Tag Archives: Reggae books

New book focuses on women in reggae

small coverThere are hundreds of books written about Bob Marley, reggae and dancehall, but none have been all about the women. Now all that has changed thanks to Heather Augustyn, a correspondent for The Times of Northwest Indiana, U.S., and an adjunct professor at Purdue University’s North Central campus as well as the author of Don Drummond: The Genius and Tragedy of the World’s Greatest Trombonist, Ska: An Oral History and Ska: The Rhythm of Liberation.

Songbirds: Pioneering Women in Jamaican Music is the first the first book about women ni reggae, many of whom are critical to the ska explosion in the 60s or the global rise of roots reggae in the 70s.

The book is a detailed look at the daughters, wives and mothers in reggae; the vocalists, instrumentalists, producers, dancers and deejays who helped to shape the course of Jamaican music on the island and worldwide.

This is Heather Augustyn’s fourth book and she spent two years researching it. It features dozens of interviews with a number of key individuals, including Millie Small, Enid Cumberland of Keith & Enid, Janet Enright, Jamaica’s first female guitarist who performed jazz in the 1950s, Marcia Griffiths and members of the first all-girl ska band, the Carnations.

Songbirds: Pioneering Women in Jamaican Music is the story about women in reggae, women that has often been harassed and received little or no pay to perform as backup singers or alongside or in front of the male musicians. It’s also the story about women who found a way to share their talent in a culture and industry that is often marked by masculinity and along the way they changed the course of music all over the world.

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Thibault Ehrengardt portraits a boiling island

Jamaica is a country probably best known for reggae and its beautiful landscape and beaches. But also for its political and gang related violence. The latter has been subject to several books, for example Laurie Gunst’s Born Fi’ Dead from 1995 and Thibault Ehrengardt’s Gangs of Jamaica from 2011. Both target Jamaican crime and politics, and these issues are the theme in Thibault Ehrengardt’s new book Jamaican Greats – Ten Portraits to Draw the Portrait of a Boiling Island.

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Thibault Ehrengardt has been involved in the reggae industry for more than 14 years. He was editor of French reggae magazine Natty Dread between 2000 and 2010, when the magazine ceased its publication. He shifted to publishing books via Dread Editions and his Jamaica Insula series includes a French translation of the above-mentioned Born Fi’ Dead.

His new book takes a deep look at the lives of ten famous and notorious Jamaicans – Bob Marley, Tacky, Marcus Garvey, Edward Seaga, Lewis Hutchinson, Trevor Wilson aka Johnny Too Bad, Ryghin, Claudius Henry, Yabby You and Sir Henry Morgan. The book paints a naked picture of these ten characters and shows that living in Jamaica is no fairy tale.

Jamaican Greats was s farewell to Jamaica at a time when I had decided to put an end to Natty Dread Magazine,” says Thibault Ehrengardt.

He used to visit Jamaica about twice a year and knew his relationship with the island would be less intense when Nattry Dread ceased, and he wanted to pay tribute to an island that had taken so much room in his life.

“It is sort of a testimony, or a letter sent to a younger me – ‘so, you wanted to see Jamaica so bad, now that you’ve seen it, what do you say?’,” explains Thibault Ehrengardt, and continues:

“And that’s what surprises me the most – now that I have been beyond most of my own personal clichés about Jamaica, about Rasta and about ‘badness’, I find these ‘naked stories’ even more fascinating. The incredible tale of Yabby You does not surprise me anymore, but his determination to live by it fascinates me more than ever.”

During the process of writing the book Thibault Ehrengardt found new perspectives on Jamaica, reggae and some of the main characters.

“Bob Marley might not have been the international freedom fighter I idealized as a teenager, but his position in the Jamaican struggle is now even more extraordinary to me – and his music sounds better when I listen to it in that context,” says Thibault Ehrengardt.

