Reggae in a jacket

Tuesday, November 06, 2012    

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THE unheralded world of reggae art gets the spotlight on November 12 when London's Soul Jazz Books releases Reggae Soundsystem: Original Reggae Album Cover Art by Steve Barrow and Stuart Baker.

It is homage to the creativity of how art influenced Jamaican popular music going back to the 1950s when the country's music industry was taking shape.

Britain's The Independent newspaper published a feature story on the book yesterday, referring to it as "a compelling history of a young nation and its people".

'Reggae Soundsystem' is a 500-page tome that highlights over 1,000 full-size record label 45 rpm single designs and album jackets.

It also zooms in on several of the Jamaican artists who had a hand in creating and designing these visuals, including Wilfred Limonious and Jethro 'Paco' Dennis.

A graduate of the Jamaica School of Art, Limonious died in 2007. One of his greatest creations, the cover for the 1985 Channel One album, Stalag 17-18 and 19, is included in Reggae Soundsystem. So too Dennis' artwork for singer Junior Delgado's Bushmaster Revolution, released in 1982.

Barrow's research actually starts with jackets for calypso songs that were popular in Jamaica during the 1950s. Barrow told the Independent that those jackets reflected the mood of Jamaica.

"The music was something more to sell to the tourists. You see Jamaica portrayed as a kind of tourist paradise with dusky maidens or a folklore troupe dancing on the lawn of a big hotel," Barrow told The Independent.

The edgy productions of Limonious and Dennis pointed to the black power movement and political tension that played out in Jamaica during the 1970s and early 1980s.

London-born Barrow is a respected reggae archivist and an authority on the music's history in Britain. He has worked with major British labels such as Trojan and Island, as well as the independent Blood and Fire Records, and publications like Black Echoes.

Baker is a senior figure at Soul Jazz Records, the main distributor of Studio One music in Britain. The two collaborated on a previous book, Rough Guide to Reggae/Blood and Fire Records.

— Howard Campbell




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