Reg­gae read­ing list

Jamaica Gleaner - - SATURDAY TALK -

Reck­ord and Der­mot Hussey were there to pi­o­neer the anal­y­sis. None of them, though, wrote com­plete books on the sub­ject. I also re­alised that I could not re­ally in­clude the in­no­va­tive anal­y­sis and crisp writ­ing of Gar­nette Cado­gan on Bob Mar­ley or Ken Bilby’s out­stand­ing and ac­ces­si­ble schol­ar­ship on hand-drum­ming. Why? Their es­says do not as­sume book form.

The same logic ap­plies to Her­bie Miller and Monique McIntosh. Miller’s es­says on Anita ‘Mar­garita’ Mah­food, Ja­maican jazz and Louise Ben­nett ex­plore new ter­ri­tory. McIntosh’s writ­ing on Don Drum­mond and Mar­garita in Atomic Mat­ter, a poem mas­querad­ing as an ele­giac es­say, is sub­lime. Lisa Tom­lin­son, Ja­son Toyn­bee, So­nia Stan­ley Ni­aah, Donna Hope, Baz Dreisinger, Clin­ton Hut­ton, Erin McLeod, Mike Al­leyne, Nadi Ed­wards, Iso­bel Harry and Lara Put­nam are select writers whose names must be in­cluded in any con­ver­sa­tion about fact-based writ­ing on reg­gae or reg­gaere­lated sub­jects.

Then there is Mar­lon James. His GQ ar­ti­cle on Bob Mar­ley as style icon raises the bar on reg­gae non-fic­tion. He finely tunes his dis­cus­sion of Bob’s roots fash­ion with the ap­pro­pri­ate so­cial con­text, then weaves in a brief his­tory of Bob’s mu­si­cal jour­ney to black rock star.

Jah Mu­sic by Se­bas­tian Clarke (now Saakana) is a book that de­serves high­light­ing as an en­gag­ing, in­no­va­tive work. Heather Au­gustyn’s bi­og­ra­phy of Drum­mond must also be men­tioned. Her re­search into the lives of Drum­mond and Mar­garita un­cov­ers valu­able in­for­ma­tion. And the late Timothy White de­serves a shout-out for the qual­ity of his writ­ing in his Mar­ley bi­og­ra­phy, Catch a Fire. Sadly, though, I am lim­ited to only three se­lec­tions. Here, then, are my picks (not in or­der of pri­or­ity or pref­er­ence):


The 16 es­says in Global Reg­gae rep­re­sent a unique col­lec­tion of writ­ing about this uni­ver­sal mu­sic. From var­i­ous coun­tries around the world, his­to­ri­ans, Bob Mar­ley and The Wail­ers.

jour­nal­ists, schol­ars and, yes, even a col­lec­tor of reg­gae on vinyl all dis­cuss the im­pact and in­flu­ence of the mu­sic on their do­mes­tic cul­tures. Many of these con­tri­bu­tions be­gan life as key­note pre­sen­ta­tions de­liv­ered at the first Global Reg­gae Con­fer­ence held in 2008 at the Mona cam­pus of the Univer­sity of the West Indies (UWI) in Ja­maica.

Carolyn Cooper, the editor of this col­lec­tion, was one of the main or­gan­is­ers of that event. In ad­di­tion to her role as an English pro­fes­sor, she has writ­ten about the genre for sev­eral years and is founder of the univer­sity’s Reg­gae Stud­ies pro­gramme.

Cooper is joined by three other Ja­maican con­trib­u­tors, mu­si­cian Peter Ash­bourne, Kam-Au Amen and es­teemed novelist and so­ci­ol­o­gist Erna Brod­ber. Louis Chude Sokei and Cheikh Amadou Dieng are au­thors of the two es­says on Africa. Samuel Fure Davis writes

about Cuba. Leonardo Vidi­gal on Brazil, Teddy Isi­mat Mirin on the French Caribbean, Brent Clough on Ocea­nia, Marvin D Ster­ling on Ja­pan, Ellen Koehlings and Pete Lilly on Ger­many, Amon Saba Saakana on

Bri­tain, Roger St­ef­fens on Amer­ica, and African Amer­i­can mu­si­cian and writer Michael Veal writes about dub. I un­pack the his­tory of the mu­sic in Canada.

