Thursday, July 29, 2010
This has been a special year for reggae music: Jimmy Cliff became the second reggae musician – after some guy named Bob Marley – to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The honor gave deserved credit to one of the genre’s all-stars, who (among other accomplishments) helped popularize reggae in America with his 1972 film, The Harder They Come. The honor was also a reminder that several reggae greats have conducted careers warranting an induction. Some of the legends who merit spots next to Marley and Cliff in Cleveland will perform at this year’s 15th annual Monterey Bay Reggaefest.
Sly and Robbie, aka the “Riddim Twins” (6pm Sunday; Monterey Bay Reggaefest stage) should easily qualify for a spot if only because they’ve played on or produced more than an estimated 200,000 tracks since arriving on the scene in the mid-’70s – and that doesn’t even include dubs and remixes. The duo has provided rhythm sections on albums for just about every well-known reggae musician, including the Mighty Diamonds, Bunny Wailer and Jacob Miller.
Lowell “Sly” Dunbar and Robert “Robbie” Shakespeare are also known for their progressiveness in the studio: In the 1980s, they were among the first reggae musicians to use computer programming to assist in the music-making process. The pair’s almost endless supply of rhythms and beats are a freeform cocktail of sounds inspired by everything around them.
“I create by listening to people and I try to hear the drums and I go for that sound,” Dunbar told the Fog City Journal. “And when I go for that sound, I try to get the spirit of it.”
Barrington Levy (8:30pm Saturday; Monterey Bay Reggaefest stage) became a roots reggae icon after leaving the short-lived duo Mighty Multitude in 1976.
“My inspiration comes on and on every day,” Levy said in an MCA Records interview. “I wake up, I walk on the street, I observe what’s going on around me, so I just get my inspiration from my every day walking up and down and observing people.”
The narrative style of Levy’s classic “Robber Man” – a first-person account about growing up in the poverty-stricken Jamaican tenements, where the poor rob the poor – makes it a reggae standout. “My momma sent me out to buy some mutton/ He says to me: Shut up boy, me want to hear no nothing,” he sings.
But it’s Levy’s ballsy political rants that have helped make him a world-renowned musician. “Hypocrites,” a perfect theme song for George Bush’s presidency, is a portrait of an artist standing up to a government he fears.
Third World (8:30pm Sunday; Monterey Bay Reggaefest stage) has also been around since reggae’s golden era. In January, the band – which has released more than 15 albums over the years – celebrated its 35th anniversary with a sold-out concert in Trelawny, Jamaica.
“I never even thought we’d get started as a band,” says Third World bassist and one of its founding members, Richie Daley. “We were like pioneers because no band did what we did before in terms of a group of musicians; there were only individual singers like Bob Marley and Ken Booth.”
It was in 1974, when Third World opened for Marley and the Jackson 5, that the five-piece group made its presence known throughout the world.
“We were the first band on, but we didn’t go unnoticed,” Daley says. “We were amongst the demigods of music and we had only 15 minutes, but we used it well.”
One of Third World’s appeals is its incorporation of cultural and ancestral roots into its music, even in love songs.
“We didn’t know where else to go with the music,” Daley says. “Even our love songs have a deep meaning.”
On the late ’80s hit “Forbidden Love,” Third World relays the global message that love is blind to skin color, politics and religious belief: “We both know the feeling’s fine, but society says it should never be.”
Daley says that while the message in reggae music has become less political over the years, Third World – which recently finished recording its new album, Patriot, due out sometime in August – continues to scribe socially conscience tunes with edgy flair.
Growing up in Jamaica, Daley says most of his musical influences were American artists like Sly and the Family Stone, Curtis Mayfield and James Brown. The band was truly honored to record “Try Jah Love” in 1982 with Stevie Wonder, who was another big influence.
“It was nothing short of incredible,” Daley says. “I learned humility from [Wonder]; he’s so amazingly talented and so humble at the same time. He would treat every human being on the same level.”
Like rock and roll, reggae is here to stay. Take it from the late Peter Tosh.
“Soon the earth will tilt on its axis and begin to dance to the reggae beat to the accompaniment of earthquake,” he said. “And who can resist the dance of the earthquake, mon?”