Jamaican music has had a thoroughly disproportionate effect on the rest of the world – an astonishing achievement for a tiny Caribbean island which has a population of just three million people. Spearheaded by the popularity of reggae and the figurehead of Bob Marley, its reverberating rhythms have found a resonance with a diverse international audience. This newly updated edition of Reggae Explosion charts the course of this extraordinary cultural revolution.
From the earliest emergence in the 1950s of the fiercely competitive sound systems fighting sonic battles in downtown Kingston the story of Jamaican music is traced through ska, the birth of reggae, dub, roots reggae and the impact of Bob Marley to the new, harder-edged developments that have emerged in the last twenty years, including dancehall, ragga and jungle.
Unpublished transcripts of interviews with key figures like Lee ‘Scratch” Perry and Prince Buster introduce the authentic voices of reggae history to Reggae Explosion – which blends deeply researched facts and rare images to create not only a sense of the pulse of the music, but also the contrasts of poverty, humour, desperation and joie de vivre that typify both the island of Jamaica and its music.
ReggaeXplosion started life in the summer of 2000 as a heated argument. Should the project be called ReggaeXplosion or more accurately Reggae Explosion. ReggaeXplosion ( all one word ) won the day, but it didn’t last .. by the time the USA version of the book was published the name reverted to Reggae Explosion. The project was to be a book and an exhibition. On Friday 29th September 2001 ReggaeXplosion opened with with a launch party down in the brick passages and catacombs under The Roundhouse – Camden. All of London seemed to be there and one could imagine their numbers expanded by hippies still vainly trying to find their way out of the labyrinth since back in the Sixties. The visuals are set up on the raw brick passages which radiate like spokes from the building’s central space or, a welcome touch for contributors to this site, on panels of zinc fence and corrugated iron. Rootical rub a dub sounds were provided by the Mighty Tip-A-Tone Hi-Fi to a crowd well lubricated with free Appleton Gold rum punch and Carib beer. Among the heaving mass of thirsty reggae fans jostling at the bar were spotted Mark Lamarr the radio DJ, members of Aswad, Tricky the DJ and Massive Attack associate, Gaz Mayall of Gaz’ Rockin’ Blues and all the usual reggae suspects.
This was a major reggae event and a model of how to present reggae to a larger audience. What comes across strongly is the range and diversity of the reggae experience and how much has been accomplished in fifty years by one small island. A ’50 years of cultural firestorm’.
Explore some of the photo archives used to compile Reggae Explosion …
BABYLON ON A THIN WIRE “Once upon a time in Jamaica”
Following is an excerpt by Michael Thomas from Babylon on a Thin Wire. The classic book by Michael Thomas and Adrian Boot will be available in a new and updated edition exclusively through Rough Trade in the UK from September 2017. This new hardback edition has text in English with a French translation.
Rough Trade East have a limited number of signed editions and a mini exhibition at Rough Trade – Old Truman Brewery, 91 Brick Lane, London E1 6QL
Flick it! Excuse me? FLICK IT! This is a bit rich. I’m standing stripped to my sox with my dick in my hand in an empty cell behind one of those doors you see at the airport, says NO ENTRY, and this little battyboy wants me to play with myself. How lucky can you get? I’ve run into the only gay cop in Jamaica. Country half the size of Wales, popn the size of Wolverhampton, where sodomy is not just against the law, not just a criminal offence, it’s a slur on the manly honor of a proud and virile nation, the world’s most over-publicised queer-bashing fag-phobic pillow-biter-hating poofter-averse society west of Turkey and Tehran – there’s always one, and I’m looking at him and he’s looking at me and he’s smirking. Flick it. He knows I’m gonna do it, I have no choice, he is THE LAW. There have been some changes made in Jamaica since this book first came out, but some traditions die hard, ie we both know this little turd-burglar’s got my nuts in a vice, he can at a moment of his choosing pinch a couple g’s from his pocket and tell the judge he found it up my ass…
May 2010, thirty years after The Harder They Come, Dudus is on the run. Kingston’s locked down, I’m getting desperate emails from Michelle she’s too scared to leave the house, it’s a massacre out there, they’re shooting people on sight as the police took on the Shower Posse and war broke out on the streets of Tivoli Gardens. They call ‘em the Shower Posse because that’s the way they shoot at you. 72 people died before they got him in the end, it was the biggest manhunt on the island since Jimmy Cliff died shooting back on Lime Key in The Harder They Come and that was a movie. Christopher Coke, the dude they call Dudus, is a prominent local businessman with friends in high places on backslapping terms with the leadership of the JLP, the Prime Minister himself is the MP for Tivoli Gardens and that’s Dudus’s garrison, the Shower Posse are his brethren, the Feds reckon he’s shifted more coke into the USA in the last few years than BP pumps guava jelly. The cops wanted to headlock Dudus before the Americans got him and extradited him and he starts naming names ..
