Friday, December 26, 2008

Reggae: The Rough Guide by Steve Barrow and Peter Dalton

The word “comprehensive” doesn’t even really due this book justice. An encyclopedic account of Jamaica’s rich musical history, Rough Guide encompasses everything from Mento to Dancehall. And in the process the history of this tiny incredibly fertile island (100,000+ records!) emerges. The book moves chronologically, starting in the fifties with the emancipation of Jamaica from Britain documenting the beginnings of Ska and invasion of Rock Steady in the 60’s; the rise of Roots Reggae and Dub in the 70’s and 80’s; as well as the “DJ” toasting and the proliferation of electronic riddims that would eventually coalesce into Dancehall in the 90’s.

Along the way we learn the crucial role the influence of American R & B played in the shaping of Jamaican music. We witness the beginnings of soundclash culture (who’s influence is nearly immeasurable) and the big three; Duke Reid, Coxsonne, and King Edwards. Bob Marley makes his inevitable entrance in the section about Rastafarianism’s influence on reggae. But, it must be noted that equal time is given to his peers; Peter Tosh, Gregory Isaacs, Dennis Brown, etc.

The phenom of producer/engineer as artist and the rise of dub is recounted in detail with the story of Studio One, King Tubby and Lee Perry. This segues nicely into the age of the DJ. And from here into Dancehall. The last bit of the book is dedicated to reggae’s global influence and even gives a nod to Brittish Ragga-Jungle.

The best thing about this book in my opinion, aside from all the great photos, is that the authors recommend specific songs and albums for all artists mentioned. This becomes invaluable with some of the lesser known, yet equally brilliant artists who have been lost over time, but thanks to the internet can be found once more. So far, I’ve enjoyed everything they’ve steered me toward.

Essential!!! (if you love reggae like I do)

Reggae: The Rough Guide by Steve Barrow and Peter Dalton
Rough Guides LTD; Penguin Books LTD 1997

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