Mu­si­cal di­vi­sions (pt 2)

Jamaica Gleaner - - ENTERTAINMENT - Mel Cooke Gleaner Writer

THERE SEEMS to be some con­sen­sus about the time pe­ri­ods of the var­i­ous gen­res of Ja­maican pop­u­lar mu­sic’s emer­gence and their dom­i­nance. Texts which give a chronol­ogy of Ja­maican pop­u­lar mu­sic such as The Rough Guide to Reg­gae, third edi­tion (Bar­row & Dal­ton, 2004) and Reg­gae Routes (Chang & Chen, 1998) place gen­er­ally ska from 1962 to 1967, rock­steady at 1967 to 1968, reg­gae from 1968 to 1983 and dance­hall from then un­til now, with dub in the mix. This is de­spite dance­hall drift­ing into a near hip-hop mix in about the mid­dle of the last decade, a list which has been gen­er­ally cor­rected, in­clud­ing lyrics and rid­dims which have bor­rowed lib­er­ally from the early 1990s and, to a lesser ex­tent, 1980s dance­hall out­put.

Of course, in chart­ing the de­vel­op­ment of Ja­maican pop­u­lar mu­sic pre­ci­sion mat­ters, those with a deep in­ter­est and ex­per­tise in such mat­ters will nail down the shifts in sound to spe­cific record­ings and re­lease dates. How­ever, as I con­tinue to mull di­vi­sions by age in Ja­maican pop­u­lar mu­sic (last week’s part one started with a young man com­ment­ing that he did not know el­ders sang those songs when I was at­tempt­ing to sing Al­ka­line’s Cham­pion Boy), there is a cat­e­gori­sa­tion which be­muses me.

For while I can iden­tify ska through to dance­hall, there are terms like vin­tage, foun­da­tion, retro and throw­back which I can’t quite nail down. And I be­lieve they are im­por­tant cat­e­gori­sa­tions, as they cut across the var­i­ous gen­res.

So I lis­ten to the Retro Wed­nes­days pro­gram­ming on FAME FM a lot, not least of all be­cause there is a heavy fo­cus on early 1990s dance­hall, which was a peak pe­riod in my ses­sion-go­ing days (and no, this is not a plug for the RJR Group. I was a FAME Wed­nes­day fan long be­fore the merger). There are other names for the pro­gram­ming of mu­sic from ear­lier times in Ja­maican pop­u­lar mu­sic on other sta­tions (which shall re­main name­less), among them, throw­back.


But what ex­actly is retro (or throw­back) Ja­maican pop­u­lar mu­sic? I did not think about it much be­fore I heard a se­lec­tor/an­nouncer on one sta­tion say that he could play a song on retro day as it was 10 years old. A decade? Like two years be­fore Obama was pres­i­dent of the USA? That is all it takes for a song to qual­ify for retro/throw­back air­play? So you are telling me I am go­ing to be hear­ing Vybz Kar­tel in retro mu­sic now? And Assassin/Agent Sasco? Who made that 10-year rule? Since Tar­rus Ri­ley’s She’s Royal was re­leased in 2006, will I be hear­ing it on retro mu­sic pro­grammes soon? This is mind-bog­gling – or maybe I am just old.

The retro mu­sic ses­sions tend to make the dis­tinc­tions clearer, as they iden­tify par­tic­u­lar decades. For ex­am­ple Yes­ter­day is sub­themed ‘Best of the ‘90s’ so those who go know they will be hear­ing tons of Buju, Bounty, Bee­nie, Spragga, Lady Saw etc., es­pe­cially when it is early morn­ing rub up time.

Vin­tage is eas­ier to iden­tify, as there are ex­am­ples through the Star­time line-up, for ex­am­ple, as well as Ja­maica As­so­ci­a­tion of Vin­tage Artistes and Af­fil­i­ates (JAVAA), an or­gan­i­sa­tion for which I have enor­mous re­spect. But still, what makes one artiste vin­tage and an­other who has a his­tory go­ing back to the same time pe­riod not? I am aware that there are those per­form­ers who re­sist the vin­tage la­bel reg­u­larly, but how comes the late John Holt fit eas­ily into vin­tage on Star­time, while Fred­die McGre­gor (who has also been on Star­time) can go to Rebel Salute 2015 and take the house down with­out the ‘vin­tage’ sticker be­ing at­tached? How comes songs by Bob Mar­ley and the Wail­ers, Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer are rar­i­ties in vin­tage pro­gram­ming, I have heard on ra­dio (un­less it is the ear­li­est cuts by The Wail­ers), while the late Joseph ‘Cul­ture’ Hill is a vin­tage mu­sic fix­ture? Beres Ham­mond and Mar­cia Grif­fiths (who has done Star­time) never come up in vin­tage con­ver­sa­tions, although they cer­tainly qual­ify. Chances are, their early 1990s con­nec­tion with dance­hall through their Pent­house record­ings make a big dif­fer­ence, but still I won­der, what makes one artiste vin­tage and an­other not? Is it a mat­ter of hav­ing an en­dur­ing pres­ence on stage and in record­ings through dif­fer­ent eras?


Then there is Ken Boothe, a vin­tage show fix­ture who eas­ily goes to con­certs with­out that tag and twists and turns through Pup­pet On a String and other songs as ex­pected to tremen­dous ef­fect. What makes some­one like him so dif­fer­ent?

Fi­nally, what makes some­one foun­da­tion? This may be the most mys­ti­fy­ing cat­e­gori­sa­tion of all, but be sure that in a clash in­volv­ing sound sys­tems with pedi­gree, spe­cialised record­ings (dub­plates) by ‘foun­da­tion’ artistes will be played. Some of them are dead – which in­creases the dub­plate’s value. But check this – the two al­bums which made Siz­zla, Praise Ye Jah and Black Woman and Child, will be 20 years old next year. Does that qual­ify a man who is a guar­an­teed draw and sat­is­fy­ing draw at a stage show as foun­da­tion?

I am al­ready



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