Each volume features a mix of tracks considered pivotal to each genre, along with less obvious material and tracks that haven’t appeared on many compilations, including underground club/sound system hits, rarities and tracks that are becoming increasingly difficult and/or expensive to find on CD. The series also features several tracks that are being made available on CD for the first time ever. Each volume contains a 10,000 word essay from Lloyd Bradley, the author of ‘Bass Culture: when reggae was king’, widely seen as the definitive history of contemporary Jamaican popular music.
Volume one takes the Jamaican recording industry back approximately half a century, to ska, its nationalistic roots and the first internationally acknowledged music to spring from the island. Inspired by the idea of independence, the style became a handy metaphor for the country as it stood on its own feet and announced itself to the world. Later, as it evolved into rocksteady and then reggae, the music reflected a Jamaica that was growing in confidence and creativity.
Three names dominate the ska recordings on this collection: Clement “Coxsone” Dodd, Duke Reid and Prince Buster. It is this Kingston trio who really pushed Jamaican music forward to create ska and rocksteady, moving Jamaican music away from an imitation of 1950s American R&B. As sound system operators, the trio also had a wider effect on Jamaican society as a whole, as Prince Buster vividly remembers: “The sound system fed a lot of people. The dance was the thing that kept it together down there; it was the only thing that bring money in. So for a long period of time the ghetto was balanced by the sound systems.”
CD1 features ska gems such as Bob Marley & The Wailers ‘One Love’, The Skatalites ‘Dr Kildare’ and Derrick Morgan’s ‘Miss Lulu’. By the mid 1960s Jamaica was ready for a break from ska’s relentless beat and CD2 shows how ska morphed into rocksteady, a slower groove that was more conducive to slow couples’ dancing, with tunes such as Prince Buster’s ‘Too Hot’ and The Paragons ‘Riding On A High & Windy Day’ dominating Jamaican music for much of the second half of the decade.
‘VOLUME 2 – BOSS SOUNDS’
‘EARLY REGGAE 1968-1972’
The transition from rocksteady to reggae started becoming noticeable a few months into 1968, when dancehall crowds began to react enthusiastically to a faster, jerkier beat and so reggae came into existence as a dance style to go with the new choppier rhythms.
Volume two features all of the big Jamaican names of the period, such as Ken Boothe, Toots & The Maytals and Max Romeo, but with a strong emphasis on less obvious tracks. The selection of tunes here also shows the diversity of reggae from this period: ‘Each Time’ by The Ebony Sisters is sweet lovers’ rock, several years before the term was coined; Derrick Morgan’s ‘River To The Bank’, a big sound system hit in the UK, is a far more crisp, high-stepping rhythm; while there’s a country pop feel to ‘Foey Man’ by George Dekker as it bounces along; and Pat Kelly is backed by music with enough depth and complexity to do justice to the man they called Jamaica’s Sam Cooke. All of these records were reggae circa late 60s/early 70s. Volume Two features a generous helping of rarities from up-and-coming producers of the day such as Lloyd “Matador” Daley, the man behind Little Roy’s ‘Bongo Nyah’, a tune that hinted at the roots reggae style that would soon come.
‘VOLUME 3 – ROOTS, ROCKERS, DJS & DUB’
‘WHEN REGGAE WAS KING’
Ten years on from the lowering of the union flag all was not well in West Kingston, as Volume three musically narrates. While income from foreign investment had provided a mini economic boom right after Independence, by the end of the 1960s the realities were starting to bite. Inevitably reggae, which by then had established itself as the people’s music, was going to comment on such a situation.
As the 1970s progressed, what would come to be known as roots reggae became the dominant sound of Jamaica. The basic reggae template could be applied to so many styles – dub, deejay, lovers, harmony singing, pop, jazz, rockers and so on – that the music could be diverse and progressive, yet the framework was always so clearly defined, they’d all genuinely be reggae.
Volume three emphasises the diversity of 1970s reggae in all it’s glory: from the reggae funk of Bob Marley & The Wailers ‘Caution’, to the high-stepping brass sound of Tommy McCook’s ‘Jaro’ and the militant dread of Niney The Observer’s ‘Mutiny’. We’re also blessed with a journey through rare reggae sounds such as Big Youth ‘Love We A Deal With’, I Roy ‘Fire In A Wire’, Roy Shirley ‘Israelites Leave Babylon’ and Freddie McKay ‘I’m A Free Man’ – a true education in the initiation of reggae to the masses.
‘VOLUME 4 – THE BIRTH OF DANCEHALL’
‘MASH YOU DOWN’
As the 1970s rolled into the 1980s dancehall reggae is the truly seismic movement that took place in Jamaican music, deliberately returning reggae music to its sound system origins and this set, ‘Mash You Down’, deals with dancehall’s early days.
At the stage Volume four deals with, much of the subject matter still concerned itself with cultural or social matters. Here, songs such as ‘Gun Shot’ by Anthony Johnson, Barrington Levy’s ‘Jah Black’, John Holt’s ‘Fat She Fat, ‘Ababa John I’ by Don Carlos and Sugar Minott’s ‘Move Up’, are vibrant examples of that often neglected late-1970s/early-1980s sub-genre, dancehall roots.
As it progressed, dancehall deejays earned a reputation for sex talk, or slackness, yet ‘Mash You Down’, shows how in the early days there was a more romantic lover’s rock side to dancehall as shown by Nitty Gritty’s ‘Run Down The World’ and Wayne Smith’s ‘Time Is A Moment In Space’, the latter a production of amazing subtlety that offsets the hard edged rhythm with a beautiful, multi-layered tunefulness. From elsewhere, Pad Anthony’s ‘See Them A Come’ is a glorious mix up of gunshot snares and digital percussion smoothed out by the vocals, while Cocoa Tea puts his plaintive style to good use on ‘Rocking Dolly’. Over two CDs, Volume four illustrates how early dancehall took reggae on an exciting musical journey from the roots & culture late 70s to the digital mid 80s.