One of the stories that fascinated him the most was the one of former Prime Minister Edward Seaga (JLP), who played a central part in shaping and developing the Jamaican music industry. According to Thibault Ehrengardt he had to stop writing that particular part before it became a book of its own.

“I tried to analyse the facts and corner his unusual personality and unveil the repercussions he had on his own country. I never really knew reggae before I knew all that,” explains Thibault Ehrengardt, and concludes:

“Reggae is an islanders’ music, an epic music, fed on its own mythology. It took me 15 years or so, but I think I’ve come to find out what I was looking for the first time I set foot on this island. And that’s what Jamaican Greats is all about.”

Jamaican Greats is now available as hard copy and e-book.

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Peter Tosh – a myth unveiled

untitledWhen you hear the name The Wailers, you’ll probably immediately think about Bob Marley. For many he’s the original Wailer and The Wailers are often recognized as his backing band.

But that’s wrong, of course. The original Wailers were a quartet and later a trio consisting of Bob Marley, Bunny Wailer and Peter Tosh. They split up in the early 70s and went their separate ways. Bob Marley became a superstar and a spokesman for all things reggae. Bunny Wailer kept a rather low profile and let his music do all the talking.

Peter Tosh was far from quiet, something that’s evident after you’ve read John Masouri’s Steppin’ Razor: The Life of Peter Tosh. This biography covers the life of a sometimes overlooked superstar.

Through his music and in interviews he gave the poor a voice. He often spoke passionately about equality and justice. He stirred up controversy with his outspoken lyrics and tunes like Oh Bumbo Klaat, Legalize It and the funky Buk-In-Hamm Palace.

But being the voice of the poor and criticizing the system and politicians can be dangerous, as Peter Tosh experienced firsthand. He was physically assaulted by the police in Jamaica and he was verbally abused by the media, particularly by rock critics in the UK.

But Peter Tosh was a rebel. He had his principles and would never go against them. He had his own game and his own set of rules. He played by them. Like it or not.

Peter Tosh also had a big ego, and over the years he lost faith in the music business and his Rolling Stones-owned label. He became disappointed in the lack of success and disillusioned by bureaucracy and the media that never fully understood him nor his music or mission.

Down the road things started to go wrong. Terribly wrong. His friends didn’t recognize him and his erratic behavior got increasingly worse. Whether this is due to an extreme amount of high grade ganja consumption, or Marlene Brown, a girlfriend described as something of a Yoko Ono for Peter Tosh, is unclear.

But according to several sources in the well-researched book she’s to blame for much that went wrong in the later parts of Peter Tosh’s life. She’s described as the reason for his demise and eventually his untimely death at the age of 42.

Peter Tosh was murdered in his home in Jamaica. Not by Marlene Brown. The motive behind the murder is blurry, but there are several theories of which one is about money.

He was an angry man and a highly complex individual with both a militant and a spiritual side. To this day and while he was still alive, he was in the constant shadow of Bob Marley; partly because his music was not as uplifting and direct as Bob Marley’s, but his lyrics were also darker and more controversial.

Peter Tosh struggled all his life, something that becomes apparent when reading the book. He was a charismatic protest singer of a kind that is rarely seen or heard today, and during his too short life he was on a mission. He was a musical outlaw that fought for freedom and promoted the herb. Not loved by all, and hated by some. Particularly the system, or shit-stem as Peter Tosh used to say.

But that was him. A man with a misson. A man on a mission. And a man that stood up for what he believed in, regardless who he would provoke.

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An attractive visual history of reggae vinyl

Layout 1A while ago a watched an interior design show on TV and one thing that baffled me was a new trend in Hollywood where the rich and famous hired consultants to arrange their book shelves. The consultant came to their house and interviewed them about their literature preferences and then bought books that looked good in the shelf and books that they were supposed to have, i.e. the classics.

Two books that that fit at least one of these demands are the latest reggae coffee table books from label and publishing agency SoulJazz.

