cover image Reggae Routes PB

Reggae Routes PB

Kevin O'Brien Chang. Temple University Press, $34.95 (256pp) ISBN 978-1-56639-629-5

As the punning title indicates, there are many paths leading into and out of Jamaican popular music--and reggae is just one. In an intelligent, accessible and entertaining book, two Jamaican amateurs divide the island's popular music since 1960 into four rough eras--ska, rocksteady, reggae, dancehall. Influenced by both indigenous and foreign components, including pocomania, quadrille, rastafarianism, calypso and R&B, reggae took only some 30 years to mature. The development was accelerated by the growth of a local recording industry that emerged when North Americans turned away from black music during the British Invasion, while poverty spurred a quick collective response to the music via ""sound systems"": DJs on wheels, who played records in open areas to people who couldn't afford to listen to music in private. The international exposure of reggae caused certain artists to turn toward a more lucrative world market, which in turn spurred a new, more local sound today known as dancehall. This history and the subsequent analysis of important songs are punctuated by 400 sharp archival photos, eye-catching graphics and boxed articles on various cultural issues and personalities. The appendices here include not only a bibliography, notes and index by artist, but also lists of the top hits by year and artist rankings that are based on what islanders--not foreigners--love best. The authors' exploration and celebration of their island's far-reaching culture makes this both a crash course in Jamaican history and a fine guide to developing a ""riddim"" record collection. (Mar.)