power! Reggae meant to change the system!"(Joe Higgs, producer)
"We've always believed that reggae is no different from any other field except that it does need slightly different promotion and marketing techniques."(A Virgin Record company executive)
The Board memorandum for Jamaican tourists thinks that"..a good part of the attraction of reggae music to it's metropolitan audience is the anger and protest of the lyrics. We obviously face a contradiction between the message of urban poverty and protest which reggae conveys and that of pleasure and relaxation inherent in our holiday product.
In short, when we promote reggae music we are promoting an aspect of Jamaican culture which is bound to draw attention to some of the harsher circumstances of our lives. All the articles written on the sound so far do this. Our view is that we should leave other agencies and local music interests to carry the ball from here on."(a Jamaican tourist Board memorandum , October 10, 1975)
An opinion from one living in the land of the music:"Reggae is an offshot of Rasta music. You see 'reggae' is a derivative of the Latin 'Regis' meaning 'King'. It is the music of the King for the King by the King."(A Rastafarian)
A comment from mainstream white society:"Reggae is Jamaican soul music, a sort of tropic rock 'n' roll with the accents on the second and fourth beats."(Stephen Davis, writer)
Reggae started when the music from the U.S. was getting to the point that Jamaicans couldn't relate to it (like"Palisades Park"), or there just wasn't enough to entertain them and they had to turn to themselves as a source of music. This was a big deal because Jamaica suffered from a huge national inferiority complex when Britain granted them independence in 1963. Self-contempt has proven to be the most expensive and most physically expensive barrier for the Third World to transcend, and Jamaica is one of the best examples. Sound system men rented time in slummy studios in Kingston and recruited nobodys off the streets that were hungry and maybe had a decent voice from church singing or something.
This was the right time, in the early 1960's when the newborn local recording industry was beginning to draw on the music that was coming from those who existed"where the living was hardest"in Western Kingston. Desmond Dekker, Jimmy Cliff, and others like them were just starting to surface when the Wailers began.
By this point Sir Coxsone had one of the largest rosters of Jamaican recording artists on his Studio One label. Dodd had gained prominence through his sound systems and dj's. Dodd recorded the Wailer's first single,"Simmer Down"in 1964. This was during the ska era, and it sold well. They then recorded over 30 more songs for Dodd, including"Put It On","The Ten Commandments Of Love","Love and Affection","Lonesome Feeling","I'm Still Waiting","Cry To Me", and"It Hurts To Be Alone".
Reggae made it into London with the Jamaican immigrants. The Trojan label (Reid's) became the main U.K. outlet for reggae. The Texas-born soul singer Johnny Nash tried to start up reggae in Europe and in the U.S. around 1966, but there was no interest. Various musicians covered songs, like Eric Clapton with his version of Marley's"Stir it up", and that's what it took to finally get it noticed. Paul Simon recorded"Mother and Child Reunion"in Kingston, with a reggae style. The Rolling Stones covered a few reggae songs.
Every now and then an American record company would buy a successful Jamaican reggae single and release it in the states. The first one was Desmond Dekker's"Israelites", and the next year, 1969, Jimmy Cliff's"Vietnam"was released in the U.S.
Reggae has become a little bit more respectable. Politicians try to use the music for their own purposes. Michael Manley, the Jamaican Prime Minister, took his election slogans,"Better Must Come"and"Under Heavy Manners", from reggae records and used reggae in his campaigns. This doesn't appear to be wrong. The people of Jamaica can relate to these lyrics and ideology, so who's to say that's wrong? It also shows that Manley was in touch with his people and their outlook, and to say better must come, whether it's a stolen phrase or not, still must give the people a sense of hope and uplifting, but apparently there were some who were unhappy. Musicians challenged these proposals of better times and Manley's blatant propaganda. Junior Byles cut"When Will Better Come?"to challenge Manley's promises.
