Music

Published: Wednesday August 27, 2014 MYT 9:20:00 PM
Updated: Thursday August 28, 2014 MYT 7:25:12 PM

Reggae returns to Jamaica, recalling golden era of 1970s

It’s time to dig out your Bob Marley records and play them with pride because reggae is back!

In Kingston, Jamaica, the main event at fight night – a popular boxing showcase – is hours away, but the crowd at the National Stadium’s indoor arena, from the young and hip to the elderly, is already pumped. And when reggae artist Tarrus Riley enters the stage, the audience’s screams are deafening, their fervour energising the performance.

Although Jamaica is the birthplace of reggae, the genre has over the years been relegated to the oldies section. But a musical and social roots movement called Reggae Revival is on the rise in Jamaica, where the raunchier dancehall genre has been king for the last two decades.

The revival evokes music from reggae’s golden era of the 1970s, dominated by the laidback legend, Bob Marley, who put reggae on the global map with his catchy tunes and spiritual and socially conscious lyrics before his untimely death in 1981 at the age of 36.

A mural in Kingston, Jamaica, pays tribute to past reggae singers Denis Brown (left) and Bob Marley.

“Reggae is bouncing back,” says Chris Blackwell, the founder of Island Records, who introduced the group Bob Marley and the Wailers to the world. “It got lost somewhat in a negative and violent direction (but) I think it’s finding itself again,” he adds.

The revival of traditional “roots reggae” also stands as “a peaceful revolution in a nation that is often typecast as violent,” said Dutty Bookman, a Jamaican writer who has been documenting the movement which he says goes beyond music, likening it to the Arab Spring. “Love, unity, positivity, truth-seeking, these things form the basis of the movement.”

“Reggae is the heartbeat of Jamaica,” says Ziggy Marley, one of Bob Marley’s reggae-playing sons, currently on tour for his Fly Rasta album. “I think Jamaica misses it,” adds the younger Marley. “In the past years a lot of the younger artists have been trying to move away from it with dancehall, but reggae is something that is needed because music affects our society deeply.”

Dancehall killed the reggae star

After reggae’s golden age, the music degenerated as artists moved from marijuana – considered a spiritual drug by Jamaica’s Rastafarian Christian sect – to harder drugs like cocaine, says Herbie Miller, Jamaica Music Museum’s director.

“Slackness,” a local catch-all term for bad behaviour, including explicit sexuality and violence, became the norm, and with it came the rise of dancehall. Dancehall is an offshoot of reggae with a hyper-energetic sound and often violent, misogynistic as well as sexually explicit lyrics.

In 1991, dancehall artists famously upstaged roots reggae performers at the popular annual Reggae Sunsplash music festival and dancehall artists such as Shabba Ranks, Yellowman, Buju Banton and Ninjaman became all the rage. Dancehall also moved reggae closer to the American gangster rap scene, led by artists like Snoop Dogg, one the biggest-selling American rappers.

Like gangster rap, dancehall has also been rocked by a series of scandals involving some of its stars. The Grammy-winning singer Buju Banton was convicted in 2011 on cocaine conspiracy and trafficking charges and is serving a 10-year sentence. In April, dancehall star Vybz Kartel was sentenced to life in prison in Jamaica for the murder of a former associate.

Despite fading, reggae’s influence can still be heard in mainstream American pop, including the Bruno Mars 2012 hit Locked Out of Heaven. Mars performed a rousing reggae tribute to Bob Marley at the 2013 Grammys alongside Sting, Rihanna and two Marley sons, Ziggy and Damian, singing a cover of his 1980 song Could You Be Loved?

In a sign of the times, Snoop Dogg changed his name in 2012 after a trip to Jamaica and announced a conversion to the Rastafari movement and a new alias, Snoop Lion. His 2013 chart-topping Grammy-nominated album Reincarnated put reggae firmly back on the map, featuring a fusion of reggae and dancehall.

Reggae back in the charts

For the week of Aug 23, Billboard ranks Chronixx’s Dread & Terrible the fourth best-selling reggae album. Ziggy Marley’s Fly Rasta ranks third and Snoop Lion’s Reincarnated ranks sixth. The new crop of artists in the reggae revival include Protoje, Tarrus Riley, Chronixx, Jah9, and Kabaka Pyramid, who all play music with messages rooted in Rastafarianism.

What you have and how you look and what you don’t have, that’s dancehall,” says Kabaka Pyramid, who is ranked at the top of Billboard’s Next Big Sound chart last year. In the reggae revival, “ego is being taken out of the music,” he said.

The revival is being fostered by Billy Wilmot, a Jamaican surfing legend and also vocalist, guitarist and songwriter for the Mystic Revealers, a Jamaican reggae band formed in the late 1970s. His surf camp, Jamnesia, became a seminal place where Reggae Revival artists cut their teeth on live performance. “Reggae is always socially conscious music and socially relevant,” declares Wilmot. “It might not be what you want to hear, but it’s what’s going on in society.”

Roots reggae and dancehall may have very different sounds and messages, but they’re not mutually exclusive. Some reggae artists have incorporated rap elements of dancehall, including Damian Marley and Tanya Stephens. “Both can exist and live,” says Ziggy Marley. “The roots revival can bring things back into balance without being judgmental of one or the other.” – Reuters

Tags / Keywords: Lifestyle, People, Entertainment, People, Entertainment, Music, Jamaica, Kingston, Reggae Revival, reggae, dancehall, Bob Marley, Ziggy Marley, Damian Marley, Shabba Ranks, Buju Banton, Snoop Lion, Billy Wilmot, Chronixx, Protoje, Tarrus Riley, Kabaka Pyramid, rastafari, rastafarian

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