Rocksteady - The Roots of Reggae

00:50, Mar 29 2010

Following on from the earlier post today (about the documentary Anvil! The Story of Anvil) I also watched new documentary feature, Rocksteady - The Roots of Reggae this weekend.

It has just screened in Auckland as part of the World Cinema Showcase (actually there is one more screening, tomorrow night, March 30, 8.45pm) and will go on to Wellington this weekend - and then to Christchurch (click here for the timetable for all three cities).

Rocksteady is the bridging genre between ska and reggae. Essentially Rocksteady is a slowed-down version of ska, named after the dance in this song.

Ska was the popular Jamaican musical genre in the late 1950s and through to the 1960s. Rocksteady slowed things down, taking away the reliance on the walking bassline, removing the obvious connections that ska had with jazz, rock'n'roll and calypso music. Those sounds were still found, but Rocksteady dipped further in to the new pop and rock music styles and back to the folk vocal groups.

This happened around 1966. Then, by 1968 reggae was happening. And by 1998 there was BBQ-reggae, a terrible curse that grew, like a cancer, from Wellington, Christchurch and Auckland. And continues, sadly, to this day - very sadly - but that's a different story.

The film Rocksteady - The Roots of Reggae is based around a reunion, a gathering together of some of the original artists working in the genre, names like Ernest Ranglin, U-Roy, Judy Mowatt and Hopeton Lewis.

There's a lovely moment - during an interview for a radio station - where Ranglin discusses seeing old friends for the first time in 40 years; since they made the music the first time round.

And there are some great clips - and new re-recordings - of classic songs from the genre. If you know The Tide Is High from Blondie or only from Atomic Kitten then it is time to get back and check out The Paragons' version.

The reunion sees the artists re-recording classic cuts for a new album - which doubles as the soundtrack to the documentary.

In terms of shining a light on forgotten artists from a genre that has evolved to the point of people forgetting about the original sounds this film should appeal to those who enjoyed the likes of Calle 54 and Buena Vista Social Club.

I loved it. And the next time I get an album by Box Juice or Tahuna Breaks to review I'll be heading back to the Rocksteady soundtrack/CD as the perfect antidote. I really liked reconnecting with the song Stop That Train (the U-Roy version); a song that, for me, had been all but reduced down to a sample in a Beastie Boys album.

It was nice too, to hear Mowatt talk of the influence of Mavis Staples and then hear it so clearly in her voice. To see (and hear) that these Rocksteady artists were, in a sense, the first hip-hop artists; liberally taking from all genres, mixing styles to create their spin on things. And with U-Roy discussing toasting - you definitely get a sense of it as such a clear antecedent for the rapping style that would develop in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

I loved the film. And would recommend it to people interested in any and all genres of music - it's not just for reggae/ska fans.

Has anyone seen it? Or is anyone planning to? I'd recommend catching it at the World Cinema Showcase, taking the chance to see it on the big screen. Here's the trailer.

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