Bob Marley, the single most respected and talented reggae star, calls Jamaica the"concrete jungle"-a twilight world of slums and shantytowns where the islands black population(descendants of West African slaves) live out their lives in a sad condition. Reggae has done much to publicize this image abroad. As well as songs of parents, girlfriends, come the songs of inequality, poverty, and black identity in reggae music.
"I hear the words of the Rastaman say
Babylon you throne gone down, gone down,
Babylon you throne gone down.
I say fly away home to Zion
Fly away home.
One bright morning when my work is over
Man will fly away home."(The Wailers, Rastaman Chant)
The different producers of the time made it big in various ways. During the 1960's Lee Perry worked for Dodd, who had opened up Studio One. He says,"From '59 coming up to '60, me start audition in [Dodd's] little shop down Orange Street. Any artist me feel good enough, me say [to Dodd] 'select this one fe session, record him'...Like Toots [Hibbert] come for audition and I the man force Dodd take on Toots...We go to the studio and he give"Six and Seven Books of Moses"and rip it up."
Perry and Dodd started with ska and went on to much larger studios and a more polished sound. Buster's became the boss sound and Scratch went on his own after seven years with Dodd, and they all tried to beat Buster to the top, like king of the mountain. (Many producers have facial scars from competing).
Perry and Dodd started with ska, and then Perry left in 1966, after seven years of working for Dodd, because Coxsone wasn't getting him enough money, recognition, or chicks. Scratch went across the street and started recording for Joe Gibbs. His first signature song was"I Am the Upsetter", as a warning to Dodd or to anyone else who might try to screw him. Joe wasn't a producer yet, so he hired Perry to run his new Amalgamated label for him. Perry produced a string of hits, including Pioneer's"Long Shot', which was supposedly the first song to use a new Jamaican rhythm, called reggae. Perry was doing great, but Gibbs had wanted a"silent"partner, so Perry got mad and left. He made another screw you song, this time towards Gibbs, called"People Funny Boy".
Perry decided in 1968 it was time to go his own way. He hired the Hippy Boys: Aston"Family Man"Barrett on bass, Carlton Barrett on drums, Alva Lewis playing guitar, Glen Adams on keyboards, and Max Romeo doing the vocals. Then Perry changed their name to the Upsetters. They recorded"Kill Them All","The Vampire","Dig Your Grave", and their hit"Return of Django". The latter became a Top 10 hit in England, so the Upsetters toured in Britain and came home to find that Perry had kept most of the money.
In 1972 Perry moved and opened Black Ark studio and then secured a worldwide distribution deal with Island Records in 1975. He made it big with white rockers like Paul McCartney, Robert Palmer, and the Clash. Then 'Scratch' Perry went on to produce U Roy, the Wailers, the Upsetters'"Super Ape", Niney the Observer's"Blood and Fire", Junior Murvin's"Police and Thieves", the Heptones'"Party Time", and Max Romeo's"War In Babylon", some of who became the acknowledged master of heavy"roots"reggae.
Then in 1979 he torched down the Black Ark , shot himself in the foot, and went crazy after a mental breakdown . Now he graffittis the ruins of the building, eats money, worships bananas, and baptizes visitors with a garden hose.
Leslie Kong made it somewhere as a producer because of Jimmy Cliff, who had the drive to make it big when he was young. He cut"Dearest Beverly", and Kong's record store was called Beverley's. Kong hired a studio to hear this potential theme song for his studio, and cut the song. It sold well, and Kong was a successful producer until he died in 1971.
The rude boy cult, which was a part of the ska era, really took off in Jamaican music in 1966 when the Wailers recorded Rude Boy for Dodd. Then they did"Rule Them Rudie"and"Steppin' Razor". Other groups followed suit, Buster got in on it and produced some songs, and during 1967 rude boy songs were everywhere. Ska and rudie music still existed during the reggae period, as mento did throughout both; reggae was simply the prominent sound of the late 1960's and the 1970's.
