More Roots Reggae
Even at this late date, it's still galling to hear the term "reggae" used as a tidy catch-all into which the myriad styles that comprise Jamaican music can be swept. During the past half-century, the world's loudest island has spawned new genres in homegrown pop music on a yearly — and sometimes monthly — basis. Most of these musical mutations, beginning with mento and ska and stretching over the decades to dancehall and beyond, have exerted a global influence out of all proportion to the size of the tiny island where they were born. Still, when most people think "reggae," they're probably referring to Jamaican music produced during the mid-'70s — the era of "roots," or "cultural," reggae. Its tempo was slower than that of the ska and rocksteady periods of the late '60s; the emphasis on the 2nd and 4th beats were made that much more thunderous by the multi-track recording studios recently opened throughout Kingston.
Roots reggae floated lyrics that reflected hard times and the cosmology of the Rastafarian religion — the latter's imagery rooted in Biblical allusion, prophecies of uprising and the repatriation of Jamaican blacks to Africa. Needless to say, such imagery didn't play well on local radio. Listeners mostly heard this music at outdoor parties, a setting that required a bass-heavy mix. The DJs who presented these songs through huge speaker cabinets in backyards also became integral presences within the music, rapping and shrieking over instrumental versions or "dubs" of hit tunes in the humid night, earning personality cult followings and, sometimes, stardom in their own right.
It's hard to imagine a more prolific scene, at any time, than that which bubbled forth from the studios and backyards of '70s Jamaica. In this crucible, swathed in marijuana smoke, roots reggae was born. Herewith, a dozen examples of the style, each one wearing its dread pedigree deep within the grooves.