Bittersweet Reggae Music
In a 45rpm record collection that I’ve carried from here-to-there, from there-to-here (and back again) “Reggae Music” by Barrington Levy (1979) lands on top.
Its distinctive, studio-tweaked drumroll cues a rhythmic drive that lets a keyboard line settle its joyful drift; Barrington Levy’s simple celebratory verse emotionally augments the simple bassline.
It’s the bassline, always the bassline, pushing the bottom to the top in body-quaking magnitude; a sonic vibration helped along by dub technicians like King Tubby.
The bassline might be simple, stripped down (far beyond James Brown’s vamp) but it swings in way that adds swagger to the march. It steps . . . forward.
A counterpart to the top 40 of 1979, let alone, helping one make it through the vagaries of what Peter Tosh called, the “shitstem” (aka “system”). The implied purpose of (Roots) Reggae . . .
That was something I carried in my head, like a secret. It was my secret (1974–1979). Even if I wasn’t the target audience: black Jamaicans.
The flipside (as far as that goes) is “Black Reggae Music” by Culture, accompanied by the gruff toasting of Prince Fari (1977), the almighty double-seven timeframe when Rasta finally winked at the charts.
It was never made for, and would never enter “the pop charts”, the marketed strategies of American music. But there was a market in the USA (where I was, as they say, “penetrating” the music).
The stores where I bought Reggae; everything from the chain that employed a creative stocker/manager to Jamaican owned-and-operated outlets.
The paradox of a white middle-class American walking down the street with “sufferers’ music” on his mind, occasionally saddled with the pejorative “cultural appropriation” by a Marxist critic, while the thing itself was handed across the counter, stuffed in a bag, and carried home (regardless of where that home might be).
Rasta had style, despite its spiritual ascetism, and fell in line with a history of African-diasporic cool; distinctly Jamaican in its cadence and terminologies.
One might be poor-ass but held firm through the dignity of an individual mind-set, one that refused to abide by Babylon’s (aka “the system’s”) standards (let alone, laws).
This was marching music, not of the military variety.