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When people think reggae, stereotypical images of ganja, dead icons and dreads flood the imagination. For some this goes deeper, seeing masculinity, violence and homophobia in the current face of reggae/dancehall. Like many things close to my heart, my connection with reggae is a slightly awkward one. The home I find in the dub-beat is chilled and hard to describe in words, but, as a gay man, the home I find in the culture is complicated to the core.
Despite recent developments that have seen the release of the first pro-gay reggae album by Mista Majah P, Tolerance, and the defiant coming out of Diana King, it very much remains a straight man’s world. In researching this article the true clash of life and music came home to me as I read comments calling for the murder of gays by Sizzla, the voice behind one of my favourite tracks ‘Just One Of Those Days‘. As high-minded as you strive to be, the 21st century call for violence and in cases death on individuals, for being who they are, can’t help but taint the art.
Having been lucky enough to spend nearly a year working at a Caribbean publisher, I am well aware that this strand of discrimination should by no means be used to condemn the region, culture, or art; but as the recent gay-beating by security guards at U-Tech University in Kingston shows, within certain groups and mindsets, the relationship with sexuality is anything but harmonious.
But reggae is more than this. It is the dub-beat that flavours those moments that make my heart skip a beat, the crisp, gravelly lyrics that float a tune, and the wrenching passion that pulls at your soul. Whether through UB40, The Police, or in influencing more recent artists such as Bruno Mars, reggae has an established part to play in our musical heritage and cultural future. It has accompanied my highs, lows and in-betweens. It’s currently the soundtrack to an increasingly chilled life, appreciating the little things and the power bound up in them. Reggae illuminates.
Still not convinced? Listen to this reggae remix of Adele. It’s incredible.
Adele – Set Fire to the Rain (Reggae Remix)
With all that said, words can only go so far. Here are my Top 5 reggae tunes. Listen, chill, enjoy:
Bob Marley & The Wailers- Satisfy My Soul
Whereas usually I would go out of my way to avoid falling back on clichés, you just can’t do reggae without tipping your rasta cap to Bob Marley. Embrace it. Some of my sweetest memories of reggae are housed within the defiantly chilled beat of Bob Marley & the Wailers. The crispness of ‘Three Little Birds‘ gets me every time, whereas the beat of ‘Buffalo Soldier‘ and ‘Jammin‘ makes you get up, stand up, and move. Oi oi oi… My choice here of ‘Satisfy My Soul’ is perhaps not one of his better known tunes, but I think you’ll agree, has an effect you can’t really put into words. Try Bob Marley’s Mellow Mood drink and you’ll have a similar experience…
Ken Boothe – Everything I Own
A few weeks ago I took a guy on a date to a live Reggae night. The warm, powerful voice of Paulette Morris, backed by Mojah, turned Ken Boothe’s chilled, reflective, somewhat jaded love note into a passionate tune about the power of a moment, and the vibrancy of just that one special connection. At least that’s how I took it. With a chorus that sticks with you through its clash of warm tones and hopeless lyrics, it carries you away with the dub-beat. The guy sung the chorus back to me after the gig. It was the cutest thing ever. I look back, smile, and just can’t help revisiting the passion bound up in the simplicity of it all. A must listen.
Toots & The Maytals – Pressure Drop
With a sound many will find familiar, yet few will be able to place, Toots & the Maytals have penetrated the national subconscious through being heavily featured on the soundtrack to the This Is England franchise. This at first jarring and uncompromising connection, actually references the resonance bands of the Early Reggae movement found with British skinheads. ‘Pressure Drop’ in itself is one of my favourite Toots tracks, although the competition is fierce. Perhaps best known for ‘Funky Kingston’, their back catalogue is a rich treasure trove which will help make the most of any sunny day, or in This Is England‘s case, any council estate in the Midlands… Particular highlights to get you moving: ‘Monkey Man’ & ‘Louie Louie‘.
Tarrus Riley – We Run It
It’s easy to write off Reggae as something of the past, kept alive on dusty vinyls and only touched upon in odd bizarre moments such as ‘Boombastic‘ and ‘It Wasn’t Me‘. In fact this is far from the case. Reggae is alive and kicking, although admittedly less visible in the UK. My choice of recent Reggae is ‘We Run It’ by Tarrus Riley. Released in 2012, the 50th anniversary of Jamaican independence, it is a fitting tribute to the nation and (if you ignore the opening 30 seconds) has a beat that just hooks you in.
Althea & Donna – Uptown Top Ranking
Finally, closing the show, we have ‘Uptown Top Ranking’ by Althea & Donna. Released in 1977, it was a surprise #1 and showed the real taste for reggae felt in Britain at that time. Ashamedly one of the few tunes I can think of driven by female vocals, it also stands out as a landmark on the reggae scene with a catchy dub beat to match.