photo manipulation by nacrowe
as an AMERICAN it is difficult to hear the story of the spread of JAMAICAN music (SKA, ROCKSTEADY and REGGAE) in BRITAIN and not hear echos of the role AFRICAN-AMERICAN music held in the UNITED STATES (JAZZ, BLUES, R&B, ROCK AND ROLL, SOUL, FUNK, HIP HOP) in demanding both respect and representation from an oppressive white power structure that sought to exploit them for their labor, uninterested in their culture (or so they thought). its just too similar a narrative not to mention. AMERICAN music is BLACK MUSIC. likewise, JAMAICAN music influenced everything it touched in the UNITED KINGDOM (FASHION, POLITICS, ATTITUDE).
the recent documentary RUDEBOY: THE STORY OF TROJAN RECORDS (PULSE FILMS, 2018) outlines this compelling narrative from both a JAMAICAN and BRITISH perspective, as the two are deeply intertwined with one another. it does this through interviews with the musicians (TOOTS HIBBERT, DERRICK MORGAN, DANDY LIVINGSTONE, MARCIA GRIFFITHS, ROY ELLIS, KEN BOOTHE, FREDDIE NOTES, GEORGE DEKKER, DAVE BARKER, NEVILLE STAPLE, PAULINE BLACK), producers (BUNNY "STIKER" LEE, LLOYD COXSONE & LEE "SCRATCH" PERRY) and former TROJAN RECORDS officials (LEE GOPTHAL, ROB BELL & DAVID BETTERIDGE) that participated in bringing JAMAICAN music to the UNITED KINGDOM as well as writer NOEL HAWKS, filmmaker DON LETTS and most impressively of all, original JAMAICAN soundman KING EDWARDS THE GIANT.
the film also has some superbly choreographed reenactments with exceptionally visceral cinematography. the result is that we are taken into the streets of mid-century KINGSTON and the immigrant basement parties in 1960s ENGLISH council estates as the musical form and its audience developed. all this while the main participants act almost as voice-over narrators. really cool stuff that results in a highly immersive viewer experience.
as i've covered in other documentaries on the same topic (i.e. ROOTS, REGGAE, REBELLION and THE STORY OF SKINHEAD) the basic background is that the BRITISH NATIONALITY ACT OF 1948 gave BRITISH citizenship to all members of the commonwealth and the right to settle in BRITAIN, which led to a population boom of roughly 150,000 CARIBBEAN immigrants between 1951-1961 known as the WINDRUSH GENERATION. this had ramifications both culturally and politically.
LEE GOPTHAL was a BRITISH entrepreneur of INDIAN descent (who immigrated from JAMAICA) that owned a small string of record stores aimed at the burgeoning youth market represented by the children of the WINDRUSH GENERATION. at some point he realized he could sell imported 45s of JAMAICAN music to this growing second-generation immigrant population. he could not keep up with demand. in the late 1960s he established TROJAN RECORDS in partnership with CHRIS BLACKWELL's ISLAND RECORDS, which had connections to JAMAICA (thus its name).
once they started churning out records for the ENGLISH market, a funny thing happened: it caught on with the children and young adults of the working-class WHITE population. this led to the SKINHEAD movement of largely WHITE enthusiasts of JAMAICAN-imported music, fashion and attitude. essentially they wanted to look like the RUDEBOYS. their parents tolerance for this upstart youth culture was another story entirely sad to say. what is super interesting is how some participants of this documentary, PAULINE BLACK of 2-TONE SKA upstarts THE SELECTER and filmmaker DON LETTS (both second-generation immigrants), essentially were introduced to music of their ancestral homeland vis-a-vis the SKINHEAD movement.
at that point in the late 1960s, it could be argued that the music had become another facet of BRITISH popular culture. it even started getting regular airplay on BBC radio after years of being confined to offshore pirate radio stations. the intransigence and outright racism of radio programmers and gatekeepers on television was essentially nullified by the power of the collective popular appetite for this music. now a distinctly BRITISH sound rooted in its former colonies. i have no doubt that subsequent musical traditions rooted in immigrant populations in SUB-SAHARAN AFRICA and the INDIAN SUBCONTINENT no doubt gained entry to the ENGLISH radio-sphere through the efforts of TROJAN RECORDS and their audience demanding representation during this period.
TROJAN RECORDS is just a record label. it sought to expose and profit from music they believed in that was not exploited in the marketplace. they created that market and the culture that organically rose up around it in BRITAIN is still there today decades later after the label went bust in 1975 after not being able cover costs and taxes after it produced too many records. it created a musical and cultural dialogue that linked the UNITED KINGDOM with its former colony and made it reconsider its role in a newly multi-cultural society. i don't think BRITAIN was ready at the time, as evidenced with BRITISH MP ENOCH POWELL's xenophobic 1968 "RIVERS OF BLOOD" speech in which he stated that "in this country in 15 or 20 years' time the black man will have the whip hand over the white man" and the subsequent rise of the NATIONAL FRONT.
to BRITISH music lovers the legacy of TROJAN RECORDS is that of being a crucial preliminary step in the nation's hopeful progress towards INCLUSION, DIVERSITY and MULTICULTURALISM. yes there are setbacks (look no further than the xenophobic madness of BREXIT) and a brutal history (not unlike that of the UNITED STATES or GERMANY) defined by slavery and colonialism. one would hope recognizing the good in another's culture is the first step towards abandoning a shallow nativist stance and myopic, nationalist view of the world.
one can only hope.
great documentary worth checking out with superb cinematography and storytelling.
photo manipulation by nacrowe
hosted by BRITISH rapper and poet AKALA, ROOTS, REGGAE, REBELLION (BBC, 2016) is a welcome introductory documentary about the political and religious history of the RASTAFARI movement and its influence on ROOTS REGGAE music and identity of JAMAICANS both home and abroad.
much like the AMERICAN SOUTH, the CARIBBEAN island of JAMAICA was heavily involved with the MIDDLE PASSAGE to satiate its plantations when it was SPANISH and later a BRITISH colony. slaves on plantations were treated cruelly and made to adopt the religion of their oppressor, CHRISTIANITY. the RASTAFARI movement can be seen historically as a means of the local population rebuilding a culture that had been stripped of them by their BRITISH colonial oppressors. a means of connecting with their AFRICAN past and celebrating their heritage and owning their own identity. obviously this put them in opposition to powers that be, before and after gaining independence from the UNITED KINGDOM in 1962. the music that rose from this counter culture promoted empowering ideals of PAN-AFRICANISM, peace, self-sufficiency and liberation.
and for me that is the legacy of ROOTS REGGAE music, its ability to empower the listener. being a BRITISH documentary, it expands the influence of ROOTS REGGAE to the DIASPORA of immigrants in BRITAIN in the 1960s and 1970s and how it helped provided a sense of identity and unity to a disenfranchised community that bore the brunt of systematic racist practices and routine brutality at the hands of the police, not to mention the rise of the NATIONAL FRONT. ROOTS REGGAE galvanized this population, as well as strange allies in the concurrent PUNK ROCK movement, to fight oppression and seek strength in their community. I and I indeed. at its core, ROOTS REGGAE by definition is subversive, which most people forget.
one other compelling feature of this documentary was a brief interview with SLY & ROBBIE, the production dup and legendary rhythm section that worked with PETER TOSH and BURNING SPEAR among many others. they basically breakdown the difference between the basic percussion and bass patterns common in SKA, ROCKSTEADY and REGGAE. essentially SKA and ROCKSTEADY have a similar groove that is heavily accented with a high-hat on an off beat. SKA has a relatively fast tempo and ROCKSTEADY is pulled way back. they are very similar and focused compositionally around the drums. REGGAE on the other hand is wholly based structurally around bass parts with the drums following it. its an entirely different animal structurally and has a very different effect. its one thing to write about it, but this documentary has the duo actually play them.
touches like this make this a great introductory film for the layman unfamiliar with this incredible genre of music that shows the enduring power of music from the AFRICAN DIASPORA. a great entry point to a bigger conversation about global culture and the power of music. all from this small island nation. incredible.