Evolution of J'can music (Part 2)

Charles Campbell

Monday, September 24, 2012    

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THE musicians who formed the Skatalites were successful jazz players on the live local circuit. By the band's formation in 1962, they had been doing studio sessions for Clement 'Coxson' Dodd, Duke Reid, Prince Buster and other producers for up to 10 years. For the sound systems operating then, R&B music was the staple played in the dances, but its popularity was on wane in North America. By the end of the decade, of necessity, the sound system operators began to produce their own music, initially, exclusively for their systems, and then eventually they released them through regular outlets.

Ska was, therefore, a replacement for R&B. The lasting significant influence of the R&B is the emphasis on the after-beat, which has become a main characteristic of Jamaican pop music. This, in fact, completed the ancestral/ spiritual connectivity and circle with clap-hand singing in Jamaica churches and mento music, which had earlier influenced American jazz at its dawn ... plantation music, was at the root of all these musical idioms.

At first, the ska beat was vibrant, mirroring the hopes, aspirations and optimism of the Jamaican masses. As hopes however, began to fade and disillusion set in, the first generation of post -independence musicians and artistes — influenced in large part by Rastafari — created two distinctive characteristics of Jamaican music. Firstly, there was a slowing down of the music and a stylistic change to stiletto sounding bass lines, as henceforth, it was not played on the first beat. Secondly, using many Rasta songs adopted from church hymns, social themes, including a recognition and honour of Africa, laments about poverty, topical and protest songs which urged us to preserve and protect our roots, became the dominant lyrics of the decade of the 60s.

In the 60s and the 70s rock steady and reggae music began to penetrate international markets through the works of Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, Burning Spear, Jimmy Cliff, Toots and the Maytals, Dennis Brown, Millie Small, Desmond Dekker, Ken Boothe, Delroy Wilson, Alton Ellis, Bob Andy, Lee 'Scratch' Perry's music and numerous others. Through the appeal of their songs and the worldwide penetration of the touring Reggae Sunsplash festival, between 1984 and 1996, Reggae music became the anthems of the disenfranchised and dispossessed across the globe. The Rasta language was popularised through the music, becoming the lingua franca of the urban youths, freedom fighters and human rights activists, indigenous and repressed peoples.

Dancehall music arrived at the cusp of the technological revolution. With the discovery of digital recording in early to mid- 80s, Jamaica's output of recorded music per capita became greater than any other country in the world. While it has a heavy reliance on this technology, is totally stripped down, raw and minimalist, the rhythms of early dancehall music exemplified by the team of King Jammy, Steely and Clevie, were drawn from African-based, rural folk forms such as Etu, Pocomania and Kumina.

In its incipient stages, Reggae was promoted mainly by its Diaspora, but has since become main-stream. Today, everywhere in the world you go, people are listening to Reggae, from Ska to Dancehall. Generations have discovered that, culturally, reggae music and "livity" means a humane, spiritual, wholesome life. To quote Michael Manley, "it is commentary; satirical at times, often cruel; but its troubadours are not afraid to speak of love, of loyalty, of hope, of ideals, of justice, of new things and new forms. It is this assertion of revolutionary possibility that sets reggae apart."

Email: che.campbell@gmail.com





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