Roots rocking in the dancehall

Sunday, April 01, 2018

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Roots-reggae was conceived in the ghettos of Kingston during the late 1960s. The anguish of artistes who grew up in poverty, experiencing hunger and marginalisation can be heard in many a song by Bob Marley, Burning Spear or Culture.

That sound, and the humble lifestyle it promoted, held sway in the 1970s. It gave way to risqué lyrics and flamboyance during the 1980s but a decade later, roots music had a second coming in Jamaica.

By 1993 the music of Afro-conscious artistes from central Jamaica transformed dancehall music. Thanks to extensive airplay on the emerging Irie FM, Garnet Silk (Manchester), Tony Rebel (Manchester), Everton Blender (Clarendon) and Yasus Afari (St Elizabeth) led a Rasta renaissance that peaked by mid-decade.

Like their counterparts from the 1970s, they made their mark with anthems. Moma Africa (Garnet Silk), Fresh Vegetable (Tony Rebel), Lift Up Your Head (Everton Blender) and I Can See Clearly Now (Silk and Yasus Afari) touched the social psyche.

This new movement was not limited to that quartet. There was also singer Uton Green, singjay Kulcha Knox and the producer Richard “Bello” Bell, whose Star Trail Records released a number of outstanding songs.

By 1994 there were new recruits to 'Jah Army' including Capleton, Buju Banton, Jah Mason and Sizzla.

These acts benefited from the growing acceptance of dancehall/roots-reggae by American companies such as RAS Records, Heartbeat Records and VP Records. Pre-Internet, their music also got strong exposure in trendy American magazines like Vibe, The Source, URB and Reggae Report.

The Rasta revival suffered a body blow when Garnett Silk was killed in an explosion at his mother's home in Manchester at age 28. But the power of their message lives on: Tony Rebel heads Rebel Salute, one of the most successful reggae shows in the world; Blender, Capleton, Jah Mason and Sizzla still record and tour well; while Yasus Afari is a major advocate for Jamaican culture through his annual Jamaican Poetry Festival.

— Howard Campbell

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