As we all know by now, the situation in the U.S territories of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands is a horrific nightmare. The majority of both islands do not have power still after a month. There is a severe shortage of clean drinking water. Life and death among Americans – the richest country in the world – and pathetic doesn’t begin to describe it. There are a lot of organizations and philanthropists pitching in, but there is so much need.
When I first heard dancehall reggae as I understood the sound, it was the early 1990s and every club was playing “Murder She Wrote” by Chaka Demus & Pliers. I hit the dance floor every time a DJ played it. Because that was the sound I was used to when I heard dancehall, I associated it with loud shouting vocals and heavy beats. Recently, I’ve was given a lesson on the true history of dancehall and it sounds much different than I realized, much more soulful and mellow with some echo or reverb, I would almost mistake it for roots reggae. When it comes to Jamaican music and musical history, there is so much variety, from rocksteady, ska, roots reggae, dancehall, dub, etc. It really is quite incredible. Forgive me for those who are steeped in this music, as I am just a beginner. I already did a post on ska and another post is in the works about an enlightening documentary I saw called The Legends of Ska. The following songs are just a small sampling, but please add your favorites in the comments. Some other notable artists are Yellowman, Tenor Saw, Brigadier Jerry, Charlie Chaplin, Beenie Man, among many others.
The following song immediately grabbed my attention. If I heard this and wasn’t told, I would have thought it was some type of roots reggae, but this is an original dancehall classic by well-known singer Sister Nancy. “Bam Bam” was released in 1982 and has been featured in movies, video games, and sampled by other artists:
Growing up in Southern California, the sounds of ska and reggae were ubiquitous. The lull of the slow beat of reggae and Bob Marley’s mythology hypnotized me.
Ska, rocksteady, and reggae are important historically (and musically) as they were influenced and directly descended from the Rastafarian religion/movement and contained lyrics of social justice, poverty, and the realities of third world living and taking a stand for oneself and people. Granted, some songs are just simply for the fun of it and party music, however, the political importance of reggae cannot be discounted.
Recently, a friend introduced me to an important historical song and artist in the history of ska and reggae, Count Ossie and his version of “Oh Carolina” recorded in 1973. “Oh Carolina” was originally recorded by the Folkes Brothers in 1960 and some say is the very first ska song. Count Ossie actually played drums on the 1960 Folkes Brothers Version! In 1993, reggae/dancehall artist Shaggy did a version of the song that became very popular.
Count Ossie is considered a reggae and Rastafarian legend. Here is a little background according to Wikipedia: “As a young boy Ossie grew up in a rasta community where he learned techniques of vocal chanting and hand drumming under the tutelage of Brother Job. In the early 1950s he set up a Rasta community in Rockfort on the east side of Kingston, where many of Kingston’s musicians learned about the Rastafari Movement. In the late 1950s, he (with other percussionists) formed the Count Ossie Group. His first sound recordings were made after meeting Prince Buster. One of those was a song by the Folkes Brothers, “Oh Carolina”, regarded by some music historians as the first-ever sk record.”
Here is the original 1960 version of “Oh Carolina” by the Folkes Brothers with Count Ossie on drums:
The 1973 Count Ossie & The Mystic Revelation version: