40 roots reggae classic tracks
I’ve limited this chart to 70s style roots reggae. Simply because it’s music that I love – the characteristic slow repetitive rhythm (“riddim”) with its heavy throbbing basslines and Rastafari inspired lyrics. So don’t expect to find any ska, rocksteady, lovers rock, dub, dancehall or ragga here : it’s pure roots.
The music is organically linked to Jamaica and to the Rastafari faith. Rastafaris believe that Haile Selassie (“Ras Tafari”), who ruled Ethiopia (“Abyssinia”) from 1930 to his death in 1974, is the black Messiah, is god incarnate (“Jah”). They claim that he is descended from Solomon and Sheba, and view his official titles Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah, King of Kings and Elect of God as confirmation of prophecies in the Book of Revelation. They regard Ethiopia, or Africa, as their actual and spiritual homeland. Pointing to the fact that black people were forcibly removed from Africa to become slaves, they embrace the aspiration of Marcus Garvey’s movement for repatriation to Africa. Though Rastas are seldom politically active, they often speak of social issues, condemning the corruption of western culture (“Babylon”) and identifying themselves with poor and oppressed black people for whom they see the Rastafari faith as marking out the path to liberation. Rastas adopt a lifestyle which sets them apart from their fellow citizens and (especially in their spiritual use of cannabis) makes them frequent targets of law enforcement. Other aspects of this lifestyle include the famous dreadlocks, and a healthy alcohol free diet (“ital”).
Just as Rastafari is seen as a black liberation theology, roots reggae music belongs to a culture of resistance. Its heavy rhythms, its spiritual and social messages, and its conscious rejection of “Babylon”, set it in opposition to the perceived superficiality of much of western pop culture.
I like to have a strong representation of women in my lists, but on this occasion regrettably it wasn’t possible. There are a number of female reggae singers – but with few exceptions they are mainly associated with other styles such as lovers rock or dancehall. This mirrors the fact that Rastafari is an overwhelmingly male religion – in a 2001 study in Jamaica, Rasta men were found to outnumber rasta women by six to one. The rastafari faith borrows many of its attitudes toward women from the Old Testament. Women are respected and revered, but their role is seen as homemakers and child bearers. Men are the leaders, the heads of family, and the preachers and advocates for Rastafari.
I have to mention those producers – great artists in their own right – who created the sound on many of these records : Lee Perry, Sly and Robbie, Augustus Pablo, Joe Gibbs, King Tubby. Maximum respect !
Now take a spliff, and enjoy. Click on the artists name for links to wikipedia or myspace pages, or on the album name to buy the music from Amazon.
36 Wayne Jarrett – Satta Dread (1976)
17 Desi Roots – Changing (Children in Exile 1982)
15 Freddie McKay – Tribal Inna Yard (Tribal Inna Yard 1983)
7 The Natural Ites & The Realistics – Picture On The Wall (Picture On The Wall 1985; song now available on Essential Reggae compilation)