How the Silver Screen brought reggae to the masses

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Reggae music has never been quite mainstream. Its biggest stars have struggled to be taken seriously by the rest of the world. Even when a reggae artist hit a hit on the charts, it was usually a one-off, and the next album they recorded was like starting over as an unknown singer. In the ’70s, however, a pair of Jamaican films caused a global shift.

Part of the problem was that reggae singers did not have a profile in the ’60s and’ 70s. They were rarely under contract with a record company, instead working for this or that producer, who paid them a small fee to do so. a record for his label. It was not in the producer’s interest to develop an artist’s career and build an image for him; any time or money spent on promotion would only help whoever released the singer’s next album.

Bringing the reggae experience to life

Reggae stars were for the most part unknown to British, European or American fans who purchased their records. They could be sitting next to them on the bus and not knowing who they were. Their concerts were in specialized clubs in difficult parts of cities, not in large venues where it was easy to access. You could buy 10 Maytals records and never know what they looked like. Reggae has become a fabulous dance music; behind her, the real human beings with opinions, identities and all the personalities of other showbiz figures remained a mystery.

But that all changed, thanks to two Jamaican films from the 70s that brought the reggae experience to life before your eyes in dazzling colors. Here is a glimpse of the reality of the Kingston recording industry. The hopes, dreams, laughter and energy of the world’s most dynamic music scene were suddenly available to everyone. The more they come and Rockers were a vital viewing for music fans at the time and remain vibrant, exciting and raw testimonies of their time.

The more they come

The more they come was the first in a series of Jamaican feature films directed by a Jamaican with a cast of locals. Directed by Perry Henzell, written by Trevor Rhone, and performed by the singer Jimmy Falaise (one of the few reggae artists with an international pop profile at the time), it was basically a crime story, although there was more to it than that. Loosely based on the true Jamaican outlaw Ivanhoe Rhyging, a prototype rude boy and hitman, Cliff’s Ivan traces his arrival in Jamaica’s capital, Kingston, as a country boy, where he meets the contempt – a familiar theme in Jamaican culture – and is drawn to the Jamaican music business, which records him and then laughs at him. Desperate, he finds himself in the ganja business and shoots a panicked cop, causing his inevitable downfall.

Shot on a low budget and with a dialect script it was hardly Hollywood, but it was exciting and had a sense of reality. The film showed the Maytals singing “Sweet And Dandy” and Cliff delivering the title song, while Prince Buster made an appearance. For the first time ever, reggae fans outside of Jamaica could see and hear the music in its own environment – and its stars turned out to be real people! The more they come came out in 1972 and received an X certificate in the UK, potentially preventing some of its alleged audience from seeing it, though kids still find a way. It took some time to build up interest in UK and US, but, with the help of a soundtrack album long considered a classic, the film has become a staple of arthouse.

Rockers

Reggae already had at least some popularity in the UK by the early 1970s, but it took longer in the US. Fortunately, a second film from the ’70s brought the next generation of reggae stars to the world and helped break music in America. Released in 1978 and directed by Theodoros “Ted” Bafaloukos, Rockers was originally meant to be a documentary about the reggae scene of the late ’70s, where the dominant style of reggae was called rockers, a track from dub legend Augustus Pablo’s label and his brother Garth’s audio system.

However, as things tend to happen in the Jamaican music industry, what started out as one idea turned into another, and the film became more of a tale in the style of the famous Italian film by after war. Bicycle thieves, where virtuous folk reggae overcomes the disco devil of upscale neighborhoods and the poor have their day.

The main character, Leroy “Horsemouth” Wallace, was, at the time, Jamaica’s most famous drummer, with a twist as a talking artist, singer and melodica player. With personality to spare, Horsemouth takes us through the Jamaican ghetto and the music industry, in search of the motorcycle that was stolen from him. Along the way, we meet many reggae icons, including Jacob “Killer” Miller, Gregory Isaacs, Big Youth, Winston Rodney The Burning Spear and Dillinger, and we see Kiddus I record the song “Graduation In Zion” (remember that at the time, Kiddus I was an obscure cult figure, so this movie was deep. ). Prince Hammer, Theo Beckford and several reggae producers also appear.

Bright, very hip without trying to be, and not remotely smooth – as the intro made clear from the start – Rockers it’s 100 minutes of Jamaican joy. One of the first Jamaican films to be released in the United States, it opened in the United States in 1980 and helped cement reggae’s place in the musical landscape there, with, of course, a great band. original takeout, featuring The Heptones and Junior Murvin, as well as Inner Circle and Bunny Wailer’s songs that carry the film’s title.

Considering that there have been so few Jamaican reggae films, their place in spreading music beyond the Jamaican diaspora is perhaps surprising. Again, less is more: they are a rare treat, not to be missed.

Listen to the best reggae songs on Spotify.


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