The first word in the title of Klive Walker's first book "Dubwise" would immediately grab the attention of hard-core roots reggae lovers across the globe. "Reasoning from the Reggae Underground", the second half of the title signifies dialogue from a place of the unknown, mystique and where the outlaws often dwell. Some of the individuals, incidences and accounts in this luminous piece of work speak to the above.
The book is a series of essays by Jamaican writer Klive Walker who currently makes Toronto, Canada his home. The preface written by Herbie Miller, who once managed the great Peter Tosh and the legendary Skatalites, sets the table for a diverse musical diasporic journey. Herbie's preface along with Walker's introduction serves up the first offering, referencing Jamaica's musical landscape prior to Jazz popularity on the island.
As the book progresses the writer describes his initial encounter with the music as a pre-teen at house parties in London, England.
As you read, one gets the feeling of a traveler, packed, boarded and seated in first class, geared for a musical expedition from the UK to JA, to the USA, the Caribbean, Canada and stirring the Euro vibes with an insider's perspective. By the second chapter you have landed on the tarmac of Dub, soon to hit those of Dance hall, Jazz, Dub poetry, Rock Steady, Hip Hop, Reggae and Diasporic Reggae on a variety of plains. Then you discover the pilot-writer is also a poet in flight with fantastic navigational skills.
In Dubwise, Walker puts forward a series of fresh perspectives on the culture. Unlike other writings on reggae, Klive did not merely deal with Robert Nesta Marley's significance in Reggae's history. He articulated Bob's influence in the streams of pop music culture but more importantly attends to those who influenced Bob and the field of competent Jamaica stars from which he ascended. He also locates many of Bob's phrases in the language of the people and the works of Louise Bennet Coverley, a champion of the people's language.
One could conclude from the essay Reggae Sistas' Stories: The Women of Roots Reggae, that the careers of female singers such as Marcia Griffith, Judy Mowatt, Phyllis Dillion, Hortense Ellis, Dawn Penn and Jamaica's first female producer Sonia Pottinger did not receive their deserved recognition and support.
The social construct underpinned by the patriarchal dominance of the day, contributed to women's absence form the lead microphone and other industry roles. This unfortunately bias dubbed into the culture and the dancehall, often determined whose work got placed on the wall, radio, record and the shelves.
Walker informs the majority of my generation, and those after, that Jamaica's first international superstar on Chris Blackwell's Island was a woman named Millie Small and that Marcia had international hits prior to Bob Marley. This happened at a time when the kitchen was still considered the only place for women to be. Much more could be said on this subject, I am sure many readers would love to examine the current stats on women in the business. One thing for sure, intentionally or by default there is much to explore on this subject.
My two favorite essays are on the most influential voices in reggae and the one on the legendary Skatalites. When it comes to influential voices in the music, many will have their picks. However, Walker narrows your selection with the facts in a ninety degree angle you can't get round.
The criteria capsulating this discussion separates the dubs from the instrumental. The question is which of the following artists' records the selector can play all night and rock the dance: Bob Marley, Alton Ellis, Delroy Wilson or Dennis Brown. Leroy `Heptone' Sibbles can be included but you would be hard pressed to fine anyone else. Certainly no artist that came on the scene after 1980 except maybe Garnett Silk can be included in this category.
From that list, I think it is safe to say Dennis Emanuel Brown is the most influential voice in reggae. The details in "Dubwise" substantiates this and a number of ways - Trus mi pon dat (trust my words) and I encourage you to read the book to confirm for yourself. Throughout the 70s & 80s, Reggae Sun Splash was correctly dubbed "one of the world's greatest Reggae festivals". The event staged for several nights in Montego Bay, Jamaica, received attendance from all over the world. Patrons were treated to some unforgettable performances and more - it was truly a remarkable reggae experience like none other.
I recalled one of those many golden sunrises, just before the light conquers the dark, a treasure chest moment after the all night vigil. This was international or singer's night, the voice of the then popular MC Tommy McCowan against the back drop of roaring fans in the thousands. He introduces "Dennis Brown, the Crowned Price of Reggae, Dennis, Dennis, Dennis Brown in the morning" And the place jus mash up (the crowd erupts). Dennis' smooth silky voice was like a sweet pot of chocolate tea with ackee, saltfish and green banana the venders cooked. It was the musical breakfast steaming for royalties. The aroma from the various pots being cooked and the charm of his voice with the steam and sun worked in harmony and raising many to their feet. It was the pain killing formula to ease the tension of standing all night. After four nights of music and often two to go for many patrons, his on stage personality and vocal dexterity was just the right coco bread the patty sat in and rock for desired musical taste. Often his performance would lead conversation for days on end.
Even though many saw Dennis as a lovers-rock singer, he was also revolutionary in his writing. His versatility and repertoire speak for themselves. His signature intro in the song "Love & Hate" continue to lead greater excitement and fawud (replay request) in the dance hall, at parties and concerts event to this day. This essay speaks to the amazing vocal dexterity of Dennis Brown, his impact on the music as a child star, his reggae-r&b singing skills and influence on his contemporaries and those that followed. From Alton Ellis to Leroy Sibbles, to Freddie McGregor, George Nooks, Bushman, Luciano, Frankie Paul and the beat goes on..
As Walker states in Dubwise, Don Drummond as a member of the Skatalites "dominates the ska era as a prolific innovative composer, provoking dark menacing and rebellious rhythms" one could say Drummond was the Marcus Garvey of Jamaican music The Skatalites are without a doubt some of the greatest musician the world has seen. Don D. was the man who led with an instrument commonly thought of as a support for others, a man who was rated in the top ten best of the world and who the great belated Sarah Vaughan credited to defining the trombone because of how impressed she was with his artistry. Dubwise, also reveals that Don and Roland Alphonso were among the musicians that supported Vaughan when she performed in Jamaica in the 50s.
One of the sad tales for me in this book, besides some segments of the essay on women in the business, is that Jamaica in its infancy, ignorance and legacy of colonial rule, committed Don Drummond to a mental institution to disintegrate. We must ensure that such tragedies are not repeated. We must take microscopic looks at our excellence, value it, preserve it and continue to impact the world even in the midst of dissenting voices.
There are several other important and historical points made by Walker in Dubwise. The relationship between Hip-Hop and reggae; the Canadian contribution to the world of reggae inclusive of the genesis, psalm, proverbs and revelation of reggae up north; and diasporic reggae introduced and defined by Walker. Dubwise connects some important dots and underlines connections, influences and developments in the music that others writers have overlooked. The Writer challenges others to take up the task and write with fresh insight and with a language that reflect the rhythm of the drum and bass, the cadence of it's people, a language and rhythm that vibrates with the authenticity and authority of the insider.