Flick it for Sullivan, nuh. Whuh? He’s taking the piss. He’s pushing my APPREHENDABILITY to the max. Sullivan sticks his head round the door, but he’s not interested, he averts his gaze, he has to put up with this little weasel day in and day out: Sullivan’s interested in my Timberlands. He’s thinking about trying them on for size. He doesn’t say anything, he just boulders his shoulders and bunches his brows and flares his nostrils and he looks at me like a gorilla looks at a gnat and he whispers: SSSTRONNNG BOOTSSS.
I’m not in the mood for this. I need sleep. It’s been a long week, we’ve been rimmin it all over the island in Flugie’s bus, I miss this flight there’s not another one till Wednesday. I’m here to move the ball, I have friends in high places too, I’m practically a guest of the government. But the urine test never lies. Five minutes ago, I’m checking in at Virgin in Montego Bay and this gringo pulls me out of the line and searches my bag. He’s just going thru the motions, it’s too hot, he’s homesick, his hopes fade fast, but the girl cop’s not giving up, she’s burrowing like a badger in my laundry, chucking stuff over her shoulder, she’s sniffing my spoor, she’s on fire – You sure about this? I FEEEL IT! –
The man from the Yard gives my passport back, I check in etc, but it’s a trap. Gilbert and Sullivan are waiting for me airside. Now he has proof: my urine test is telling him my blood reeks of ganja, and the urine test is EVI-DENCE! FOOL PROOF! FI-NAL! Frankly, I’m not amazed. I’d be stunned if it came up anything different. Where do we go from here? Sullivan did the driving. We got to the Mobay District Hospital and this is the kind of little everyday setback you have to take in your stride in Jamaica: the X-Ray’s broke. Heh heh. Flick it yourself, Gilbert! Times like this, you dial up an Indian. Dr Mukherjee shows up, and a five year old girl in the ghetto could’ve told you this: the X-Ray’s not plugged in. I hate to wipe the smirk off your face: X-Ray comes up empty. There are no johnnies full of dandruff in my belly ..
I walked into a profile. Who knew? The Virgin girls on the plane tell me Dudus and the boys got fed up with all their silly babymothers getting busted at Heathrow, these days they look for panache, they employ louche war-weary silver-haired vets of a certain vintage as the mules de jour. Dudus didn’t fight the extradition, he knew better than that: he didn’t want to die in a fire in a cell in the lockup in Spanish Town like his father did so the Feds got their man. What everybody’s talking about now, what’s keeping the friends and family of the leadership of the JLP awake at night is this: will he spill the beans? What’s the fucking package!
The politicisation of crime and the criminalisation of politics goes back a long way, to the Manley years. This book came out back then, when I was opening the batting at Rolling Stone and we put Bob Marley on the front page, it’s the story of the Manley years, when the guns came to town and Johnny Too Bad took over the house – and at the same time wherever you went on the planet it didn’t matter, you could be rotting in a hammock on the West Coast of Guadalcanal or knee-deep in neon in a karaoke bar in Tokyo, somebody was singing along to No Woman No Cry. Things have changed, Michael Manley died in his bed a few years ago, New Kingston’s globalized, there are Russian hookers in the clubs on Beeston Street, there’s a KFC in every stripmall, everybody’s got a pay-as-you-go from Digicel etc. Blackwell’s old plantation house up at Strawberry Hill where Island used to send all their shellshocked rock stars for rehab got blown away by the hurricane, these days it’s a fivestar resort with infiniti pools etc. 56 Hope Rd, where global Jamaica was hatched, the old pink house that was Island’s HQ and later His Bobness’s residence is now the Bob Marley Museum. Hellshire Beach, where we found Countryman juggling live fish used to be a stretch of sand with a couple shacks, you had to have a 4×4 to get there. These days it’s 40 minutes on the motorway, it’s a teeming favela full of rum bars and old Rastas like my mate Electric-Power selling tonic to stretch your ejaculation to BREAK-ING POINT etc. But the waves roll in, the way they always have and always will ..