V.A – Darker Than Blue : Soul from Jamdown 1973-1980


When Arthur Conley asked the immortal question ‘do you like good music, that sweet soul music’, maybe he didn’t exactly have the island of Jamaica in mind; nevertheless, the answer from that quarter was a loud and clear ‘yes’. The cultural relationship between the USA and Jamaica had been in place long before, from jazz through r & b, and on into the age of soul. A whole generation of singers, players and mcs had grown up in thrall to the sounds of 1960s black America; indeed, in the 1950s Jamaican dancehall music itself had evolved by adapting shuffle-based r&b and boogie, with deejays like Count Machuki freely borrowing slang & lyrics from Harlem journalist Dan Burley’s ‘Jive’ magazine, using that language to introduce and pep up their selections. The link continued through the early 1960s, with singers and vocal groups – Ken Boothe, Slim Smith & the Techniques, the Melodians, Roy Shirley – all engaging in impromptu cutting contests in ghetto locations like Back O Wall, in which the material they sang was drawn from the catalogues of such as the Drifters, Clyde McPhatter, and the ever-present Impressions. When ‘soul’ replaced ‘r & b’ in the affections of black American listeners, so rock steady and later, reggae, developed as Jamaican music kept pace with innovations on the US mainland. Through the 1960s, as US soul began increasingly to reflect the social concerns and political aspirations of the black working class, the same phenomenon began to register in Jamaican music. By the end of the 1960s, Jamaica could boast the presence of several singers who equalled in emotional intensity their US cousins, among them such as Ken Boothe, Alton Ellis, John Holt and Delroy Wilson, as well as groups like the Techniques with Slim Smith, Pat Kelly and others. Similarly, instrumentalists like the Meters, Booker T & the MGs and James Brown’s band also had their influence on the development of reggae. This compilation celebrates that cultural exchange during the period 1973-1980, emphasising the fact that roots music doesn’t have to be overtly Rasta inspired for the message to get across; indeed several of the songs here proved to be as suitable for Jamaican conditions as they were in the USA.
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