Wow. An honest-to-goodness encyclopedia of reggae. Fans of Jamaican music will eat up Mike Alleyne’s The Encyclopedia of Reggae: The Golden Age of Roots Reggae. The book focuses on the '70s heyday of the music, with quick diversions into the earlier ska and rocksteady styles of the late '60s, and the digital revolution in the late '80s and '90s.
As reggae fans know, there are often multiple versions of albums, personnel, timelines, birth and release dates and credits. The author suggests this may be partially due to recording practices where musicians shuffled in and out and a general lack of record-keeping, mixed with faded memories 40 years on. Oh…and the ganja!
From the first entry of The Abyssinians to the final artist, Tappa Zukie, this book is a wonder to behold. Stuffed with rare photos and album covers, it is a visual treat. Bios of artists, producers and labels are organized alphabetically with a “selected discography” at the end of each entry. As the author acknowledges, he leans heavily on compilations due to the scarcity of original pressings, and it’s the one thing that might turn aficionados off. Also interspersed through the book are little sections featuring, “Reggae on Film,” “Reggae Album Covers,” “Sound Systems,” “Women in Reggae” and of course, “Dub” and “Ganja.” They provide welcome cultural diversions, and break up the encyclopedic feel of the book.
The usual suspects are here — Marley, Tosh, Jimmy Cliff and Burning Spear — but their stories sit alongside Theophilius Beckford, Justin Hinds, Keith Hudson and Yabby You. Likewise, the Studio One story is well-documented, but the entries on Pama Records and Treasure Isle highlight lesser-known labels that might not have been presented elsewhere. And as legendary as the Black Ark studio was and how far ahead of his time King Tubby was, the Channel One studio, engineer Karl Pitterson, and Ken Khouri’s Federal Records, amongst many others, were equally influential and instrumental to the reggae story as well.
Sadly, many of the architects of reggae’s golden age have begun to pass on and reggae music itself is becoming part of the musical past, rather than the present or future. Mr. Alleyne, who is a journalist and scholar specializing in the cultural and economic history of Caribbean music, has provided an incredibly valuable resource documenting Jamaica’s greatest export.
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