The Reggae Box: The Routes of Jamaican Music
Reviewed by Raoul Hernandez, Fri., Dec. 7, 2001
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.