FORMER Prime Minister Edward Seaga's four-CD box set, Origins of Jamaican Music, will be launched by Jamaican-owned, New York-based VP Records on Friday, October 19 at the Jamaica Pegasus Hotel, New Kingston.
In addition to 100 carefully selected songs, the set also features extensive liner notes and track-by-track notations in a 64-page booklet; iconic photos from Jamaica's 50 years as a sovereign nation; a preface from VP's president, Chris Chin; and foreword by musicologists Dermot Hussey and John Masouri.
"It is something that I always wanted to do because of my love for the music," Seaga said about the project.
He pointed out, however, that as time dragged on and Jamaica approached its 50th anniversary of Independence, he felt it was an appropriate time to complete it.
"I didn't get everything I wanted for the compilation, but I think it was as good as I could get," he added.
The set kicks off with the original version of Theophilius "Boogsie' Beckford's Easy Snapping, recorded in 1956 by Clement Dodd and released on his Coxson and Studio One labels in 1959.
It ends with Jimmy Cliff's The Harder They Come, released on the trail of the movie of the same name by Island Records in 1972.
Seaga, prime minister of Jamaica from 1980-89, could have led off the compilation with his own production, Dumplings, by Byron Lee and the Dragonaires, which was also released in 1959.
He chose not to because it is a cover of an Ernie Freeman classic, although it was the first locally produced song to make the Radio Jamaica (RJR) Top 10.
Dumplings, which is number two on the list, was recorded at Radio Jamaica where Graeme Goodall, an Australian engineer who came to Jamaica to help introduce Rediffusion to islanders, found a way to make the RJR studios lucrative after radio hours.
On the other hand, Easy Snapping was recorded on the dusty, unpaved Thompson Avenue in Trench Town, where Beckford lived and learned to play music from an old piano owned by his mother.
But, by the time the collection reaches The Harder They Come, Jamaican music was well on its way to dominating local radio, and the local film industry had already given birth.
In-between, Seaga also produced the massive selling Manny Oh by the talented duo, Higgs & Wilson from Jones Town, which is third on the list.
A disappointing aspect is that the selections do not reflect the dominance of Dodd's Studio One and, to some extent, Treasure Isle, in the 1960s.
The contribution of musicians like Don Drummond, Jackie Mittoo, Roland Alphanso, Tommy McCook, as well as veteran singers like Derrick Harriott and Barrington Levy, is absent. This could have been due to copyright reasons.
Seaga would have witnessed the development of Jamaican music from an inside position in those early days, as founder of the sophisticated West Indies Records Limited (WIRL) in the late 1950s.
He was a anthropologist in West Kingston at the turn of the 1960s, and as minister development and Welfare, he created the Festival movement.
So, it is no surprise that among the things he listed he wanted to do after retiring from politics, was putting together a box set chronicling the emergence and growth of the music.
It took him 16 years, working on and off, because of his many other commitments.
But, he has finished it at a very opportune time; while the country is reflecting on its first 50 years of Independence and considering the next 50.