The rise and fall of Jamaica's music scene
The 1960s and '70s were the heyday of the cool music scene in Jamaica. This report looks at the rise and fall of the scene.
Jamaica's cool musical scene in the 60s and 70s took off thanks to a small piece of technology.
Paul Miller, better known to music fans as DJ Spooky has had a long relationship with Jamaican music. First as the son of parents who went there often when he was a kid in the 70s. And continuing today as someone who's just obsessed with the sound, process and evolution of Jamaican popular music.
DJ SPOOKY: "Radio was the first democratic device in the third world. Once the economies of scale kicked in after World War Two, radio really became ubiquitous. So your average person in Jamaica would hear radio coming off the coast of Florida, and they'd want to hear a live version of that. So the bands responded by doing cover versions and those would be played at parties."
"Back in that time period, even multi-tracking was a really complex situation, and a lot of the Jamaican analog tapes were two-track. What happened was musicians would come into the studio, they'd record on two tracks and they'd try and do what they called dub edits, which is you'd copy those two tracks that somebody had played then layer them with another two tracks, and that's how you'd get this kind of layering going on."
"The technical innovation was usually just very crude. Small tape machines, reel to reel, that kind of thing. It's hard for us right now to go back and think about how much beautiful music came out of these small patchwork studios."
"Now of course we have the internet and mash-ups and all this crazy on-line editing. There's people like Danger Mouse, or myself, DJ shadow, you know we're all children of that process. It all goes back to that Jamaican minimalism. And the cool thing is that it's also very multi-cultural. Strangely enough, Trojan records was started by Lee Gopthal, an Indian, with a white Jamaican, Chris Blackwell, and one of Bob Marley's first producers was Leslie Kong, who was Chinese: Chinese-Jamaican. But it's all about how independence came about which is you had people with very specific skill sets which had been cut off from the normal economic routine of the British empire. People are put in a situation where music and creativity become valued because that's how; like same thing happened in the depression in the US where a lot of people were thrown out of jobs and music became more important than ever. But in such a small place, everybody wanted to hear really intense innovation because that's what made their clubs or their parties more interesting. And they just happened to be really irreverent toward normal copyright law."
Maybe today's sensitivity to copyright laws won't allow a repeat of that scene.
But one wonders -- with all the tumult in the world today -- when and where the next creative scene is going to explode -- just like it did in Jamaica in the 60s.
The "Global Hit" is a regular feature on PRI's "The World," highlighting global music. "The World" is a one-hour, weekday radio news magazine offering a mix of news, features, interviews, and music from around the globe. "The World" is a co-production of the BBC World Service, PRI and WGBH Boston.Buy the DJ Spooky Trojan Records mix CD