|Trojan Presents: Roots - 40 Roots & Culture Classics|
None Shall Escape The Judgement - Johnny Clarke
Fire Burning - Bob Andy
Curly Locks - Junior Byles
Humanity - Prince Lincoln & The Royal Rasses
Guess Who's Coming To Dinner - Michael Rose
I And I Survive (Slavery Days) - Burning Spear
Mr Cop - Gregory Isaacs
Tenement Yard - Jacob Miller & The Inner Circle
Prophesy Must Fulfil - Justin Hinds & The Dominoes
Dreadlocks In The Moonlight - Lee Perry
Jah Bring Us Joy In The Morning - Bobby Melody
Rockers Nuh Crackers - Glen Washington
Black Wa-Da-Da (Invasion) - Burning Spear
Two Sevens Clash - Culture
Rainbow Country - Bob Marley & The Wailers
War Ina Babylon - Max Romeo
Wolf And Leopard - Dennis Brown
Row Fisherman Row - The Congos
His Majesty Is Coming - The In Crowd
Last War (Jah Jah Children Arise) - Zap Pow
Sufferer's Time - The Heptones
The Wrong Things - The Congos
Chase The Devil - Max Romeo
Roots Train Number One - Junior Murvin
Ballistic Affair - Leroy Smart
Set The Captives Free - Gregory Isaacs
Standing Firm - Jacob Miller & The Inner Circle
The Same Song - Israel vibration
Peace And Love In The Ghetto - Johnny Clarke
Tribal War - George Nooks
Sons Of Slaves - Junior Delgado
Lift Up Your Conscience - Israel Vibration
Think So - The Meditations
Back A Yard - The In Crowd
Zion Gate - Culture
I Love Marijuana - Linval Thompson
Children Of Israel - Dennis Brown
Lightning And Thunder - Bim Sherman
Born Free - Michael Rose
Breda Gravilicious - The Wailing Souls
|Roots Reggae, Rastafari and
suffering people go hand in hand.
To understand the links that formed this vibrant strain of Jamaican music you need to flash back many decades into the 1930s when the words of Marcus Garvey junior, an outspoken black rights champion and the most prominent man ever to shape the Jamaican collective mind, combined with the crowning of a new king of Ethiopia.
For many years Jamaican born Garvey had been acting on behalf of the under-trodden masses of poor black folk of his homeland and latterly the USA. advocating the only way forward was the unification of all persons of colour. His Black Star shipping line was established with the aim of transporting black West Indians and Americans back to the motherland of Africa - an idealistic plan that ultimately sadly failed, as did his Negro World newspaper, which at its height sold a staggering 500,000 copies weekly in the USA, but folded in 1933 due to colonial rule banning its sale. Garvey died in London, somewhat forgotten and discredited in 1940, but a line from a speech he delivered in the early years of the Twentieth Century stuck in the memory of many who had seen this enigmatic orator and activist: 'Look to Africa, when a black king shall be crowned for the day of deliverance is at hand!'
1930 saw the crowning of Haile Selassie as Emperor of Ethiopia. A black king as Garvey had prophesised years before, with the proof of the prophesy coming from the bible; '...Ethiopia shall soon stretch out her hands unto God' (Psalms 68:31). This was grasped by the suffering, struggling destitute of Jamaica who lived a shantytown existence of dirt poor farming in the rural areas or garbage dump scavenging in Kingston. The poor outnumbered the rich or even moderately well off, by a multitude in Jamaica and any light along their rocky path was all they could hope for in their short lives. So Rastafari was born. The name originating from Ras Tafari, the former name of Haile Selassie that composed of the ancient Amharic 'Ras', meaning head (the Ethiopian equivalent to Duke) and Selassie's previous name, 'Tafari'. With a mix of Old Testament prophesy, Christianity, old tome Pocomania religion, Marcus Garvey's words and the Afro-centric view that Africa was the birthplace of mankind, Rastafari took an Ethiopian King as its Christ-On-Earth, although Selassie was oblivious to this for many years.
Finally, the poor underclass had a focus, and that focus promised that better must come - ultimately they would all trod on to Zion, the motherland of milk and honey where their suffering was no more. The biblical imagery was strong as was the hope and belief that it would happen, maybe, not today, but there was always tomorrow. It gave the people hope, and that was something they hadn't had before in their horror of an existence.
Communes soon sprung up in the leafy hills around Kingston, at 'Gounations', African drumming and chanting would take place, and the sacred herb (cannabis) smoked as part of a religious experience. The now familiar dreadlocks were grown again, reflecting biblical passages, 'they shall not make baldness upon their head, neither shall they shave off the corner of their beard nor make any cuttings in the flesh' (Leviticus 21:5). And the Nazirite vow 'All the days of the vow of his separation there shall no razor come upon his head: until the days be fulfilled, in the which he separateth himself unto the Lord, hr shall be holy, and shall let the locks of the hair of his head grow' (Numbers 6:5).
The communes soon came to the attention of the authorities, ever suspicious of any alternative way of life, and even more so the black Afro-centric ideas. This was the time of British rule, where the upper class socialised at cocktail-jazz drinks parties and never ventured into the poor and ghetto districts where, quite likely, many of their servants resided. The communes were attacked and the people scattered in an attempt to stamp out this new and undesirable way of thinking. Tow the Colonial line was what the established decreed, but undeterred, the Rasta saw the victimisation as more biblical reference, as they became the wandering Israelites, persecuted and far from home. If anything, the persecution made the Rasta stronger and provided a tangible enemy, a focus; the authorities (or 'Babylon'' in the Rasta perception), as opposed to ethereal hopes and dreams.
