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Stascha Baden: Rocksteady: The Roots of Reggae

img  Tobias Fischer

Why a documentary about rocksteady music? The director himself, who, for over thirty years, has been a passionate collector of reggae and rocksteady, replies: ‘The story of rocksteady has never been told ... It’s been my privilege to have met the musicians who played the music, and for them to share their stories with me’. The most important musicians of the golden age of rocksteady ‘come home' for a historic reunion in Jamaica's capital Kingston to perform together again after forty years, recording some of their greatest hits and, more importantly, putting down a great live show. Coming home, for these icons, not only means finding their roots again but also coming back from Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom - countries where, during the Sixties and Seventies, over a million (two million according to some estimates ) Jamaicans have migrated to, a stream known as 'Jamaican diaspora'. The unmistakable Stranger Cole, in his duty as the master of ceremonies, takes the audience on a journey through Jamaica’s Sixties (and Two thousand years) as well the music genre that changed the history before the advent of reggae: rocksteady.

Interesting for both reggae enthusiasts and for those without a deeper knowledge about it, the films introduced the audience not just to Stranger Cole but to other 'pioneers' of rocksteady and reggae like Gladstone Anderson, Ken Boothe, Hopeton Lewis, Dawn Penn, Derrick Morgan, Earnest Ranglin, Sly Dunbar, Jackie Jackson, Hux Brown, Lloyd Parks, Scully Simms, Leroy Sibbles, U-Roy and The Tamlins (Derrick Lara, Carlton Smith, Sylvanus Moore) as well. And yet the components of the trio I-Threes Marcia Griffiths, Judy Mowatt and Rita Marley, who recalls her youth and her unforgettable husband in the absolutely poor Trenchtown. Bob Marley is really an impalpable and perhaps a bit 'cumbersome’ presence throughout the film, although not being mentioned frequently in interviews and even if it’s possible to see him only in short clips of historical footage and in a juvenile photo in which his elegant suit and his very short hair render him almost unrecognizable. Despite his departure almost thirty years ago, for the international audience Marley still represents the symbol and the soul of Jamaica, the 'magician' who made reggae, a genre born on an island with about three million people at the time, a phenomenon of global proportions unimaginable a few years before.

The documentary focuses on the crucial, although less well-known, years just preceding the 'boom' of reggae, which led to an exponential growth of the Jamaican entertainment 'industry' with festivals, concerts, radio broadcasts and of course the publication of discs, largely for the domestic market, that are now sought-after collectors' items. The music 'revolution' went hand in hand with profound changes in the social, cultural and political landscape of the island, following its independence from the United Kingdom in 1962 and the increasingly massive spread of Rastafarian religion. It is these changes the idols of rocksteady spoke about in their songs. By listening to rocksteady it was possible to have fun, to dance, to flirt and fall in love, to relax, but also to reflect, to find a new way of life and a new idea of society, to develop a political consciousness. By singing rocksteady, it was possible to talk about poverty, organized crime, fighting in the streets, parties, hunger, unemployment, emigration, dreams and about a particular kind of energy that pervades every aspect of life for a ‘new’ generation willing to express itself and to sing, regardless of money or success. The 'young lions' of yesterday just tell their story in front of the camera with self-mockery and pride despite their age, knowing that they contributed to the success of reggae, ska, rap.

By seeing and hearing them in the documentary, you’ll long for the chance of having experienced and heard them in the Sixties - in a musical era, which can perhaps never be repeated but which still seems modern and full of magic.

By Azzurra Camoglio

Azzurra Camoglio is a Freelance Translator and Movie Critic living in Berlin. Follow her on Twitter and visit her blog.

Homepage: Rocksteady: The Roots of Reggae
Homepage: Stascha Bader

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