The ReggaeXplosion exhibition was organised by ExhibitZ, London and brought to Australia and New Zealand by Write Angle
Jamaican music, with its figurehead of Bob Marley, has irrevocably altered the course of popular music throughout the world, an astonishing achievement for a tiny Caribbean island of only three million people. 'Reggae Explosion' will chart the course of this extraordinary cultural revolution exploring the beginnings of reggae music from its African roots to its transfer into the Caribbean and onto the international stage. From mentho through to ska, rock steady, lovers, dub, ragga, dancehall and beyond the exhibition is an historic experience of music, photography, art, film and fashion.
The exhibition includes photographs, artwork, music and film covering every aspect of Jamaican music and culture.
Collaborators on ReggaeXplosion were: Exhibit A & Exhibitz, The Bob Marley Foundation, Virgin Megastores, The Hulton Getty Archive, Palm Pictures, Blue Mountain Music, Blood and Fire Records, Universal Island, Pressure Sounds and Greensleeves.
The exhibits come from a range of sources and have been collated after extensive worldwide research. Photographers include : Adrian Boot, , Dave Henley, Tim Barrow, Beth Lesser, Hulton Getty Archive, Jean Bernard Sohiez, Retna, Jill Furmanvosky and various private collections.
A range of writers provide the textual backdrop to the exhibition thus allowing expert commentary on different aspects of the subject via illustrated text panels.
has been produced digitally and contains in the main artwork and photography.
· Photographic images - black & white and colour
exhibition has been created from digital files prepared through high-end
scanning and meticulous retouching. Due to the leaps in recent years of
digital image output the exhibition is using the latest technology to
produce incredibly sharp and bright images.
exhibits come from a range of sources and have been collated after extensive
worldwide research. Photographers include: Adrian Boot, Dave Henley, Tim
Barrow, Beth Lesser, Hulton Getty Archive, Jean Bernard Sohiez, Retna,
Jill Furmanvosky and various private collections.
themselves include the most influential artists in the history
of reggae. The images have were selected due to several critical factors:
the subject, the image quality, the setting in which the subject is placed
and the importance of that subject to the development of Jamaican music.
also contains images of a more sociological/historical nature including
early black and white images of Jamaica and early immigration in the UK,
the first Jamaican pressing plants etc.
the plethora of incredible and colourful graphics from Jamaican
record sleeves and labels to painted sound systems and advertising logos
Exhibit-A have included this important part of the whole reggae experience
within the exhibition via graphically illustrated text panels, huge tiled
exhibits, and standalone exhibits. From the first Jamaican pressing
to the glitter of the Dancehall age the exhibition will show this trajectory
in a literally graphic way using extensively researched material from
Jamaica and beyond.
particularly in terms of graphics will be produced to enable tiling to
create large format exhibits. These can also be placed in foyer areas
if insufficient wall space in exhibition room.
There is also historic and anecdotal material eg illustrated dictionary of Jamaican terms, background on the development of ska music, interview with Bob Marley, beginners guide to the reggae beat and its origins in Africa. Range of sizes with maximum of 28" x 36".
the exhibition are broad themes covering the musical sub genres within
commissioned a range of writers to provide the textual backdrop to the
exhibition thus allowing expert commentary on different aspects of the
subject via illustrated text panels. The text panels will contain information
on the six genres within the exhibition (see enclosed subject sheets).
Other pertinent areas of editorial interest will be contained in smaller
text panels for example on Rastafari & Jamaican consciousness, Lee
Scratch Perry, DJ's and the 12" rem ix etc. The exhibits will be fully
captioned including anecdotal information, dates and additional information.
will be provided with a generic soundtrack on CD including the range of
reggae styles as displayed in the exhibition, which can be used by the
venue through a sound system. If the venue does not allow for the generic
music to be played simultaneously with the audiovisual programme then
one or other can be used.
Listening Points: The exhibition includes a maximum of four listening points where the visitor is able to listen on headphones to specially compiled soundtracks which illustrate the different areas of music contained within the umbrella term 'reggae'. The visitor will be able to scroll through the tracks uninterrupted, listening to the music on headphones while reading about the tracks on the adjacent panels. The three main catalogue labels, namely Island Records, Blood and Fire Records and Pressure Sounds have collaborated with Exhibit-A to produce the compilations and editorial. From early ska to dancehall the whole gamut of the reggae story will be illustrated in an audio format.
will provide a specially compiled looped audiovisual programme, which
can be displayed either on single TV screens, video wall or projection
equipment depending on the venues facilities. The programme will produce
a moving backdrop covering the six sections in the exhibition.
