Aug. 6, 2012, marks 50 years of Jamaican independence, making it the perfect time to look at some of what 50 years of Jamaican music has given us.
Klive Walker takes on that challenging task with this video timeline of important moments of the past 50 years of Jamaican music.
Walker is a Jamaican-Canadian author and cultural critic known for his expertise in the history of reggae culture, among other things. His book Dubwise: Reasoning from the Reggae Underground was published in 2005 by Toronto’s Insomniac Press, and his keynote paper on the history of reggae in Canada at the inaugural 2008 Global Reggae Conference is slated to appear in a book launching fall 2012.
He’s currently working on a book about the history of Jamaican success in international track and field, but took time out to create this video timeline of some key moments in Jamaican music during the last half-decade.
Nyabinghi: origins (before 1962)
Mento and African-inspired hand drumming are indigenous forms that coalesced in Jamaica long before independence from British colonial rule. Mento is a relative of calypso. Nyabinghi is a style of diaspora drumming practised by Rastafari. One of its leading innovators was Rastafari sage Oswald "Count Ossie" Williams.
Jazz was significant in Jamaica from the 1930s to 1950s. Joe Harriott was the gifted alto-saxophonist who learned his craft in Jamaica, then achieved notoriety in the U.K. as the "father of European free jazz."
By the end of the 1950s, those three genres colluded with rhythm and blues and Latin to begin shaping a distinct music called ska.
Green Island jazz: ska (1962-1966)
Independence, when it arrived on Aug. 6, 1962, gave Jamaicans permission to craft a unique cultural identity with greater conviction. Ska, speaking a language of heralding horns and a frenetic beat, became Jamaica’s first overarching popular music.
The Wailers, Prince Buster and the duo of Derrick (Morgan) and Patsy (Millicent Todd) all had pop ska singles bubbling on the Jamaican charts.
Ska’s most compelling band was the Skatalites, who offered their unique mix of walking bass lines and nyabinghi-influenced trap-drumming, and an interpretation of jazz that was lyrical, esoteric and bluesy. The Skatalites’ talented trombonist and composer was Don Drummond, a mythic pied piper, considered a genius on his instrument.
Sounds and pressure: rock steady (1966-68)
In the summer of 1966, the music shifted dramatically to rock steady, a sound anchored by a slow, sensual, languorous bass adorned with boogie-woogie piano and sometimes sparse horns. Lyrics tended to emphasize romance but also indulged social commentary.
Influenced by rhythm and blues vocals, harmony trios and solo singers such as the Paragons, the Heptones, Bob Andy, Alton Ellis and Ken Boothe became the focus. The Maytals’ Toots Hibbert possessed a soul-tinged voice that owed much to rural, indigenous roots.
Delroy Wilson and Phyllis Dillon, the queen of rock steady, were among the genre’s outstanding artists.
Visions: roots reggae (1968-86)
Reggae entered the scene boasting a rhythm that layers a languid bass with one-drop trap drumming and percussive organ and guitar. As well, production values became more experimental.
Reggae’s lyrics balanced themes of universal equality, justice, African diaspora history and romance. Equipped with those themes, reggae’s aesthetic impacted dance, fashion, art, film, theatre and literature.
Outstanding artists of this period included Burning Spear, the Wailers (Bob Marley, Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer), U-Roy, Big Youth, the Abyssinians and Marcia Griffiths.
Judy Mowatt’s Black Woman is a quality roots album that speaks to women’s issues.
Dennis Brown, the great reggae-soul singer, had unparalleled popularity in Jamaica and its diaspora, when he was alive.
Healing: dancehall (1986- )
Since the 1960s, dancehall has described the culture surrounding discotheques known as sound systems. In that culture, MCs are deejays and disc jockeys are selectors. Deejays soon became recording artists. Dancehall as a description for a new music emerged in the 1980s when a new generation of deejays and their producers introduced a new genre.
Dancehall lyrics are a mix of consciousness, sex and gun bravado. Its rhythms are often energetic and exciting. Dancehall’s fashion and dance moves have been internationally sourced.
Its stars include Yellowman, Brigadier Jerry, Supercat, Beenie Man, Tony Rebel, Buju Banton, Lady Saw and Tanya Stephens.
Exodus: reggae international (1964- )
In 1964, "My Boy Lollipop" by Jamaican ska vocalist Millie Small parked itself at the top of the British charts and peaked at number two in America. Since then, Jamaican artists have had a prominent international presence. Jimmy Cliff, Third World, Peter Tosh, Marcia Griffiths, Shabba Ranks, Sean Paul and Damien Marley are some significant examples.
Bob Marley, of course, is universally acknowledged as a global superstar who was an extraordinary songwriter and a consummate concert performer.
Reggae practitioners of Caribbean heritage living in Canada, America and the U.K. have always been crucial to the music’s continued global appeal. K-os, as a Trinidadian-Canadian hip-hop artist, crafts an appealing Marley-esque reggae vibe in his song "Crucial."
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on Aug 05, 2012