All of the writ­ing in this col­lec­tion is in­ter­est­ing. There are some that de­serve spe­cial at­ten­tion. ChudeSokei’s ‘Roots, Di­as­pora and Pos­si­ble Africas’ is an ex­cel­lent med­i­ta­tion on how Africa en­gages with the por­trayal of it­self in reg­gae, a mu­sic crafted in its di­as­pora. Ster­ling, as a Ja­maican who lived and taught in Ja­pan, gives an as­sess­ment of that na­tion’s re­la­tion­ship to dance­hall that is a rev­e­la­tion.

Clough’s thought-pro­vok­ing ‘Oceanic Reg­gae’ pos­sesses a point of view that is im­mersed in his love of: reg­gae, that re­gion of the world, and the in­dige­nous pop­u­la­tion there who strug­gle against be­ing pushed to the mar­gins.

Veal’s ‘Dub: Elec­tronic Mu­sic and Sound Ex­per­i­men­ta­tion’ bril­liantly mir­rors the avant-garde sen­si­bil­ity of the mu­sic he is at­tempt­ing to un­ravel. Saakana pro­vides unique in­sights about Bri­tish reg­gae. Cooper’s in­trigu­ing nar­ra­tive un­rav­els the com­plex­i­ties of set­ting up a pro­gramme for the ter­tiary study of reg­gae in its birth­place. In the course of telling reg­gae’s Cana­dian story, I rein­tro­duce my per­spec­tive on the dis­tinct forms of reg­gae heard in the Caribbean di­as­pora lo­ca­tions of Canada, the UK and Amer­ica.

‘Global Reg­gae’ is a book that has no equal as a work that dis­cusses the global ap­peal of the mu­sic from the in­side out.


Dawes is an ex­tra­or­di­nary poet. He is also a novelist. His reg­gae non-fic­tion ex­am­ines dif­fer­ent ways of un­der­stand­ing the mu­sic and its his­tory. In his book Nat­u­ral Mys­ti­cism, he teases out the de­tails of a ground­break­ing idea he named the ‘reg­gae aes­thetic’. He uses it as a method of in­quiry to dis­cuss the mu­sic’s in­flu­ence on his own writ­ing and on the writ­ing of sev­eral tal­ented Caribbean au­thors over the last 50 years.

This ex­cep­tional book partly con­cerned with reg­gae’s im­pact on the arts in gen­eral could have eas­ily made this short­list. In­stead, I have in­cluded his book about Bob Mar­ley be­cause I thought that a good Mar­ley ti­tle should be on this list, and Dawes’ book is pos­si­bly the most thought­ful and rig­or­ous as­sess­ment of Mar­ley’s lyrics to date.

In the crowded land­scape of all those cra­dle-to-grave Mar­ley bi­ogra­phies, Dawes re­fresh­ingly pro­vides in­for­ma­tion about Bob’s life re­vealed through a deep-tis­sue anal­y­sis of the reg­gae po­etry found in all those great songs he penned. Lyri­cal Ge­nius is an im­por­tant Mar­ley book.


Reg­gae: The Rough Guide could eas­ily be mis­taken for a cof­fee ta­ble book or the kind of col­lec­tor’s vol­ume I de­scribed above. Its au­thors ac­tu­ally in­di­cate quite clearly in the book’s in­tro­duc­tion that one of their ob­jec­tives is to re­view a large num­ber of record­ings.

On the cover, it proudly boasts “more than 1,000 CD and vinyl rec­om­men­da­tions”, but in that in­tro­duc­tion, be­fore Bar­row and Dal­ton men­tion the record re­views, they pro­vide a brief sum­mary of the reg­gae his­tory they plan to im­part, the artist pro­files and in­ter­views the reader can ex­pect, and the book’s jour­ney through ev­ery genre of Ja­maican pop­u­lar mu­sic from folk to dance­hall.

The au­thors pro­vide as much con­text as can be ex­pected. It is one thing to prom­ise that in a work that can be de­scribed as an eval­u­a­tion of record­ings, but I think that, as well as any non-rig­or­ous his­tory can, The Rough Guide has achieved more than the sum of its parts. Bar­row and Dal­ton braid to­gether the book’s var­i­ous com­po­nents so well that it el­e­vates it above other works with sim­i­lar goals.

The Rough Guide can be en­gaged as a par­tic­u­lar kind of reg­gae en­cy­clopae­dia. Its com­pre­hen­sive in­dex can take you di­rectly to the in­for­ma­tion you may be seek­ing. More im­por­tant, though, is that it pos­sesses a dis­tinct per­spec­tive un­usual for non-Caribbean au­thors: It treats the mu­sic with the same grav­ity as rock rather than as a nov­elty or some quaint is­land dis­trac­tion.

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