The Reggae Box: The Routes of Jamaican Music

Box Sets

The Reggae Box: The Routes of Jamaican Music

(Hip-O/Island) Discovered by Columbus in 1494, subjugated by the Spanish until the British colonized it in 1655, the tiny island of Jamaica began Westernization as a slave port and pirate haven. Emancipation came in 1838, fanning the flames of a melting pot culture peopled by African/West Indian refugees, Chinese laborers left over from digging the Panama Canal, and even Portuguese Jews who'd originally fled the Spanish Inquisition. Not much has changed since; Jamaica's ghettos/shantytowns continue birthing the economic slaves of carpetbagging nations like the U.S. It's at this Caribbean crossroads that a countrified social dialogue set to the beat of hand drums, banjo, and rhumba box, incorporating fife and/or pennywhistle from 19th-century European dance music, coupled with American jazz and later R&B from another slave port, New Orleans, and morphed from mento into ska, rock steady, and reggae. In this dirt road environment, a 7-inch glob of petroleum product remains Jah, delivered to the massive via radio, club DJs, or anyone with a P.A. and a back yard. The Reggae Box: The Routes of Jamaican Music, a 4-CD musical primer to this natural phenomenon, cues up 87 tracks of island voodoo to make imperialist knaves go native. Disc one, the Sixties, traces a commercial path from Millie Small's fluke smash "My Boy Lollopop" to Jimmy Cliff's defiant breakthrough "The Harder They Come." The second disc, the Seventies, opens with the Wailers' "Trench Town Rock," but is less a hits comp -- despite primo stuff like Dennis Brown's soulful Al Green vamp "Westbound Train" -- than a stoney toe-dip into the decade's other prime hybrid: dub. The third and forth discs, Eighties/Nineties, may be the best of all, the cocaine "toasting" of the former seguing into the hip-hop rapping of the latter with seminal stars such as Eek-a-Mouse and Yellowman giving way to Shabba Ranks, Beenie Man, Capleton, and Luciano. It's all Reggae 101, sure -- all five hours' worth -- but it sure beats philosophy.


A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More Music Reviews
Texas Platters
Full Service
Lockers (Record Review)

Bryan Rolli, June 24, 2016

Phases & Stages
Live Shots: Reggae Fest

Kevin Curtin, April 24, 2015

More by Raoul Hernandez
The 2020/2021 Austin Music Awards Came Bearing a Pandemic Stimulus
The 2020/2021 Austin Music Awards Came Bearing a Pandemic Stimulus
Hop in the Winner Wagon and see who we surprised with this year's unique awards

March 5, 2021

New Austin Music Worth Your Bandwidth This Week
New Austin Music Worth Your Bandwidth This Week
What we’re listening to

March 5, 2021

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

New recipes and food news delivered Mondays

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle