A BRILLIANT CONVERSATION
Rt. Hon. Edward Seaga
Dr. Dennis Howard (Lecturer University of the West Indies)
Mr. Michael Ibo Cooper (Chairman Jamaica Reggae Industry)
Gleaner Writer: Curtis Campbell, Culture aficionados look at the island’s musical beginnings and its future
A panel discussion at the Jamaica 50 Jubilee Village inside Independence Park discussing the history of Reggae music ended almost the way it began.
Among the panellists were former prime minister and record producer Edward Seaga; Dr Dennis Howard, lecturer at The University of the West Indies and former Third World band member and chairperson of Jamaica Reggae Industry Association Michael ‘Ibo’ Cooper. Seaga gave a lengthy lecture on the developmental process of the local music industry. He shared the view that Jamaican genres were created without prompting.
THE ORIGIN OF ROCKSTEADY
“Rocksteady was not a deliberate attempt to create a new rhythm, Hopeton Lewis was in a recording studio recording a song called Take It Easy and he found that he could not keep up with the rhythm – the rhythm was too fast for him so he kept saying ‘slow it down, slow it down’ until it got to a point which was compatible with his singing. But at the same time, it was a new rhythm, it didn’t sound like ska anymore and it was given the name rocksteady, because the name of the song was Take It Easy,”he said.
Seaga also pointed out that reggae was born from rocksteady and that The Heptones were a big part of that evolution.
“Other artistes became involved in Rocksteady but it was The Heptones who produced a recording that made a difference. The Heptones made a recording that was considered to be the first reggae record that was composed, it really wasn’t everyday reggae but it was enough of a reggae music to pass as such and so people will say, ‘well, reggae started in 1968′,” Seaga explained.
Howard disagreed. According to the University lecturer, other musicians recorded reggae music before The Heptones.
“There are other songs that predate Take It Easy and have some of the elements of ska, for example, I Got To Go Back Home … Reggae went through a series of transitional stages, so to say that it started in 1968 is kinda inaccurate. Mr. Seaga mentioned Heptone songs. I can mention Say What You’re Saying by Monte Morris, The Belltones No More Heart Ache.
What was distinctive about those songs that are called reggae songs was not the classic one drop that we know now, but the slowing down of the rhythm, the emphasis on the third beat and the inclusion of either an organ creep or the organ shuffle. Those songs were done between 1969 and about 1971 so the music moves in a very organic way. It’s hard to say who invented what, because styles happen and then they intensify, musicians tend to move from studio to studio. Songs are recorded sometimes two years before they are released, so sometimes a lot of people forget what they did and when,” Howard said.
Cooper took to the hills during the discussion, choosing rather, to point to the discrepancy as evidence that culture in Jamaica needed to be documented.
“We need proper documentation – in the development of Jazz in the United States you can find notes on albums from way before World War I. African Americans recognised the importance of arts and sports because that is one of the key areas where they had freedom and were seen as human beings,” he said.
The musician concluded by saying that the next generation should document the Jamaican culture in its authentic form in order to prevent Europeans doing so from their perspective.