Fri | Feb 28, 2020

'Reggae Larger Than Life' packages music knowledge

Published:Thursday | January 25, 2018 | 12:06 AMMel Cooke

As I read through Shaun Cain’s Reggae Larger Than Life: The Ultimate Reggae Music Fun and Games Book, I fought – successfully – to push the word ‘trivia’ from my mind. For while that is the accustomed terminology for the intricate knowledge about a specific area that is tested in electronic, print or live format, it is way too close to ‘trivial’, as in having very little value or unimportant.

That could not apply to the knowledge about Jamaican popular music that Cain imparts through the tried and true method of multiple choice and word matching in 140 high quality pages (including the solutions), some of them having colour images of music recording and playback equipment like a mixing console.

It makes for an attractive, handily sized package, with a front cover approximating the Jamaican flag with a guitar. It is a good cover on a book that should be judged by this first impression – Reggae Larger Than Life is an excellent book. Of course, it would take volumes and libraries to even put a dent in the vast information about Jamaican popular music which can be tested and taught in this manner, so it is impossible that Cain could be comprehensive in this text. However, as it is a first edition, there is more to come.

There is also more than asking questions like “This Jamaican songbird teamed up with French Canadian, Celine Dion, to record the single ;Treat Her Like a Lady in 1997, Who was she?” (The choices are Chevelle Franklyn, Carlene Davis, Diana King and Cynthia Schloss), or matching descriptive nicknames like Gargamel, Warlord and The Cool Ruler to a performer’s stage name. Cain has also made a step towards that most valuable but woefully under-represented facet of Jamaican popular music, the biography. Of course, the stories of the lives and careers of Jack Radics, Da’Ville and GWhizz are abbreviated, but the effort is commendable and the information valuable.

In Reggae Larger Than Life, Cain covers the dancehall (“While he is busy ‘Stocking Up Di Papers’, this famous dancehall star notices ‘Money Makes Friends’, but he also discovers that “it makes enemies too. Who is he?”,the options given being Blak Ryno, Popcaan, Tommy Lee Sparta and Jah Vinci) and roots reggae (he provides choices among Third World, The Wailers, Black Uhuru and Inner Circle for the answer to which band the late Jacob Miller was lead vocalist of) without segmenting genres. Neither does he do so for questions leaning towards overseas-based performers and those in Jamaica. It makes for a crossing of any perceived boundaries, to good effect.

With a background in journalism, which he outlines in the introduction (where he also gives the book’s rationale and process, Cain has stuck out his neck in an area known for having many oral experts but few writers, the former ready and very willing to correct and dismiss the latter. He must be commended for taking Jamaican popular music seriously enough to not only do the work required (fact-checking included) for Reggae Larger Than Life and packaging it attractively. There are, I hope, many more editions to come.