Catch A Fire changed reggae music’s history

Basil Walters

Monday, February 20, 2012

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REGGAE music’s history would not be the same without the Bob Marley’s album Catch A Fire, said Professor Mike Alleyne from the Department of Recording Industry at Middle Tennessee State University in the United States.

Barbados-born Alleyne was speaking at the 15th Bob Marley lecture held at the Neville Hall Lecture Theatre, Unversity of the West Indies, Mona campus, last Thursday. The annual symposium — put on by the Institute of Caribbean Studies and the Reggae Studies Unit — was convened under the theme: "For the Record: Bob Marley’s Island Albums and the 40th Anniversary of Catch A Fire."

"Catch A Fire is an album with definitive conviction, but it can also be seen in some ways as a work of artistic contradiction. What is certain is that the Wailers, Bob Marley, the history of reggae and popular music in general would not have been the same without this iconic record," Professor Alleyne noted.

Catch a Fire is the majorlabel debut album for The Wailers, released on Island Records. The album established the group and leader Bob Marley as international superstars. The socially aware lyrics and militant tone attracted many listeners to Marley and Peter Tosh’s confrontational subjects and optimistic view of a future free from oppression.

"Reggae got internationalisation in the 1970s particularly through Island Records... a major social catalyst for the international spread of Rastafari... the music reaches a higher level of maturity... Catch A Fire is a crucial album which initially was more a critical rather than a commercial success at the roots of Island Catalogue," Professor Alleyne told the forum attended by students, academia and music observers.

The professor, who holds a master’s degree in English from the University of the West Indies, sought to explain that although Catch A Fire marks a defining moment in the internationalisation of reggae, the 1972 album which was released in late-1973 in the States, did not diminish the importance of the Wailers’ earlier recordings.

He said the militancy and urgency of Catch A Fire were the yardsticks against which other albums such as Kaya, Exodus, Rastaman Vibration, Natty Dread and Burnin were often measured.

Professor Alleyne was not unmindful of the contributions of other trailblazers.

"Artistes like Desmond Dekker and other pioneers were among those who paved the way towards reggae’s international profile between the late-1960s and early-1970s. But the artistic and critical impact of Catch A Fire signified the importance of the album in the future of reggae. Catch A Fire proved to be the cohesive statement in ways no previous reggae release had achieved... and created a reggae marketing template," he argued.

Added he, "Although the soundtracks of the movie The Harder They Come, released first in 1972, also by Island (Records), played a major role in spreading the sounds of reggae... Catch A Fire brought reggae into the mainstream as a serious popular music."

In his multi-media presentation, featuring slices of the Wailers’ music, he cited head honcho of Island Records Chris Blackwell’s strategic approach of reconfiguerating some of the group’s earlier recordings in order for them to have a wider appeal in the crossover rock market.




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