The material for such a film has been selected from over 90 exclusive interviews with reggae personalities, music videos, live concerts, television adverts which have used reggae, archive footage and background material shot in Jamaica.
Feature films are available on VHS and pending permission on cinema format tapes. They can be shown alongside the exhibition or in attached screening room/cinema. 'Dancehall Queen' - 90 minute film directed by Don Letts. Screened nationwide in US & UK to rave reviews. 'Harder They Come' -Classic feature film with Jimmy Cliff. Also available is 'Time Will Tell' - The Bob Marley feature film (in his own words) which was screened in the US & UK nationally.
will provide a vinyl banner maximum size portrait 3m x 1 .5m for use by
the venue as promotion either inside the venue or outside.
In addition the exhibition organisers will provide a CDROM of images for press usage and editorial information on the exhibition including the six sections and edited captions.
A copy of a teachers pack will be available on request for each venue. Information and project ideas can be used for schools and colleges if the venue encourages school participation.
exhibition, Exhibit-A and Palm Pictures have produced an interactive state
of the art multi-media resource which reflects the contents of the exhibition
and much more. The CDRom can be used in the following ways:
an Audio CD - several sample audio tracks that will play on a conventional
music CD player. These tracks will be selected to illustrate the development
of the various forms of reggae.
interactive CDR: a multimedia tour of Reggae with hundreds of images,
photographs, artwork, film clips, music samples and audio interviews.
This will be presented via an intuitive browser style interface that uses
audiovisual motion menus and graphics that provide an exciting and entertaining
A resource containing work processing files and other electronic assets.
A copy of the CDRom will be available to each venue for use within the exhibition. The data and software is designed for use on both MAC and PC computers. Use of such material depends on the venues provision of public usage hardware.
exhibition was launched in February 2000 at the National Centre for Popular
Music in Sheffield. The exhibition will tour to major UK cities
during the year including:
* The London exhibition
was part of Camden Mix Music Festiva, 2000..
A sense of everything having changed irrevocably hung over Jamaica after World War II: a feeling, literally, of independence.
Post-war optimism: you could see it in the island's music of the late 1940s, the American-style big bands, like Val Bennett's and Eric Dean's, apprenticeships for nascent stars like the trombonist Don Drummond and guitarist Ernest Ranglin. On the "lawns" of Kingston jitterbugging audiences danced all night to tunes from such American artists as Count Basie, Duke Ellington and Glenn Miller.
Such acts as Bennett's and Dean's contrasted with the island's mento bands. Mento, derived from Jamaican folk music, was similar to Trinidadian up-tempo calypso, but enjoyed a variety of tempos and song structures - performances were mainly limited to the north coast tourist trade.
But even the big bands of the era would soon be outdated: by the feisty new sounds of bop and rhythm and blues, which spread like a bushfire across the island with the advent of the sound system. These were like portable discos for giants, consisting of up to forty enormous speakers, joined by vast patterns of cables. Music would thud out at spine-shaking volume playing the hottest 78s from the USA.
The first significant "sound" operator was Tom the Great Sebastian, who set up in 1950; he would "toast" as a deejay on the microphone, also using the voices of Duke Vin and Count Matchouki, mashing up the opposition with the uniqueness of his tunes.
There emerged a contentious new sound system operator called Duke Reid the Trojan, named after his Bedford Trojan truck. Reid would indiscriminately loose off revolver shots, and destroy the equipment of opposition dances. An archrival emerged for Reid's crown: the Sir Coxsone Downbeat sound system, run by Clement Dodd; Coxsone employed Prince Buster as a disc jockey and bodyguard: by 1958 Buster had his own sound system. When Coxsone and Duke Reid began recording songs by local artists for their systems, the Jamaican recording industry was born.
