Reggae International is author Stephen Davis and photographer Peter Simon’s follow-up to 1977’s Reggae Bloodlines, the first serious look into Jamaica’s second most-famous export. This album-sized paperback from the early Eighties, features an unforgettable cover and is an excellent, still-vital introduction to reggae music and its history.
This book covers a lot of ground and there’s a ton to both like and learn. There are brief histories of Jamaica, Rastafarians and their beliefs, and Haile Selassie and Marcus Garvey. There’s a fascinating chapter on “Reggae Arrangements,” which discusses how the music is played and mixed, and subsequent chapters on each of the major musical shifts, from mento, ska and rocksteady, to roots reggae, dub and dancehall.
And while there’s plenty to be found on Bob Marley and The Wailers, there are also interviews with legendary figures such as The Meditations, Toots, and Alton Ellis. The section on deejays by a veteran Kingston journalist profiles virtually all of the masters, in a distinct patois, and is simply awesome. Simon’s photography throughout the book details a music world and culture far, far away and sadly, now long gone.
There are many recent and more in-depth books about reggae, but Reggae International still best captures that crucial ‘70s vibe, when the bottom-heavy music and its creators were more than mysterious, and perhaps just a little bit dangerous.