Jamaica: Soulful Town, Soulful People
I’ve found that most musically minded folks aren’t usually all that familiar with reggae. When asked to name a reggae singer, everyone immediately names Bob Marley, and rightly so, but when asked to name another, well … it gets kinda fuzzy.
Even the savvier might lamely offer up a “Ziggy Marley?” Or at best, “Jimmy Cliff?” Which is not bad and it’s all no big deal. It’s just the way it is. But for our newest compilation I wanted to give greater exposure to some of the less-heralded names in reggae and show its rocksteady and ska-influenced roots.
It’s quite phenomenal that all this music and talent came from one small Caribbean island. Arising from the Kingston neighborhoods almost 45 years ago, reggae quickly influenced the sound of all popular music that followed. Our Jamaica: Island in the Sun compilation (in stores now) is chock-full of rocksteady gems and such from the proto-era of what most people associate with Bob Marley and the Wailers and reggae’s heavy sound. It spans a range from 1967-1978, a golden era of the island’s rich history.
(Also check out the amazing Jeff James cover and poster artwork from our very own Creative Studio!)
Here I’ll just briefly mention two of my all-time favorite songs from this album – the rest are covered in the liner notes:
The rocksteady superstar Desmond Dekker was huge in Jamaica and well-known to the world at large long before Marley attained his full stature. A former welder who used to sing around the shop where he worked, Dekker was actually encouraged by his co-workers to pursue music as a career in 1961. Best known outside of Jamaica for his song “The Israelites” (as featured on the Drugstore Cowboy soundtrack), his catalog remained a vast and rich one. One of his classic songs (with the Aces) was “Fu Man Chu.” Recorded in 1968, it featured his unearthly falsetto, deft keyboard work and haunting back-up vocals that could be heard as a precursor to the Specials’ hit “Ghost Town” years later.
Lee “Scratch” Perry honed his incredible producing skills as an assistant for Coxsone Dodd and his miraculous Studio One ’50s sound machine. His uncanny, hazy soundscapes influenced and enhanced the sound of dub and made reggae an international success. “Bird in Hand” comes from Perry’s seminal 1978 opus, Return of the Super Ape, credited to the Upsetters. Sam Carty is the vocalist on the track, and legend has it that Perry borrowed the Hindi lyrics for it from a song he heard in a 1950 S.U. Sunny–directed Bollywood film called Babul. It’s an ingenious experiment.
I also felt it was important to highlight a couple of female artists on this package. I’d love to someday do an entire disc exclusively consisting of female reggae artists, as it’s a genre that seems to be largely male-centric. And believe me, as great as Phyllis Dillon and Marcia Griffiths are, they are but a small offering of great contributions out there that get short shrift.
But agenda and covered bases aside, I simply wanted those who picked up this collection to have a great summertime listen. Hope it’s hot enough for ya!