On August 5 1962 Jamaican was granted independence from British colonial rule. The joyous gallop of ska seemed like its soundtrack. In 1959 bass-player Cluett "Clue-J" Johnson and Ernest Ranglin met with Coxsone to try and derive a specifically Jamaican sound. Ska, the music that resulted, was a shuffle boogie rhythm, with an unexpected emphasis on the offbeat underlining its addictive flavour.
The Skatalites, who formed in June 1964, were like the house-band of the new country, a stellar line-up of local talent including Don Drummond, tenor sax players Roland Alphonso and Tommy McCook and alto saxophonist Lester Sterling, trumpet-player Johnny "Dizzy" Moore, guitarist Jah Jerry Hines, pianist Jackie Mittoo, bass-player Lloyd Brevett, and drummer Lloyd Knibbs.
Rude boys outta jail…Slower, more languid than ska, the altogether more sultry rock steady sounded like trouble. Unsurprisingly, it became the soundtrack for Jamaica's first youth tribe, the ratchet-knife-wielding rude boys - the cooler than cool, hotter than hot Johnny Too Bads of downtown Kingston.
It was said that the unusually hot summer of 1966 rendered impossible the faster dance movements of ska. Whatever, there had been a series of tunes since that spring that vied for the title of the first rock steady tune – Roy Shirley's "Hold Them", Derrick Morgan's "Tougher Than Tough", and Alton Ellis's "Girl I've Got a Date"; the last tune was produced by Duke Reid, the genre's dominant producer: he seized the rock steady moment with a sure grip that eluded his rival Coxsone Dodd. The rock steady bass-line came in shorter, more pronounced patterns of notes than it had for ska.
Although Coxsone was to release the Wailers' tune "Rocking Steady" his studio momentarily had lost momentum. Within just over a year, however, a trio of producers - Bunny Lee, Lee "Scratch" Perry and Osbourne "King Tubby" Ruddock - was to have brought about a third change, into reggae music.
A wind blows from Africa. Reggae, whose original rhythms can be heard played to this day in the most isolated West African villages, manifests itself almost as a sentient being in 1968.
The first record that year with the word in its title was indisputably "Do the Reggay", by the Maytals. But that year already had seen several other songs with faster rhythms than rock steady: Larry and Alvin's "Nanny Goat" and Lynford Anderson's "Pop a Top"; by summer that year Anderson collaborated with Lee Perry on "People Funny Boy", a tune whose fast rhythm had a persistent guitar riff, one of the defining characteristics of reggae.
Reggae opened everything: new genres, new producers, new markets. Several different styles vied with each other: fast, jerky instrumental records such as the Harry J Allstars' "Liquidator" and the Upsetters' "Returnof Django" (both UK top 10 hits in October 1969); the slack pop reggae of Max Romeo's "Wet Dream"; classic three-piece vocal harmonising from acts like the Heptones and Carlton and the Shoes; the era of the deejay was ushered in in 1969 with the first sides from the great U Roy; meanwhile, you could also catch "Door Peeper" by Burning Spear, the precursor of the torrent of tunes in the next decade with minor chords and Rasta imagery - the roots revolution.
While in the United Kingdom the fast-paced instrumental reggae of Dave and Ansell Collins or Scratch Perry was supported by a racist tribe of skinheads a more intelligent audience was also investigating this strange-sounding music. The film The Harder They Come began what would become a complete volte-face for reggae: Perry Henzell's classic movie, starring Jimmy Cliff in a tale of country-boy-goes-wrong-in-the-city, had one of the best soundtrack albums ever released. For hip white kids wanting to find out about a new music it was a must-have.
A week after Cliff told Island Records boss that he wanted to leave the label Bob Marley walked into Blackwell's office. "He came in right at the time when in my head there was the idea that this rebel type of character could emerge, and that I could break such an artist," remembers Blackwell. “When Bob walked in he really was that image, the real one that Jimmy Cliff had created in the movie."
To create "Dub", parts of the rhythm of an already recorded tune were dropped in and out of the mix: very early Dub, from the beginning of the 1970s, was usually an instrumental which emphasised the drum and bass element by partially removing the organ, piano and guitars. Such Jamaican studio engineers as King Tubby, Lee Perry and Errol Thompson developed a technique that was to have a lasting effect not only on reggae, but also on modern dance music.
