Rocksteady: The Roots Of Reggae is a new full length documentary film and album set to drop any day now. Check the Get Ready To Rocksteady Website for release dates and showings. For album availability check Moll Selekta. Here is the synopsis by the project's music producer Moss Raxlen AKA Mossman from the Get Ready To Rocksteady Facebook group, enjoy!
Rocksteady, a popular music that originated in Jamaica, was the rage on the Caribbean island for a short period (1966-68), but produced an astounding amount of material, much of it beloved and enduring. The Rocksteady era produced many worldwide hits such as “No No No ( You Don't Love Me )”, “The Tide is High”, “By the Rivers of Babylon” and many other musical gems.
Rocksteady’s biggest claim to fame is that it morphed into Reggae, a musical style that became hugely popular and influential throughout the world. It was Rocksteady that developed the buoyant rhythms, prominent base pulse, soulful vocals and socially conscious lyrics that gave Reggae its power.
Everyone’s heard of Reggae’s megastar, Bob Marley (1945-81), the singer and songwriter who emerged from the ghettos of Kingston to become the Third World’s first international superstar. Marley began his career in the Ska era, characterized by fast tempo dance music, but he too changed his music to Rocksteady and recorded beautiful songs with The Wailers ( Peter Tosh & Bunny Wailer).
Most of Rocksteady’s artists went on to build Reggae careers of their own although their rising stars were eclipsed by Marley’s. While their contributions to the evolution of the musical style have not been as celebrated as Marley’s, they were significant nonetheless.
For the very first time, the stories of these original Rocksteady artists are told in the documentary Get Ready to Rocksteady: The Roots of Reggae. Some of the Rocksteady performers and singers travelled from other countries to be filmed, to perform their music at an All-Stars Rocksteady concert in Kingston and to record an album of Rocksteady favorites at legendary Tuff Gong Studio, the former Federal Records.
The Rocksteady performers in the documentary include Hopeton Lewis, a Gospel-Reggae singer in New York who recorded the first Rocksteady song “Take it Easy” in Kingston when he was 16; Dawn Penn, a community worker in London, England whose Rocksteady song “No No No, You Don’t Love Me Anymore” was re-recorded by other artists and became a world hit; Marcia Griffiths, a Reggae performer who still tours the world (“The Tide is High”); Ken Boothe, who also performs in Reggae festivals worldwide (“Shanty Town”); Judy Mowatt (“Silent River”) who, with Marcia Griffiths and Rita Marley, was part of the I Threes, the backup singers of Bob Marley; Derrick Morgan (“Conquering Ruler”); Leroy Sibbles (“Equal Rights”); and U-Roy (“Stop That Train”).
Singer Stranger Cole (“Morning Train”) serves as the narrator of the film. Rita Marley also has a major role in the documentary describing her life in the 1960s in Trenchtown with Bob and other musicians. Many Rocksteady artists lived in Trenchtown at that time.
The backup musicians in the movie are led by band leader and legendary guitarist Ernest Ranglin and include Gladstone “Gladdy” Anderson and Robbie Lynn (piano), Linford “Hux” Brown (guitar), Sly Dunbar (drums), Lloyd Parks and Jackie Jackson (bass), Glen Dacosta and Headley Bennett (sax), Calvin “Bubbles” Cameron (trombone), David Madden (trumpet), Bongo Herman and Scully Simms (percussion).
Through interviews and rarely seen archival footage and photos, the documentary traces the evolution of Rocksteady, from its breakaway from Ska, to its emergence as full-scale Reggae.
The 1960s was a decade of roller-coaster changes in the newly independent Jamaica when the political, social and cultural fabrics of the country were transformed. The film reveals how Rocksteady artists experienced this turbulent era and how it influenced their music. It demonstrates that Rocksteady musicians had a shared belief in the transformative power of music.
At first, Rocksteady songs were soulful and romantic and singers sang about love and hope. As the economy of rapidly industrializing Kingston collapsed and the thousands of rural youth who had flocked to the capital found no work, gangsterism (“rude boys”) and shanty towns developed. The lyrics of Rocksteady changed to speak about the violence and the dispossessed.
Get Ready to Rocksteady: The Roots of Reggae explains how the visit in 1966 of the Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie to Jamaica had a lasting impact on the small nation and on Rocksteady. The music took on new themes: black consciousness, yearning for equal rights, Africa and Rastafarianism, a religion that spread rapidly after Selassie’s trip.
The film shows a face of Jamaica that tourists never see when they visit the island’s beaches and resort hotels. Most importantly, it captures the roots of Reggae music and preserves, for posterity, a musical history that otherwise may have been forgotten. Be sure to check it Iyah!