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Seaga's ‘Reggae Golden Jubilee' traces Jamaica's musical history

Published:Friday | October 30, 2015 | 12:00 AMRoy Black
Edward Seaga
Prince Buster
The Wailin' Wailers
Alton Ellis

It’s now three years since musicologist, record producer, anthropologist and former Prime Minister of Jamaica, Edward Seaga, launched his musical book-box set collection: ‘Reggae Golden Jubilee 50 anniversary: origins of Jamaican music’. It showcased 100 recordings with accompanying liner notes that charted the course of Jamaica’s popular music since Independence, and was in fact timed to coincide with Jamaica’s 50th Independence Anniversary celebrations in 2012.

In a very entertaining launch at The Pegasus Hotel on October 19, 2012, several of the artistes featured in the set were presented, as they performed to a packed house. Three years later, Mr Seaga, the co-producer and author of the script, is confirming in an interview I had with him last Wednesday at his University of The West Indies’ office, that the 4-CD box set has done well - salewise and otherwise. He emphasised that, “What I tried to do, is to cover all the different variety of rhythms for popular music. I did some with the early composers, then I did the ska, the rocksteady, some early deejays like U-Roy, reggae, and some by Michigan and Smiley”.

Musicologist, Dermot Hussey, in his introductory remarks stated that, “Collections like this have a difficult task in deciding what to include or exclude. What are the criteria that inform the choices made? Is it chart popularity or a defining song that has a special relationship to one of the styles,” he questioned. I added my take on the topic in a Music Diaries article, titled, ‘Mission Impossible’ on August 5, 2012, in which I stated: “Attempting such an exercise could prove a very interesting but difficult manoeuvre, keeping in mind the multitude of great recordings that poured out of Jamaica’s busy recording studios in the last five decades”. And so we can well imagine the arduous task facing Mr Seaga when he attempted such a monumental endeavour. It in fact took him approximately two decades to complete the assignment. There were additional stumbling blocks as well, with getting the approval to do the songs. This he said, took a long time, as some record companies were unwilling to give the go-ahead for their release, while other songs were embroiled in court cases. As a result, some of his selections were left out, including Bob Marley’s One Love and Redemption Song. Luckily however, nearly half of the copyright was already owned by VP Records. They came aboard, with Joel Chin in particular, offering considerable help with copyright issues, while helping with the selection of some songs.

Seaga, the longest serving Member of Parliament and a present football administrator now in his 86th year, introduced the product to the audience at the launch on that memorable night in 2012. In doing so, he gave a brief lesson about Jamaica’s music history, and described the book-Cd box set, as a collector’s item which could be used as an educational tool for people all over the world.

As was previously mentioned, the concept for Reggae Golden Jubilee, came about in the early-mid 1990s and was exposed in a lecture, titled, ‘The Origins of Jamaican Popular Music’, given by Mr Seaga as part of ‘The Chat Bout’ series, conducted at The Senate Undercroft Building, Mona Campus on February 28, 2002. His presentation sought to outline the development of Jamaican music in the sequence of the emergence of its rhythms and styles, namely, rhythm and blues/Pre-ska; ska; rocksteady; reggae; dub/deejay/dancehall. According to Seaga, for one to fully understand these developments, the music must be set in the framework of the media through which music reached the people. Sound systems, radios and gramophones, were some of the earliest. By the mid-1950s, music became more widespread as radio stations in nearby American States could be received and the American Rhythm and Blues began to be heard on radio and at dances. A musical paradigm shift was on the horizon, as R&B, Boogie and Rock and Roll began to take the place of Jazz and The Big Band sound. People like Fats Domino, Roscoe Gordon, Louis Jordan, Shirley and Lee and Wilbert Harrison with his seminal piece, Kansas City, hit the nation like a bomb. Continuing his presentation, Seaga revealed that Jamaicans began to compose their own music by the end of the 1950s. Two of the earliest in the lot were, Easy Snapping, by Theophilus Beckford – the first cut on his Golden Jubilee collection, and Boogie in my Bones, by Laurel Aitken, which was not included, but was historic by becoming Chris Blackwell’s first production. Oh Manny Oh (track 3), a Seaga-produced Rhythm and Blues recording by Joe Higgs and Roy Wilson in 1960, was also historic: Seaga said in his address that, “It was the first Jamaican hit record to be manufactured on vinyl”. It was about this time that he set up West Indies Records Ltd. (WIRL), but left it shortly after for a political career.

By 1961, ska was in the making and Seaga, seemingly impressed by Prince Buster’s recordings, included three of his songs - Blackhead Chinaman, They Got To Go, and Wash Wash, in his Golden Jubilee 50 Anniversary collection. The last cut had both blacks and whites rocking in Britain to the negro spiritual lines:
‘Wash wash,
wash all your troubles away, oh yeah
Show me that river, take me across
and wash all my troubles away
like that lucky old sun
give me nothing to do
but roll around heaven all day”.

Take It Easy by Hopeton Lewis, Rocksteady by Alton Ellis and Tougher Than Tough by Derrick Morgan, are included among the rocksteady selections, while The Wailers’ Trench Town Rock, Desmond Dekker and The Aces’ Israelites and The Abyssinians’ Satta Massa Gana, dominated the reggae set. The other genres were also well represented.

“The presentation was not about artistes or producers or players. It is about the music – how it started and the seeds from which it grew, the roots it took, the branches it sprout and how it developed until today. It deals with how the music changed from one style and sound to another,” Mr Seaga said.