Hot new tunes were cut onto one-off acetate discs (known as “dubs" or "dub plates") for use by sound systems. They were mixed so that the vocals would disappear from the track, leaving spaces to be filled with the live vocals of the sound system's deejays. These mixes appeared as B-sides and were known as "versions”.
The dub phenomenon did not get into its stride until 1972, by which time King Tubby had upgraded his dub-cutting studio to four-track and was mixing tunes for such producers as Bunny Lee, Glen Brown and Lee Perry and experimenting with the mixing console. As the style progressed, splashes of reverb and layers or repeat echo were added, transforming many an average vocal outing into a hit record, purely on the strength of its B-side.
Dub grew in popularity to the point where the dub mixes were credited as A-sides, and whole albums of dub tracks became best sellers. During the latter half of the 1970s many producers and studios furthered their reputations by making classic dub reggae, including Channel One, Joe Gibbs, Lee Perry, Bunny Lee and Augustus Pablo. In the 1980s, dubs were mostly mixed in a very straight manner to accommodate the new breed of fast-talking deejays, and public interest in any kind of instrumental reggae was at a low ebb.
Since then a new generation has re-discovered the old reggae sounds in general, and dub in particular. The 1990s saw the increasing influence of reggae leading to dub techniques and samples being introduced into all kinds of contemporary dance tracks, with many leading exponents giving credit to the innovators of dub who perfected their art over twenty years ago.
Modern reggae deejays have little connection with traditional radio record-spinners. Instead they are descendants of the "men-on-the-mike" who were integral to the very first sound systems. Deejays provided a stream of jive-talk over the stripped-down rhythms that made up Dub. In 1970 U Roy set the standards with "Wake The Town", a "version" of Alton Ellis's "Girl I've Got a Date" that was a huge hit in Jamaica. At first considered a novelty form, "deejaying" became a distinctly Jamaican art, the inspiration for American rappers.
But in the 1950s largely unsung heroes like Count Matchouki and Sir Lord Comic made their reputations stringing together rhymes and catch-phrases to introduce records, make announcements and generally "nice up the dance".
By the end of 1969 many instrumental reggae tunes released by the new producers like Lee Perry, Clancy Eccles, Joe Gibbs and Niney featured some
vocals from the producer (Perry an outstanding example) or a deejay. Before long record buyers were introduced to a new breed of deejays, including U Roy, King Stitt, Dennis Alcapone, Scotty and I Roy: the Seventies echoed to their sound.
Deejays emerged from the dance halls and entered the studios – Winston Scotland and Prince Jazzbo stood out with their distinctive voices, and Big Youth represented an even rootsier approach, combining street talk with religious and political lyrics. Soon Trinity and Dillinger developed a more commercial, smoother style and led reggae into the age of the 12-inch disco-mix, the "Disco 45" - the 12-inch disco could hold at least the vocal and deejay cuts on one side.
In the 1980s, deejaying - "toasting", as it was also known – became recognised as being as important as any other feature of reggae music. Deejays are still going strong, with artists like Beenie Man, Capleton and Mr Vegas representing different facets of the genre. The most important development has been the enormous influence that deejay reggae has had on Black American youth, who effectively took back the style, combined it with elements nearer to home and re-invented it as "rap" - the biggest-selling black music in the world.
Bob Marley is seen internationally as the personification of Rastafari. In the 1970s, however, almost all Jamaican musical artists have grown their hair into dreadlocks and are singing about similar culturally related subject matter. At Lee "Scratch" Perry's Black Ark studio, for example, reasonings about the Bible take place every day. From St Ann's Bay on the north coast, Burning Spear brings mystical cultural tales of Marcus Garvey and slavery days. Listening to reggae is like being inducted into an area of history that is previously unknown, except to the initiated.
In this way the potent, fiery imagery of Rastafari is omnipresent. It even crosses over into punk rock, with which reggae in the UK joins forces as a soundtrack of the dispossessed. In this context, the aptly named Culture, produced by Joe Gibbs, holds especial sway: their epochal Two Sevens Clash single celebrates the numerological significance of the year 1977, a year promising fundamental change. With his melancholy melodica, meanwhile, Augustus Pablo gives the era an instrumental and dub soundtrack that stands the test of time.
