This is a fantastic documentary on the Jamaican music scene during the turbulent 1970's. Filmed entirely in the ghettos of Kingston and the hills of Wareika by noted English film maker Jeremy Marre, this documentary takes the viewer into the studios and dancehalls and grounations of the Jamaican music scene.
The film starts with famed roots producer Jack Ruby, as he auditions would be stars. Its interesting to see as its something you read about and hear about but to actually see struggling singers and vocal groups actually come and sing with nothing but words (and sometimes a accoustic guitar) is really something else. Jack Ruby relaxes in his yard and takes it all in as he sips his Red Stripe and decides who he makes a star this time. The film then starts giving somne sort of history on the music itself (though the narrorator confuses ska and rocksteady saying rocksteady came before ska). There is some nice footage of the Maytals singing in a live performance backed by Byron Lee's group int he ska days, as well as some ska footage of a really young Jimmy Cliff dancing around and singing "Miss Jamaica". The ska footage is a real bonus as its footage I have never seen outside of this film.
The documentary then brings its self up to date by taking us to Jimmy Cliff's rehearsal area where he sings a soulful take of his classic "Wanted Man" with a band including Ernest Ranglin and Ansell Collins as well as what looks like Sly Dunbar playing percussion. Jimmy talks about the hardships and corruption of the Jamaican music industry as well as offering some insight into his own carreer.
The viewer is then taken to Cardiff Cresent in Kingston to the yard of Lee "Scratch" Perry and his magical Black Ark studio where we witness the building of a brand new rhythm led by bass player extraordinaire Boris Gardiner. Its such an amazing thing to see the Upsetters creating and Scratch bouncing around and clapping madly at the mixing console. This part is one of the highlights of the film for me. Voicing the rhythm are members of the Heptones, the Conggos and Junior Murvin, but with Heptone Leroy Sibbles taking the lead singing "Play On Mister Music".
Other highlights of the film is the studio scene featuring the Gladiators voicing the heavy roots anthem "Hearsay" for producer Prince Tony Robinson. Engineering the track is none other than Errol "ET" Thompson who drops the vocals and the rhythm at various times (to the liking of Prince Tony of course) and its great seeing the studio dynamics in those days.
Dancehall is another highlight with a young U Brown chatting over a heavy dub rythyhm while people dance and eat box food. The sound system U Brown is toastuing on is not specified but given the year this was made im going to guess it is either the Socialist Roots HiFi or Joe Gibbs Ocho Rios based sound. Toasting is featured again in the film, buit this time by the lively originator, U Roy, chatting his way over a live band on stage (instead of to records at a dancehall). Its such a treat to see U Roy dancing around madly in his green suit and trademark top hat, chanting endlessly into his mic. Another deejay shown is the famous Big Youth, but he unfortunantly is not shown in action, but shown hanging around a big Kingston based record shop.
Other features of the video are shots of a Rasta dance held in the rural Jamaican countryside by the Niyah drumming of Ras Michael and the Sons of Nagus. This is a great site I have never seen before either. There is also a great live performance of the Roots vocal group the Mighty Diamonds performing their hit "Right Time" (to what apprears to be white tourists)
On the accoustic side, we are brought into the home of the godfather of reggae Joe Higgs as he gives us a soulful rendition of "Theres a Reward" with just his powerful voice and a accoustic guitar. The Abbysinians are here also, singing a sublime accoustic version of their Rasta anthem "Satta Massa Gana".
and finally on the poppier sides of reggae, we are brought to the uptown areas of Jamaica where pop reggae crossover group Third World record a song and Jacob Miller and the larger than like Inner Circle band rehearse new songs before driving to a concert in their BMW.
In closing, this is an excellent view into the Jamaican music scene. Definitly recommended viewing to anyone insterested in the music and it would fit really nicely in your reggae video library right next to Rockers, Harder They Come and the various Bob Marley videos. Check it out.
"Roots Rock Reggae" is sold by Shanachie Entertainment:
Back to the Video reviews: