A beginner's guide...

Reggae is now a global form, but way back when it was the music of the Jamaican underclass.

Replacing rocksteady as the rhythm of choice at the soundsystems, reggae became a phenomenon first in Jamaica and then across the planet. Speaking directly about life on the tiny Caribbean island the very best singers, toasters and producers managed to produce music which still inspires.

The 'roots' period lasts from around 1970 to the end of the decade, and produced a number of recognised icons. Artists such as Bob Marley and Peter Tosh need little introduction, but beneath these singers lie a number of neglected talents whose voices helped to soundtrack a vital period in Jamaican history.

ClashMusic counts down five of the best Roots Reggae tracks. As ever, MFlow are accompanying us along the way - download it HERE.

The Abyssinians – Declaration of Rights – ARTIST ON MFLOW
This tune features the immortal hammond organ entering into the first few seconds like a seethe of Spanish Town crickets. The tune was cut in 1970 in Studio One in Kingston. When Bernard Collins recorded it he took it straight to Bob Marley’s shop accross the ghetto, and it got Marley bopping around like a cricket himself, shouting “Sing about Jah. You have to call out Rasta’s name inna your tune.” Rootsy, dank and earthy as they come, rhymes like “They took us away from civilization” lick the off-beat like the surf. Wheel!

The Abyssinians - Declaration Of Rights

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Sugar Minott – Hard Time Pressure – ARTIST ON MFLOW
This is the rootsiest song off an album that is so roots, so sufferah, that the sessionists and singer broke into Channel One studio to record it. Black Roots is the album’s name, and it regularly features in top 50 reggae album lists proving that necessity is indeed the mother of invention.

The song, as Sugar told us in a March issue interview, about running from the cops in his Kingston ghetto Maxwell Park.

Bob Marley – Fussing and Fighting – ON MFLOW
This tune was recorded way back when before Chris Blackwell dreamed up the ‘drip-feed-reggae-baby-food-to-the-white-middle-classes’ five year plan with Marley as a mascot. The Wailers would ride up into the hills overlooking Kingston acccompanied by Lee Scratch Perry and a big bag of sensimilla. They wrote the song on those trips. Lee would then produce the song, which features a riding, strident horns accompaniment which really makes the track.

Lee “Scratch” Perry – Zion’s Blood – ON MFLOW
First track on Lee Perry’s Super Ape album, voted by reggae authority Lloyd Bradley as the best reggae album in the history of the genre. The track is seething, dense, like someones sampled a teeming mangrove swamp, and added Perry’s layered chorus, which has a thick stamp of rasta-return-to-Liberia-with-Marcus-Garvey thinking. The backing band is the Upsetters.

Lee 'Scratch' Perry - Zion's Blood

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Dennis Brown – Wolves & Leopards - ON MFLOW
From the excellent album Wolf & Leopards, this is one of the two Perry-produced tracks on the album – it carries a heavy horn accompaniment with an imposing off-beat guitar, and echo effects placed in the track at Perry’s Black Ark studio. This album charted Brown’s ascent to fully-fledged Rastafarianism, and lyrics about wolves and leopards can be taken as allegories for what ailed a politically divided Jamaica at the time – 1977.


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