One day King Tubby, a record engineer, was working in his studio mixing a few ska specials (exclusive recordings) for Coxsone's Downbeat system. He faded in and out, cutting back and forth between the vocal and instrumental tracks, and he would repeat vocals with echoes; this was the first dub. This new style helped to draw people to Coxsone's sound.
The artist U Roy popularized talk over, and has done work with King Tubby since. He was the king of the dj's for two years, and then he went to London to work for a little while. He came home and retired, depressed that the talented young imitators were taking over his thing. Then in 1975 he emerged and recorded an awesome album called 'Dread in Babylon'.
Among reggae musicians Jimmy Cliff is respected, Toots and the Maytals venerated, Burning Spear is awed, and the Bob Marley and the Wailers are the king-cats. They call Marley the Negus of reggae music(meaning the semidivine Ultimate).
The Skatalites were only around from 1964-1965, but they got a lot done. Tommy McCook played the tenor sax; Roland Alphonso also played tenor sax; Lester Sterling was on alto sax; Johnny Moore played the trumpet; Don Drummond was on the trombone; Jackie Mittoo played the piano; Lloyd Brevett was on bass; Lloyd Knibbs played drums; and Jah Jerry Hines covered the guitar. At first they played a few gigs in rural Jamaica, and then they became producer Clement Dodd's greatest studio band. They played their own compositions and also did cover versions of pop tunes selected by Dodd, as well as backing the Wailers and many other big groups.
Burning Spear is a group overflowing with intensely raw sound and amazing talent. They released"Marcus Garvey"in 1974. There were no songs of love or sex. The lead singer, Winston Rodney, sings very African, not R&B style at all. It's very primitive. They've been singing since 1969, when Winston Rodney and Rupert Willington (bass singer) began recording for Coxsone. They were joined by Delroy Hines, and left Coxsone in 1971. Spear re-recorded for Jack Ruby, after which Coxsone released three of his Spear singles:"Ethiopia Live It Out","Swell Head", and"Foggy Road". They've had two more albums and two more singles. They were working for Island Records for a while, but they were dropped. They continue to play and produce themselves, and so far have been quite successful with it.
The story of Bob Marley and his group, the Wailers, is slightly longer and much more complex, yet it's a story worth telling; that of a prophecy in his time.
The Livingstons moved to the village (Nine Mile) where Bob lived with his mother, Cedella. Bob and Neville (Bunny) Livingston became best friends, while Cedella and Toddy (Bunny's father) fell in love. They all moved back to Kingston together, where the boys finished school.
In 1962 Marley heard a Drifter's song and decided he needed a group, so he recruited Bunny Livingston to sing backup and Peter Tosh to play the guitar. In 1962 they formed their group with lead singer Junior Braithwaite and two girl singers. Then, in 1964, Marley finally met three very important men in his life: Joe Higgs, who taught him how to control his voice, do arrangements, and be cool. Mortimer Planner was a kind bishop who (as Rastas relay the story) said Marley had the Vision and helped him find a place to live outside the ghetto. Alvin Seeco Patterson was a Rastafarian drummer who schooled Marley in rhythm and time.
Higgs was a good trainer, often stopping a spontaneous jam session to go over voice From 1964 to 1966 they recorded over 100 tracks for Coxsone (including covers of the Beatles, Dylan, Tom Jones, and Dion). During one week in 1965 they had 5 of the top 10 songs on the hit parade at once.
Braithwaite split for Chicago after a year, and Marley took lead. They dropped the girls in 1966, and the trio recorded several songs for Sir Coxsone. Bob married Rita Anderson, of the group he was coaching, the Soulettes. Marley claims he was paid only 60 pounds for"Simmer Down","Put it on","Rule them Rudie","Rude Boy", and"I'm Still Waiting", so he went to live with his mother in Delaware, where he worked nights at a Chrysler plant and wrote songs. He went back to Jamaica later that year, reformed the trio, and recorded"Nice Time"for Dodd. When he got back, Coxsone gave them 99 pounds as accumulated royalties for all their hits, in Jamaica and from foreign licensing to Chris Blackwell's Island Records. Years later Blackwell told the group that he had sent"hundreds of thousands of pounds in royalties to Coxsone"for their work."We never saw any of it", claims Bunny.