Reggae Soundsystem – Original Reggae Album Cover Art contains 300 full-size original album sleeve designs from the 50’s to the 90’s, complete with informative text on each musical section, compiled by Steve Barrow – co-author of The Rough Guide to Reggae and co-founder of Blood and Fire Records – and Stuart Baker, founder of SoulJazz. It has also special sections for one riddim albums, soundclash albums and gun focused album sleeves.

Reggae 45 Soundsystem – The Label Art of Reggae Singles features the artwork and histories of 1,200 records spanning the course of Jamaican music from its beginnings in the late 1950’s through to the end of the 1970’s. This one is also compiled by Steve Barrow and Stuart Baker, but written by reggae historian Noel Hawks together with Steve Barrow.Layout 1

Both books create a stunning visual history of Jamaican popular culture and its musical developments – from traditional mento and calypso in the 50’s to the rise of ska and rocksteady in the 60’s, the emergance of dub, DJ and roots in the 70’s through the arrival of dancehall at the start of the 80’s up until the early 90’s.

When browsing the books – especially the one focusing on album art – is it apparent how creative Jamaican artists were and often still are. The sleeves are clever and well-crafted and often comments local Jamaican issues – cultural or political.

I’m huge fan of Stir It Up, another book that features Jamaican album sleeve design, but these two from SoulJazz definitely excel any other book on reggae album cover design.


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SoulJazz covers the art of Studio One

SoulJazz Records is about to put out a book on the cover art of legendary label Studio One, owned and run by one of the greatest producers in reggae music – Clement “Coxsone” Dodd (1932-2004).

Studio One is sometimes described as iconic as Motown was to jazz, or Blue Note for Jazz. Several of the most beloved and utilized riddims were originally laid for Studio One by musicians such as Jackie Mitto and Leroy Sibbles. Riddims like Full Up, Real Rock, Mean Girl and Satta Massagana saw the light at Studio One.

Chris Blackwell – founder of Island Records – has described Studio One as the University of Reggae. And there is some truth to that. Almost every well-known Jamaican artist from the 60’s and 70’s did recordings for the label – Bob Marley, Horace Andy, Alton Ellis, Burning Spear, The Abyssinians, Sugar Minott and many, many more.

The Cover Art of Studio One Records is edited by Stuart Baker and claims to be the first book ever  to tell the story of Studio One and the many artists whose careers it launched.

It features hundreds of full-size Studio One record cover designs and original artwork, as well as rare and exclusive photographs, original flyers and artist interviews.

Available on November 30th. File it right next to your copy of Stir it Up: Reggae Album Cover Art.

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The story behind Island Records unfolded

Does the name Chris Blackwell ring a bell? No? Don’t sweat it, he is not that well-known to most people I guess.

Anyway, he’s the founder of Island Records, one of the most influential labels of the twentieth century.

This pioneering company acquired by Polygram in 1989 and today part of Universal Music Group  introduced the world to acts such as U2, Tom Waits, Eric B & Rakim, Roxy Music and the late Amy Winehouse. But also a large number of successful reggae singers and bands. Bob Marley being one of those.

The story behind Island and its artists has now been described in the beautifully illustrated celebration The Story of Island Records – Keep on Running, edited by Suzette Newman and Chris Salewicz, and released in conjunction with the label’s fiftieth anniversary.

The story of Chris Blackwell and his label is a fascinating and impressive one. A true entrepreneur with a determination to present new music to the world.

Chris Blackwell’s biggest accomplishment is probably bringing Jamaican music, and especially reggae, to the mainstream. He did so initially with his own production Boogie in My Bones, an early Jamaican shuffle/RnB tune by Laurel Aitken put out in 1958.

The first worldwide hit on Island was Millie Small’s My Boy Lollipop released in 1964. And from there on the success stories just pile up, especially with UK rock music and reggae.

In the 70’s and 80’s Island put out several of the most acclaimed reggae albums to date, including Catch a Fire by The Wailers, Marcus Garvey by Burning Spear, Funky Kingston from Toots & The Maytals and Black Uhuru’s Sensimilla as well as the soundtrack to the cult movie The Harder They Come.