With the spiritual way of life came, of course, the making of music. US Jazz and R&B had always been popular in Jamaica alongside Country & Western and the JA version of Calypso, 'Mento', but with the addition of the Rastafarian African drumming came a new sound. The first recording to gain release was 'Carolina', a love song, produced by Prince Buster in 1960, which featured the Folkes Brothers on vocals and notable Rasta, Count Ossie, and his band on backing. Released in both Jamaica and the UK, it was a revolutionary record, albeit with quite standard love song style lyrics, but the production put the sound of Rastafari on record for the first time.
Most musicians came from poor and ghetto areas so it's only natural that they would feel the wave of Rastafari as it grew throughout the slums. Many, like Tommy McCook and Roland Alphonso, trained in Jazz and brought this facet to the recording studio along with subtle Rastafarian commentary by way of titles of instrumentals. the Rasta still didn't have a singing voice, but it was making itself heard all the same.
The 1960s witnessed signs of change despite most studio owners and producers unsympathetic to the revolutionary views of Rasta they had no option but to allow it to be expressed in the music, especially as most musicians were now of this persuasion. If they wanted hit tunes (which equalled big money) they needed these top flight players - and many were Rasta.
In 1964, little known vocalist Vernon Allen recorded one of the first overtly Rastafarian-themed singles with the double-sider 'Far I Come' backed with 'Babylon'. Resplendent with a scorching sax break and swinging flute fade-out, the rhythm was now the pulsing Ska-beat, over which Allen commented that 'Babylon was dragging under my feet and ruining this old earth'. The next few years of the decade saw many titles carrying Rasta-fuelled lyrics as the Ska beat slowed to mellow Rock Steady, with tracks like 'Rasta Put It On' from Wailer, Peter Tosh, and master song-smith Bob Andy with 'I've Got To Go Back Home' - a reference to returning to Motherland Africa.
Since Jamaican independence in 1962, politicians had always used the ghetto dwellers as soldiers in their unofficial armies, tempting them with paltry money and empty promises, but when you have nothing, a little something is better than nothing, so many joined the ranks. Jamaica had a two party system, the Jamaican Labour Party (JLP) and the People's National Party (PNP), which fought tooth and nail for dominance in the island's parliament. the fighting wasn't heated debate, but hot lead and street warfare, as each tried to overrun the other's districts. Many died, many were injured and nothing was achieved for the slum-dwellers as the political war ravage Kingston. The fear of sudden death just added to the burden of the ghetto-man and as a direct result of the harsh times Rastafari grew as a hope and belief in a better future.
The Rasta Red, Gold & Green colours could be seen equally on album sleeves and flying proudly in the streets as the 1970s bloodily rolled along. Marcus Garvey's face too could be seen all around town as, after some decades as a long forgotten figure, his words were resurrected with the Rasta revering him as almost a prophet. Burning Spear's heavyweight single 'Marcus Garvey' from 1975 almost single-handedly shot the man back into the nations' consciousness and now Garvey is regarded as one of the most important black rights speakers to ever have emerged from the small island. A year before, Bob Andy's masterful 'Fire Burning' told of the horrors of the Babylonian system, the breakdown of society and observes the fires of hell approaching over a succinct beat that breathes with his lyrics.
The best known of all Jamaican producers must be Lee 'Scratch' Perry, who cut his musical teeth during the Ska years, but came into his own as the Roots era evolved. His creative pinnacle at the famed Black Ark studio brought forth gems such as Max Romeo's 'War In A Babylon', which spoke directly of the political murder prevalent throughout the poor areas of Kingston. The record was a major hit both in Jamaica and in the UK, where it was released by Island Records, who also issued an album of the same name. Perry's instantly recognisable phased and multi-tracked sound was to be one of the defining styles of Roots to emerge, both on vocal tracks and dub.
Another prolific producer who had started his career in the 1960s was Edward 'Bunny' Lee, who was not only the first to employ dub-master King Tubby to mix flip-sides of singles into astounding soundscapes, but also one of the most willing operators to give raw talent a try. Enter his protégé, youth singer Johnny Clarke, whose 1975 waxing hit 'None Shall Escape The Judgement', just about says it all over an astounding flying cymbal rhythm, a sound that, thanks to Mr Lee, dominated the Jamaican charts in the middle of the decade.
But it wasn't just solo artists who stole the show, as many vocal groups also brought forth the word of Jah, and few were superior to Culture, a trio headed-up by the late Joseph Hill. A singer-songwriter and visionary, Hill's biggest claim to fame is the immortal 'Two Sevens Clash', a reference to a prediction by Marcus Garvey that there would be chaos on the 7th July 1977.
So serious was his prediction taken that many Jamaican businesses and schools closed their doors on that day. Happily it proved unfounded and the only problems that did arise were over in the UK when Punks went chasing after the latest record by the Clash thinking it to be called 'Two Sevens'!
So this is Roots music. It can be bright and upbeat or deep and moody, but running through it are the strands of Garvey's words, Rastafari, sufferation and hope. Hope is perhaps the most important of all, as it is the future rather than now or the past, but hope for a better day for many never came as they died in poverty or by violence, yet as long as Roots Reggae music stays alive, their voices will not have been stilled in vain.
Michael de Koningh - April 2011
|All material © Trojan Records|