Bob had saved just enough money to launch their own record label-dubbing it Wail 'n Soul 'm. Their first release was a pair of songs Bob wrote in Delaware:"Bend Down Low' and"Freedom Time"(a cry of relief at their escape from Coxsone's control.) Through 1967 and 1968 the label released almost three dozen tracks, most of them hits in Kingston, but they could never get enough money in front of them to press the huge quantities required for a major success, and eventually, they decided to quit the business.
In 1969 Leslie Kong approached the Wailers to work with them on what would be the first reggae album. They spent three weeks making one album with"Caution","Soul Shakedown Party","Go Tell It On the Mountain", 'Do It Twice", and"Cheer Up". It was to be their triumphant return.
Kong wanted to call it"The Best of the Wailers". Bunny asked:"How can you know the best of someone's work when we have such a long trod in front of us? If this is our best to you, you must mean that you are at the end of your life."Kong laughed dismissively, released the record with that title, and dropped dead a week later.
Bob, too, had futuristic insight. He told people's fortunes by reading their palms when he was five years old, and told them things about their lives that he shouldn't have known. When Bunny's friend Dion Wilson remarked that not only would Bob become rich and famous, but he would live a long full life as well. Bob replied,"Oh no. I'm going to die at 36."
Reid and Coxsone were starting to have competition from small producers springing up all over the place and artists knew they had to get tough. Marley realized that he, the Wailers, and the Upsetters would make a great collaboration, so they joined forces. The Wailers still sang backup; Tosh did low harmony and lead guitar, while Bunny sang high harmony and played hand drums. Perry was furious when they left and threatened to kill Marley, who appeased him by allowing him to be the exclusive producer. They recorded several famous songs for Perry. These hits include:"Trench Town Rock", 400 years","Small Axe"and"Duppy Conqueror","Fussing and Fighting", and"Get up, Stand up". They were great through 1969 and 1970, but as expected Perry and Marley had a love/hate relationship and became more and more argumentative and even violent.
The Wailers had their break in 1972 when Chris Blackwell signed them to Island Records. He paid for them to fly home after their meeting in London, and to rent a studio, where they recorded all the songs for"Catch a Fire"and dubbed over them with British musicians. They recorded"400 Years"over"Concrete Jungle"and"Midnight Rivers", and then they recorded"Burnin''.
After the third album the band split up when Bunny and Peter got mad about Bob's stardom and the fast food they were forced to eat on the road, and refused to tour in 1974. Marley hired musicians, kept the Barretts, and added the I-Threes: Rita Marley, Judy Mowatt, and Marcia Griffiths. They produced"Natty Dread"together.
A Wailer's song representative of the people's condition goes like this:"Them belly full but we hungry...A hungry man is an angry man...A hungry mob is an angry mob...A rain a fall but the duty tough... A pot a cook but the food no 'nough...You're gonna dance to Jah music-dance...We're gonna dance to Jah music-dance...Forget your troubles and dance...Forget your sorrows and dance....Forget your sickness and dance...Forget your weakness and dance (Bob Marley,"Them Belly Full")
Jamaican Labor Party tribal ringleader Claudius Massop and People's National Party gang boss Aston Thompson negotiated an armistice, and then enlisted Bob Marley as the headliner for a charitable"One Love Peace Concert"on April 22 (anniversary of Selassie's visit). Bob, Tosh, Culture, Inner Circle performed to raise funds to build basic facilities and create jobs for destitute youths in warring neighborhoods like Tivoli Gardens, Rema, and Arnette Gardens (known as Concrete Jungle)
After an attempt on his life was made, Marley left Jamaica for a little while for his own safety, and when he came back from exile in Nassau, England, and Miami, he had a more tender approach to songwriting. He did"Is This Love","Easy Skanking","Sun Is Shining","Satisfy My Soul", and"She's Gone"in 1977 and 1978. In his song"Crisis"he sings:"They say the sun shines for all/But in some people's world, it never shine at all"(the Carribean's misery)."Running Away"was about the fears he faced when thinking of his own death, and he forgives would-be murderers in"Time Will Tell":"Back them up, oh not the brothers, but the ones who set them up."
