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CULTURE

The Kings of Reggae

by Ami Kealoha
on 22 February 2007
kingsofreggae.jpg

The latest in the series of DJ-curated (but not mixed) compilations from BBE Records, The Kings of Reggae, is one of the best yet. Like the other seven “Kings of” double CD or vinyl LP comps, the tunes on each disc have been handpicked by a notable DJ and record collector in their field of expertise, in this case, London’s David Rodigan, and New York’s (via Jamaica) Sting International. Besides their encyclopedic knowledge of the music, what they have in common is decades of experience playing these tunes live to dancing audiences.  

Classic selections like The Abyssinians’ “Satta Massa Gana,” Burning Spear’s “Marcus Garvey,” Junior Murvin’s “Police and Thieves” and Freddie McGregor’s “Big Ship” are not only great tunes, but they are certified party-rockers. And they are balanced out by many lesser-known tracks like “Arleen“ by General Echo, “Toyan” by Toyan and “Informer” by Cocoa Tea.     Also represented are many of the great producers, like Lee Perry, Joe Gibbs, King Tubby and Linval Thompson, who innovated these now-classic reggae sounds in their Jamaica studios.  

  The series has stood out from the constant onslaught of "Best Of" genre collections because of the music, but also because of the cover artwork. All the preceding Kings of releases have featured original covers by 65-year-old South African photographer Michael Joseph, who is best known (outside the world of advertising) for his work on The Rolling Stones’ Beggar’s Banquet LP. His BBE covers have been characterized by stylized and chaotic social scenes depicting a stereotypical European bourgeois wealth and excess from cabaret to orgy. This is perhaps a nod not only to the royal implications of the series titles’ theme, but also to the luxury of the connoisseur.

  Either way, I guess BBE didn’t think that a throng of bohemian 60s revelers in the Buckingham Palace library would complement the reggae aesthetic for some reason, so in the place of a Michaeel Joseph original is a simple but elegant image of a huge speaker and bassbin. Speakers like this have become commonplace, and they are now icons of every club subculture. But this cover reminds us that it was the Jamaican DJ crews (known as “sound systems”) and their huge custom built PA’s that first took amplification to such heights and made possible the entirety of DJ culture that followed.   The Kings of Reggae artwork is also unique in the series in that there are three different editions, in red, gold, and green highlights, for the colors of the Ethiopian flag, which, having been adopted by the Rastafari religion, have become the official colors of reggae itself.  

Due out 28 February 2007, pre-order from Amazon.

by DJ Scribe

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