Jamaican music has always been heavily influenced by all sorts of stuff. At least it used always to be.
The original Dynamite compilations on Soul Jazz are some kinds of reggae/ska predominantly, but all sorts of music push through. One of the great revelations of those records is how diverse they are.
It also seems to me that Jamaican musicians in general have been highly conscious of their commercial viability. Which killed Jamaican music in the end.
Maybe I’m talking out my ass, but that’s how I read it.
When Jamaica’s musicians were alone and on their own, they just did whatever sold to people in the dance halls. Captive audience, willing to embrace a pretty wide variety of music. Anything that survived that period, early 60s thru early 70s, has a real, real high likelihood of being good.
The process of reggae hitting the mainstream started about when Clapton covered I Shot the Sheriff and was complete by the time Peter Tosh signed to the Stones’ record label.
By that point, a lot of Jamaican musicians were just doing whatever reggaeish bullshit they thought would sell to this new, much larger audience.
An inevitably less discerning audience. All larger audiences are so.
An impressive, vital last gasp in the 70s/early 80s. Some of which is noted below.
But as an awesome, widespread thing happening in real time, Jamaica was fucking over. Reggae in particular died a death more absolute than just about any other kind of music.
Perhaps there have been great Jamaican records made in the last twenty years. Anyone? Please tell me I’m wrong.
I’ve been listening to Jamaican music for almost thirty years. For the last nine years, I have listened to a ton of it. Sometimes the same things over and over again.
Maybe you think you hate “reggae.” Maybe you like it and don’t know where to go from wherever you are.
Maybe you know more than I do already.
I am not an expert.
But I know what I like, and I think anyone with any predisposition to liking any Jamaican music would like these records.
It is an idiosyncratic list, I guess.
I’m going to ignore most dub, because people talk about these things, and there are so many records.
I’m also going to ignore Bob Marley and LKJ, whom I love and are obvious, and people like Jimmy Cliff and Black Uhuru who made some super music and some not-so-super music.
With that understood, please buy these records, without hesitation:
The Congos – Heart of the Congos. Whatever version you can find. If you don’t like Heart of the Congos, stop there.
Augustus Pablo – Original Rockers. Or some of the other million ones, but this one is surefire for me.
100% Dynamite compilation. On the Soul Jazz label.
200% Dynamite compilation. On the Soul Jazz label.
500% Dynamite compilation. On the Soul Jazz label.
NOT the Dancehall versions; the regular compilations that say “ska, soul, rocksteady, funk…” right on the front. Those three Dynamite comps in particular are mindblowing. As good as popular music gets.
Cedric Im Brooks & The Light of Saba – The Magical Light of Saba. On the Honest Jon’s label. Everyone should own this album. My mom should own it. Maybe I’ll give it to her for Xmas some year.
One of the Sound Dimension compilations on Soul Jazz.
Any of the Tighten Up compilations.
Keith Hudson – The Hudson Affair. Brilliant distillation of Hudson’s remarkably dark vision.
If you get a couple of these and don’t like them, you should probably write off Jamaica.
Until then…do not!