Reggae Bloodlines

Book review from Edinburgh’s Ital Rockers, issue 4, Winter 78-9.

Reggae Bloodlines – In Search of the Music and Culture of Jamaica
By Stephen Davis and Peter Simon (Anchor Press)

The Jamaica Tourist Board doesn’t approve of reggae. It’s rebel music, the sound of the slums, and as such has a subversive effect on the image of a tropical paradise promoted by the Board. Therefore reggae has become underground music – you’ll only find it on the radio between midnight and dawn, when decent law-abiding citizens are safe in bed.
For this reason, Stephen Davis and Peter Simon had to go off the beaten track to discover the island’s true identity. ‘Reggae Bloodlines’ is the result of that search.
This thick paperback opens with a brief resume of Jamaica’s fascinating history and then sketches out reggae’s development from the very beginning. The remainder of the book is not entirely successful in showing how the music is interwoven with everyday life but it does make for an engaging read.
Apart from the inevitable Bob Marley, the co-authors also met Fred Locks, Jimmy Cliff, Big Youth, Max Romeo and Augustus Pablo to name but a few. Other chapters are devoted to dub, an interview with Prime Minister Manley, an encounter with the legendary Maroons, descendants of African slaves whom the Spaniards abandoned on realising that the island offered no gold, and a hazardous trip to the ganja fields on Kali Mountains, one centre of a business that probably makes more profit than many more legitimate concerns.
Although falling short of an all-encompassing view of Jamaica, ‘Reggae Bloodlines’ does go some way towards capturing the spirit of the country and its music. The text is good (‘Reggae flew into London with Jamaican immigrants and holed up in a basement flat in Brixton shivering through its first Northern winters’) and the photographs on their own are worth the price of admission. If you can’t afford a plane ticket to the Isle of Springs then this book is the next best thing. Purchase with confidence.

Graham Smith

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