After the death of Bob Marley in 1981, reggae and Rastafari no longer are interlinked: dancehall styles predominate. During the 1990s, however, there is a powerful return to roots sounds: or conscious music, as it is now known.
The high priest of this new style is Garnett Silk, whose classic soul voice is heard to great effect on seminal albums like "It's Growing". After his tragic death in 1993, Luciano, a hitmaker of a seemingly endless supply of his own addictive spiritual songs, seizes the mantle. Some of the most exemplary "conscious" music comes from older dancehall acts who have experienced Biblical-like conversions - like Capleton who changed his style and became part of the same Bobbadread set as Sizzler, another rising star. None is more remarkable than Buju Banton, once the personification of Jamaican homophobia. But after he grows dreadlocks, he produces the finest reggae album of the 1990s - "Til Shiloh", a work of mature spirituality.
As this new millennium enters, "conscious" Rastafarian music is so entrenched in Jamaica that you know it will never go away.
Lee "Scratch" Perry, who had been born in Kingston in 1939, graduated from being a "selecter" on Coxsone Dodd’s Downbeat sound system and a "fetcher" at 13 Brentford Road, the home of Dodd’s Studio One label, to a far more formidable figure. On Kingston’s Charles Street in 1967 he set up his own shop, Upsetter Records, where he would sell the discs he produced.
Some attributed the birth of reggae to Scratch alone - ultimately he would reveal himself to be one of the finest artists the Caribbean has produced in any field - after he started dabbling with a musical pace that made you feel, he said, as though you were stepping in glue. Influenced by Jimi Hendrix and Sly and the Family Stone, Scratch ploughed his own unique furrow of psychedelic reggae. He had an international hit with "Return Of Django" by The Upsetters, his house band, which consisted of a group formerly known as The Hippy Boys, formed by the bass-player Aston "Family Man" Barrett, and featuring his brother Carlton on drums. “Although him don't play instruments, he was a musical genius,” Family Man said of the producer.
When welded onto a three-piece vocal group featuring Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, and Bunny Livingstone for whom Scratch produced a pair of albums (‘African Herbsman’ and ‘Rasta Revolution’), this version of the Upsetters transmogrified into one of the great line-ups in popular music.
Artistically, Scratch was about to enter a period that even by Jamaican standards was one of great productivity. Until 1978, when he left Jamaica, largely for good, he went through a period of extraordinary creativity. At his Black Ark four-track studio in Kingston’s Washington Gardens, Scratch worked on an unparalleled succession of classic tunes, including Max Romeo’s War Ina Babylon, Junior Murvin’s seminal Police and Thieves, and George Faith’s To Be a Lover, as well as The Congos’ Heart of the Congos, a masterly album.
Scratch Perry presently resides in Switzerland, and continues to make magnificent music.
Bob Marley was a hero figure, in the classic mythological sense. From immensely humble beginnings, with his talent and religious belief his only weapons, the Jamaican recording artist applied himself with unstinting perseverance to spreading his prophetic musical message.
He only departed this planet when he felt his vision of One World, One Love, which was inspired by his belief in Rastafarianism, was beginning in some quarters to be heard and felt. For example, in 1980, the European tour of Bob Marley And The Wailers played to the largest audiences a musical act had up to that point experienced there.
Bob Marley's story is that of an archetype, which is why it continues to have such a powerful and ever-growing resonance: it embodies, among other themes, political repression, metaphysical and artistic insights, gangland warfare, and various periods in a mystical wilderness.
It is no surprise that Bob Marley now enjoys an icon-like status more akin to that of the rebel myth of Che Guevara than to that of a pop star. And his audience continues to widen: to westerners Bob's apocalyptic truths prove inspirational and life-changing; in the Third World his impact is similar, except that it goes further. Not just amongst Jamaicans, but also amongst the Hopi Indians of New Mexico and the Maoris of New Zealand, in Indonesia, in India, even - especially - in those parts of West Africa from which slaves were plucked and taken to the New World, Bob Marley is seen as the Redeemer figure returning to lead this planet out of confusion.
