Reggae Routes

Music fans whose only impression of Jamaican popular music is of the reggae sound made famous worldwide by Bob Marley will find a real revelation in the entertaining REGGAE ROUTES: THE STORY OF JAMAICAN MUSIC. First, there were four periods since 1960 in Jamaican popular music: ska, rocksteady, reggae, and dancehall, with innumerable musicians who were proponents of each style. And not every performer sported dreadlocks like Bob Marley’s. As Jamaican authors Kevin O’Brien Chang and Wayne Chen observe, reggae musician Toots Hibbert (of Toots and the Maytals) refused to wear dreadlocks, and while he was immensely popular in Jamaica, his unfunky image had a detrimental impact on the international marketing of his music, since foreign audiences preferred musicians who fit the role visually. This is among the many insights that derive from the authors being Jamaican, which gives the book a fresh perspective. Until now, many books about the Jamaican music scene were written by non-Jamaicans.

The authors also point out that the general notion that a large portion of Jamaicans are Rastafarians is untrue, being an impression promulgated by producers and marketing people who felt this gave the music an exotic dimension that would help sales. One of the recurring themes in Jamaican music is that record companies are crooks, and swindle musicians out of the money due them. Though the music itself is full of the love of life and love, the dark, commercial side of the music business is explored here also. The success of Bob Marley is seen as partially due to his being half white, and thus more easily acceptable to foreign audiences.

The text is enlivened by copious illustrations: album covers, photos of recording sessions, and the musicians themselves. After dipping into this exuberant book, those who enjoyed reggae awhile back but have not listened recently will likely regain their enthusiasm and pick up a few new CDs by Jamaican musicians they never knew existed.