Solid Foundation : An Oral History Of Reggae
Since the late nineties reggae music has enjoyed a growing amount of books that detail the history of Jamaica’s popular music. Books like Colin Larkin’s “The Guinness Book Of Reggae” and Steve Barrow & Peter Dalton’s “The Rough Guide To Reggae” provide detailed writings in order to inform the reader about the major artists, musicians, producers, records and events in Jamaican music. Beth Lesser’s recently reissued “King Jammy’s” book tells about the rise of dancehall music and its key figure, producer King Jammy. “Bass Culture” by Lloyd Bradley provides an overview of reggae’s development including noteworthy chapters of its development in the United Kingdom. Penny Reel’s “Deep Down With Dennis” traces the busy years of Dennis Brown’s early rise to prominence in the 1970s, when the singer developed his distinct style and also made the majority of his best and most famous recordings. And David Katz’s first book, the exhaustive biography of producer Lee Perry called “People Funny Boy: The Genius of Lee Scratch Perry”, was universally acclaimed for its insight and depth.
American reggae writer David Katz follows up the aforementioned Lee Scratch Perry biography with his second exhaustive book, “Solid Foundation: An Oral History Of Reggae”. Born and raised in the San Francisco Bay area of California, he was introduced to reggae in his early teens through a weekly three-hour reggae radio programme called “Midnight Dread”. He has been smitten ever since and now writes books, articles, sleeve notes and spins records at select London nightspots on a regular basis.
“Solid Foundation: An Oral History Of Reggae” covers the history of the first 30 years of Jamaican Reggae, from the pre-Ska era to the dawn of Dancehall, built upon the author’s “formal interviews conducted with more than 250 of reggae’s prime movers over 15 years”. Due to the absence of formal written documentation, it’s obvious that anyone who wants to go back almost twenty years up to almost half a century in some cases, to some extent has to rely on oral testimony. Thus Katz had conversations respectively interviews with Lee Scratch Perry, Coxsone Dodd, Derrick Morgan, Prince Buster, Jimmy Cliff, Ken Boothe, Toots Hibbert of the Maytals, Marcia Griffiths, Max Romeo, Gregory Isaacs, Johnny Clarke, Burning Spear, Horace Andy, U Roy, Augustus Pablo, Big Youth, Tabby Diamond, Bob Andy, Culture, Sugar Minott, Junior Delgado, Frankie Paul, Cocoa Tea, King Jammy and many, many others in order to let the pioneers of Jamaican popular music use their own voices to tell its tale.
Besides that Katz hoped to get answers to questions such as Who exactly created this remarkable music? Where did these people come from, and how did they become the singers and players, the engineers and producers, the sound system operators and entrepreneurs who fashioned a distinctly Jamaican music? What were the singers and players trying to express? How do they now feel about the music they created and the chain of events that brought it to the outside world?
The history of the first 30 years of Jamaican Reggae is captured in 12 chapters in which we’re treated to interesting stories about the fifties when no recording industry existed in Jamaica and the Kingston dancehalls were dominated by the sound of American rhythm and blues, to the digital revolution initiated by Wayne Smith’s “Under Mi Sleng Teng”, taking in ska, rock steady, early reggae, toasters and dub along the way. But it’s also interesting to read about the little-covered jazz and mento scenes of the 1930s, the sound systems of the 1940s and the music’s crucial links to the Island’s volatile politics, which Katz explores through firsthand testimony.
All in all “Solid Foundation: An Oral History Of Reggae” is an exhaustive history charting the progression and development of the music, with all the glorious highlights and the controversies and feuds in between covered in detail. The book also contains over 175 integrated photographs in monochrome, many by Beth Lesser, Dave Hendley and David Katz himself, most of which have never been published before. It’s a very enjoyable and fascinating read, highly recommended to anyone – beginner or committed reggae fan – who is interested in learning the history of Jamaican music. Truly a welcome addition to any reggae bookshelf.