Dancehall was a rough, immensely catchy ‘street’ style of reggae. Henry ‘Junjo’ Lawes was the hottest reggae producer of the early part of the 1980s, the originator of the ‘dancehall’ style that has dominated Jamaican music since the death of Bob Marley in 1981. Such names as Yellowman, Eek-A-Mouse, Barrington Levy, and Josey Wales all owed their careers to Lawes; whilst more established acts like John Holt, the Wailing Souls and Alton Ellis also enjoyed revivals after recording over his rhythm tracks for his Volcano label.
In 1979 Junjo Lawes hired the Roots Radics as backing group for a series of sessions at Channel One, a decision that was to alter the sound of Jamaican music. The tough sound of the Radics was slower and more penetrating than the ‘rockers’ style of the Revolutionaries, Kingston’s other dominant studio house-band. Lawes used a young engineer called ‘Scientist’: as a result, Barrington Levy’s Bounty Hunter album, which emerged from these sessions, came to be considered a classic, shifting reggae in a new direction.
Success came fast. Lawes produced such classics as Michigan and Smiley’s Diseases and Frankie Paul’s Pass the Tushenpeng. To combat the indifference of Jamaican radio programmers, Lawes launched his Volcano sound system in 1983, which became Jamaica’s top sound system. A number of other new sound systems also sprang into existence, including Sugar Minott’s Youth Promotion. Soon singers with new 45s were outnumbered by deejays.
By the middle of the 1980s, technological developments in the form of the ‘syndrum’ were altering reggae irrevocably. This digital form was known as ‘ragga’, short for ‘raggamuffin’. The Bloodfire Posse’s Rub a Dub Soldier had set the tone; but Wayne Smith’s Under Mi Sleng Teng, a Jammy’s tune that became a phenomenon, is credited with kicking off this revolution.
Another alumnus of Jammy’s was Bounty Killer, who became a pre-eminent deejay of the 1990s. A ghetto youth from the shantytown of Riverton City, Bounty was taken up as the voice of the people. He was closely rivalled by Beenie Man whose anti-gun tune was a huge Jamaican hit in 1994. By this time the controversial Buju Banton was straddling dancehall and conscious music, and seemed to have transcended both genres.
Hiphop music is now recognised as having been a direct descendant of the Jamaican art of deejaying - even though much of that form itself came directly from the eccentric between-record raps of US radio DJs, and from iconoclasts like the Last Poets. MC Kool Herc, a Jamaican deejay who set up a sound system in the Bronx during the mid-1970s, is widely acknowledged as having been a forerunner of rap. All the same, the Jamaican parentage of artists like Biggie Smalls, Busta Rhymes and KRS-1 was a formative influence on their styles. New York-based acts like Shinehead and Shaggy adhered more closely to Jamaican forms.
Thanks to the work of Bob Marley, whose image is omnipresent around the globe, reggae music has attained an unprecedented international role, its rhythms assimilated into many musical cultures. In Africa, the continent that so inspired Bob has cast up its very own reggae stars: South Africa’s Lucky Dube, Alpha Blondy on the Ivory Coast and Thomas Mapfumo in Zimbabwe to name but a few.
The influence of reggae is hardly restricted to Africa. In Brazil, reggae is enormously popular - Jimmy Cliff is based there for much of the time. And the popularity of the music in Japan is well known – many Jamaican artists have kept themselves alive with lucrative ‘revival’ tours of Japan, where ska has proved particularly popular, spawning its own local groups. Reggae seemed to appeal to the dispossessed dwelling in the former Soviet Union and its empire: Poland, for example, seemed very partial to the rhythms of the Isle of Springs.
In the United Kingdom, where Jamaican music had been popular since the early 1960s, the reggae-punk fusion of 1977 (celebrated in Bob Marley’s Punky Reggae Party) caused reggae rhythms, bass-lines and production techniques to become integrated into rock and pop music: the work of the Clash, Police, UB40, and Culture Club all spoke of this; and as a consequence of the 2-Tone movement of British multi-racial ska groups like The Specials and The Beat, many Americans assumed it was a music indigenous to the UK Midlands.
In the 1990s the Drum & Bass and Jungle styles have clearly stated the extent to which Jamaican music has become a staple influence on UK club culture.
Please contact Write
Angle if you want to know more about any of the exhibitions detailed
in these pages, or if you have an exhibition project that may be of
interest to Australian museums, galleries or festivals.