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Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Dancehall dreams: The roots of reggae

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The small nation of Jamaica had its social issues, and, like the very best of art’s creations, the discontent gave rise to a musical movement in the 1970s: reggae, which led to the later emergence of dancehall.

A new documentary by director Jérôme Laperrousaz, Made in Jamaica, is being shown in the UK for the first time, to coincide with Black History Month. The film, which the director Wim Wenders has hailed as “a true masterpiece”, “the ultimate reference about reggae” and “a pure gem”, portrays the rich and vibrant music scene that emerged from the misery of colonialisation and slavery faced by the inhabitants of the Caribbean island, which went on to become a groundbreaking, global musical genre.

That the film, shot on the streets of Kingston and the beaches of Jamaica, starts with the murder of Bogle, one of the leading stars of dancehall, puts the movement in context. Reggae is the sound of the ghettos and is said to be Jamaica’s blues, telling of the people’s hopes and dreams.

Rather than solely charting the history of Jamaican reggae and dancehall culture, the film focuses on the past and present performers’ experiences and perspectives, while looking to the themes explored in its powerful lyrics: religion, violence, gender and social issues.

The compelling documentary shows live performances and interviews with Reggae’s stars, young and old. There are appearances in the film from some big hitters, including Gregory Isaacs, who has close to 60 studio albums to his name and can be seen in performance in the main photograph, Bunny Wailer, a founding member of Bob Marley’s seminal Wailers and a reggae standard-bearer, seen in the middle picture, Tanya Stephens, Toots Frederick, Elephant Man, Bounty Killer, Third World and Capleton.

‘Made In Jamaica’ opens at the ICA, London, on 23 October (www.ica.org.uk; 020 7930 3647). It is also showing at the Bristol Watershed on 22 October and the Rio Dalston on 24 October. A soundtrack to the film is being released on 26 October.

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