CD launch and screening: Wednesday 30th September at The Ritzy Cinema*
CD release date: 5th October
Distributed by Shellshock
“… a tasteful salute to the past, a kind of Buena Vista in a rocksteady style.” Mojo
The sixteenth release on the Moll-Selekta label shares its title with a wonderful film, a heartwarming homage to the golden age of rocksteady. It documents the recordings being made for this very album at the Tuff Gong Studios, Kingston, Jamaica in April 2008, telling the story of the original vocalists and musicians involved. Excerpts from an all star reunion concert staged in Kingston and older archive material complete the picture. Never before in the history of Jamaica, which already occupies a unique place on the world map of song, its sound embraced by western popular music, has such an illustrious collection of singers and players been assembled.
The album showcases 15 rocksteady classics in sparkling, deeply inspired new versions, recorded in the studio which also played host to album sessions of a certain Bob Marley. Under the musical direction of Ernest Ranglin, a guitarist of considerable renown not only on the reggae circuit, but also on the jazz scene, mixed by legendary engineer Errol Brown – in Duke Reid’s employ at the Treasure Isle studio in the sixties – and freshly arranged by Lynn Taitt, each of the new versions was recorded using authentic instruments to capture the true rocksteady style. Lynn Taitt – alongside Ernest Ranglin the most famous guitarist and bandleader in 1960s Jamaica, was actually pencilled in to direct proceedings, but had to withdraw for health reasons.
In the context of Jamaican musical history, Rocksteady enjoyed a relatively brief, two to three year spell in the limelight, taking over from the faster-paced, predominantly instrumental ska sound of the early part of the decade and laying the foundation for reggae to come with its emphasis on bass, more intricate melodies and by bringing singers and vocal trios to the fore. Between 1966 and 1968, an unprecedented, and unrepeated, proliferation of marvellous songs moved many fans to call this the golden age.
As Ken Boothe – one of the main protagonists of the era – so aptly notes in the film: “Music have a lot to do with people”, and thus we have the privilege of meeting a number of these delightful legends on film and on the album, people like Judy Mowatt, Rita Marley and Marcia Griffiths, who had pursued solo careers in the 1960s before forming the I-Threes to accompany Bob Marley as backing singers on his world tour, taking reggae to a global audience. Hopeton Lewis, one of the creators of rocksteady, the great DJ U-Roy, an international pioneer of toasting, a precursor of rap and hip-hop, Stranger Cole, Derrick Morgan and Leroy Sibbles are just a few of the legendary figures taking part, some having met to play together for the first time in forty years. They were reunited once again in July 2009 at the world’s largest jazz festival in Montreal, performing on the occasion of the film’s premiere. Perhaps the show will then take to the road, following in the footsteps of the Buena Vista Social Club, whose renaissance and the accompanying resurgence of interest in Cuban music owed much to a cinematic portrait by Wim Wenders. This wonderful musical style from Jamaica and the great personalities behind it would certainly be deserving of similar belated recognition.
The CD will be released in a special digipack with a 16 page booklet containing extensive liner notes by the American music journalist Chuck Foster, who takes a closer look at the rocksteady years. Detailed background on each song and its performers rounds off the package.
A historical work in every respect, guaranteed to sweeten the summer for reggae fans everywhere and hopefully opening a door onto Jamaican musical history for a whole host of other listeners.
Quotes from the musicians:
Ernest Ranglin. Bandleader, guitarist:
“It is such a great feeling to see all these musicians. Some of them I have not seen for 40 years. It is a great moment for me”.
Sly Dunbar (Sly & Robbie). Drummer:
“Rocksteady is the roots of Reggae. If you ask Jamaicans, a lot of them would say that they prefer Rocksteady – because it had better sound, better singing, better playing and better instrumentation.”
Judy Mowatt. Singer:
“The Rocksteady era was a romantic era. We sang love songs. The era and the times – everything combined. There was no violence. You could walk the streets of Jamaica at 12 o’clock, 1 o’clock, 2 o’clock without being harmed. It was a time when men and women had so much fun!”
Stranger Cole. Singer, composer:
“The times were great in the Rocksteady era. There was so much love and unity. There was no jealousy or envy among singers and musicians…The Rocksteady days were the real love days of Jamaican music. It was a wonderful time of togetherness…”
Rita Marley. Singer:
“Reggae is nice, but if you go back to the days of Ska and Rocksteady, you find more rhythm and skirt twirling and you enjoy the music more. Boys and girls danced together. Nowadays, if you go to a party, you hardly find a boy and girl dancing. You see everyone dancing by themselves and it’s a whole different thing. During the Rocksteady era, people were having more fun than today. It was more loving and warm.”
Marcia Griffiths, Singer:
“The music is the greatest weapon we have today. We are depending on this music to really unite the people of the world because this is all we have. And I am a witness to what Bob Marley did and I know that this will never go in vain. This is why we are here now, uniting everyone, almost everyone in the music, who can testify to what this music – Rocksteady – and what our Jamaican music has done and is still doing for the world.”
*The Ritzy Cinema
Tel: 020 7733 2229