Island also put out a number of wicked albums from UK reggae bands such as Aswad and Steel Pulse. The label was also responsible for a bunch of forward-thinking releases, for example Ijahman’s Haile I Hymn and The Upsetters’ Superape.

Chris Blackwell was a clever marketer and knew how to promote reggae to the general public, and the white European middle class.

In the 70’s Island was challenged in the roots reggae market, especially by another UK independent label – Virgin. Richard Branson and his colleagues managed to sign artists such as The Gladiators, The Mighty Diamonds, Culture, Johnny Clarke and U Roy.

Viewed in retrospective it seems that Island probably reached a broader audience, while Virgin put out albums that were more for hardcore enthusiasts.

The Story of Island Records gives a broad picture of the label and includes essays by ten contemporary music critics, including well-known reggae authors and writers such as the aforementioned Chris Salewicz, who has written several books including the authorized biography of Bob Marley titled Songs of Freedom, Lloyd Bradley, responsible for the comprehensive Bass Culture, Vivien Goldman, who has written two books on Bob Marley and David Katz, who has written People Funny Boy and Solid Foundation.

Included in this chronological and comprehensive retrospective is also rare photographs, artist portraits and album cover art. It’s essential to every music fan or anyone interested in design.

Chris Blackwell once said “If you felt the artwork was intriguing then there must be something going on in the inside”. This is true not only to the albums released by Island, but also to this great book.


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The Dead Yard explores Jamaica and beyond

Jamaica is an island that holds many stories and mysteries. Some of them are told by guide books such as Lonely Planet. But if you want to reach beyond Montego Bay you should check out The Dead Yard – A Story of Modern Jamaica. A book that reveals many sides of this well documented island.

The Dead Yard is not a book about reggae. Nor is it an ordinary guide book. It is a scholarly written document about the past, present and future of a tropical paradise that has been subject for colonialism for many years. And the author Ian Thompson digs deep in the dark history of the former British Empire.

Ian Thompson must have spent many long hours in the library to research this book. He has also spent two years walking the streets, riding the buses and talking to a broad range of people of many different classes and colors.

He has interviewed artists, expats, religious leaders and ordinary Jamaicans as well as a host of others. This gives The Dead Yard its unique character with its mixture of an academic essay and journalistic documentary.

All the stories told in The Dead Yard show the beauty and tragedy of contemporary Jamaica. I have never been there, but when I do get there, I have a feeling I am thoroughly prepared for my journey.

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Reggae inna Dancehall Style revitalized

The book Reggae inna Dancehall Style by the late Tero Kaski and Pekka Vuorinen from the early 80’s has been revised and is now released under the new title Volcano Revisited – Kingston Dancehall Scene 1983.

This classic book contained interviews with a number of great dancehall singers and deejays such as Charlie Chaplin, Burro Banton and Tony Tuff. It also included great footage from the early days of dancehall.

The new edition is expanded and enhanced with more colour and several new photos. The original interviews have also been “augmented by previously unprinted interviews with early dancehall artists, engineers and producers”.

The author Pekka Vuorinen has dedicated the book to Tero Kaski.

Thanks to Kas for sharing on the Chatty Mouth forum.


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New book on Sugar Minott

Last year dancehall pioneer Lincoln ”Sugar” Minott sadly passed away only 54 years old. Now has his longtime friend Beth Lesser put out a book on him and his work. She got to know Sugar Minott in the 80’s and she and her husband married at dance arranged by his sound system and label Youth Promotion

Beth Lesser has previously written the acclaimed books King Jammy’s and Dance Hall: The Rise and Fall of Dance Hall Culture. She is also a photographer and several of her photos have been used for numerous albums and books.

The Legend of Sugar Minott & Youth Promotion is essential reading for any reggae fan. It is 212 pages and costs around £10.


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