"One is continually struck by Marley's keen deliberative gaze. Bob intently searched the eyes of all he encountered, as if expecting to discover within them what he next needed to sing. Indeed, Marley was a marvelous appreciator of the precious ephemera of common existence- the clarity and poignance of small moments and the people who occasioned them: strangers' tentative attempts at conversation, an impromptu dressing room soccer scrimmage, the parleys of street vendors."(Timothy White)
In the beginning of the 1980's Bob had a seemingly epileptic seizure, and found out he had a brain tumor. While he was incapacitated with cancer, his albums were exploding internationally: Survival was released in 1979, and Uprising came out in 1980. These two completed the trio that began with the album Exodus.
"Marley looked unstintingly at the sorrows of the modern world, and he decried the injustices suurounding them. Yet he saw still greater sadness in humanity's failure to find and celebrate its rightful purpose in Jah's creation."(Timothy White).
Bob had evolved from Rude Boy to Soul Rebel to Revolutionary to Rastaman, but remained a tender-hearted, well-loved human being all the while.
At his funeral Prime Minister Edward Seaga states,"His music did more than entertain. He translated into music, in a remarkable style, the aspirations, pain and feeling of millions of people throughout the world. As an individual, Bob Marley was the embodiment of discipline and he personified hard work and determination to reach his goals. He left us with a rich heritage of popular Jamaican music."
Former Prime Minister Michael Manley says,"He was a genius. He's one of those extraordinary figures that....comes along perhaps once in a generation; who, starting with folk art, a folk form, by some inner magic of committment, sincerity of passion and of just skilll, turns it into a part of the universal language of the arts of the world."
"One would have to look to a Mahatma Gandhi or a Martin Luther King to find an apt comparison."(film biographer Jo Mendell)
"They should have known Jamaica was his home born ground..Instead of flying the sick man up and down ...They should have known...That in Jamaica there's Bush Doctor...Spring from out of the soil...Straight from Africa..."(I Come To See Bob Marley, Marley Gone Away. F. Toots Hibbert, February 1982).
These words serve as a loving tribute to the man who changed the lives of so many, and who continues to do so even in death. He is reverred as a hero, a legend, and rightfully so.
The evolution of Jamaican music through the artists and producers is a unique story, one that requires patience and curiosity. Yet it's a rewarding cause; the music of our lives provides the power needed for change, whether it be a small personal metamorphosis or a massive revolution.
1. Cut 'n' Mix: Culture, Identity, and Caribbean Music. Hebdidge, Dick. pub. Routledge. London, New York. 1987.
2. Reggae Bloodlines: In Search of the Music and Culture of Jamaica. Davis, Stephen; Simon, Peter. pub. Da Capo Press. New York. 1992.
3. Reggae, Rasta, Revolution: Jamaican Music from Ska to Dub. ed. Potash, Chris. pub. Schirmer Books. 1997.
4. Pop, Rock, and Ethnic Music in School. ed. Vulliamy, Graham; Lee, Ed. pub. Cambridge University Press. 1982.
5. The Reggae Songbook. Amsco Publications. New York; London; Sydney. 1995.
6. Bob Marley: Reggae King of the World. Hussey, Dermott; Lee, Malika. ed. Henry, Mike; Robinson, Kim. pub. Kingston Publishers, Ltd. 1984.
7. Reggae: The Rough Guide. Barrow, Steve; Dalton, Peter. ed. Buckley, Jonathan. pub. Rough Guides, Ltd. 1997.