THE HISTORY of Jamaica’s music, covering reggae, ska, rocksteady, dub and dancehall, is preserved in the Reggae Xplosion Museum at Island Village, Ocho Rios, St. Ann.
On entry, there is a strong sense of nostalgia: an old English juke box playing Pressure Drop by Toots and the Maytals recalling the 1960s.
As you sit at the old-school Jamaican bar, the walls of the room lined with old dancehall posters, looking at the ‘Dulcimena’ radio and long-necked Red Stripe bottles, your eyes take you on a journey back through time.
Vinyl records hang from the roof of the bar, the labels reminiscent of the early days of Studio One and Channel 1 recording studios.
Standing tall beside the bar is a ‘moon, pan stick’ street light, on which are nailed old dancehall posters. You imagine some men standing around it in the dim of the night, drinking and talking about which dance they are going to and with which girl. Suddenly, you are jolted back to the present by a tour guide, who starts speaking about the history of Jamaican music, which has altered the course of popular music throughout the world, an astonishing achievement for a tiny Caribbean island.
Reggae Xplosion exhibits a digital, archive containing 5,000 high-resolution photographs and artwork covering the last 50 years of Jamaican music.
A definitive text of over 50,000 words, illustrated with more than 400 stunning colour and black and white photos and artwork, makes this the ultimate exhibition of Jamaican music. There is a picture of a mobile record shack, Mystic Sound Box, and televisions giving visuals to Jamaican music all around the upper level of the museum.
With this much Jamaican music history and heritage creatively showcased, Jamaicans and tourists alike flock to the museum. “We get a lot of tourists on cruise ship days. Students come and use it as reference material; music people also come and use the museum. The museum and the exhibition is called Reggae Xplosion and it is owned by Chris Blackwell. Island Records was sold,” said Donna Hussey, manager of Reggae Xplosion.
The museum documents the ’60s ska revolution and its leading figures. Photos of The Eric Dean Orchestra from the Alpha Boys’ School are prominent on the walls of the museum, Dean and Ernest Ranglin are featured in the photograph. Others featured in print and photograph are Don Drummond, Max Romeo, Alton Ellis, Millie Small, John Holt with the Paragons and Leroy Sibbles with the Heptones.
Also from the Jamaica Ska archives is a record which shows songs from Byron Lee and the Ska Kings, The Blues Busters, The Charmers, Stranger, Ken and Patsy and the Maytals. Other musical visionaries from the ska era in the archives are Derrick Morgan, Carlos Malcolm, Slim Smith, Lord Koos, Rico Rodriguez, Sir Coxsone Dodd, Roland Alphonso, the Ska-talites, Jackie Edwards, Owen Gray, Jimmy Cliff and Jackie and Millie. The museum then moves from ska to rocksteady, which is represented by Prince Buster, Toots and the Maytals and Laurel Aitken.
Reggae Xplosion’s interactive and audio-visual components record Jamaica’s music from yesteryear. Some of the memorable songs included are Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner by Black Uhuru (1980), Bredda Gravilicious by Wailing Soul (1979), No Woman No Cry by Bob Marley and the Wailers (1975), Police and Thieves by Junior Murvin (1976), War Inna Babylon by Max Romeo (1976), Marcus Garvey by Burning Spear (1975), Country Boy by The Heptones (1972), The Harder They Come by Jimmy Cliff (1975), Rivers of Babylon by the Melodians (1969), ‘(54-46) That’s My Number’ by The Maytals (1968), Tougher than Tough by Derrick Morgan (1967), Carry Go Bring Come by Justin Hines and the Dominoes (1964) and My Boy Lollipop by Millie Jackson (1964).
Other artistes whose songs are represented are Lee Perry and Dub Syndicate, Bim Sherman, Lloyd and Devon, Prince Fari, African Head Charge, Wayne Smith, Deborah Glasgow, Ward 21, the Melody Makers, Damian ‘Junior Gong’ Marley, Julian Marley, Yvad, Tyrone Taylor and the I Threes.
Pictures that speak a thousand words adorn the walls of the museum. Iconic figures capture their fair share of history, among them Bob Marley and the Wailers, Bunny Wailer, The Congos, Big Youth, Pablo Moses, Black Uhuru, Ini Kamoze, Jacob Miller, Pam Hall, Carlton Coffie, Culture with Joseph Hill, Eek-A-Mouse and Coxsone Sound System.
Fallen heroes have their place on the walls of the museum and on the walls of many hearts. These sung heroes include Garnet Silk, Peter Tosh, Dennis Brown and Clement ‘Sir Coxsone’ Dodd. Generations meet with pictures of Bob and Rita Marley and the Marley children.
Familiar faces herald the recording of later eras. Among them are Beres Hammond, Luciano, Mutabaruka, Sly and Robbie, Freddie McGreggor, Tony Rebel, Third World, Dean Fraser, Junior Reid, Gregory Isaacs, Nadine Sutherland, Barrington Levy, Sanchez, Cocoa Tea, Marcia Griffiths, Mr. Cool, Shinehead, Junior Tucker, Tiger, Yellowman and Shabba Ranks.
The artistes who are celebrated in the collection are very pleased. “I feel good about being in the museum. I have to give a lot of love and respect to the people of Jamaica who give a lot of support to me and Robbie. I think the museum is something that people look forward to going to and see the history,” said Sly of the legendary rhythm duo Sly and Robbie.
“It’s good for people to know the great Jamaican musicians who contributed to the music industry and are not mentioned. With this museum the next generation can know where the music is coming from and what it is they are dancing to,” he said.
“It’s bless to know that you can be a part of Jamaica’s music. It’s good to know that Jamaican music is being recognised by people in high places. We are being recognised for the work that we do all these years and that’s a good thing,” said veteran singer Cocoa Tea.
“It only goes to show that if you do good work and put out good music then people will recognise you for the work that you do,” he said.
Other music industry pioneers given faces on the museum’s walls are the Sony Bradshaw 7, Keith Hudson, Agustus Pablo, Sugar Minott, Jah Stitch, Linton Kwesi Johnson, Glen Brown, Harry J Allstars and Eric Donaldson.
“It’s gratifying to know that I’m being noticed before being dead. You know the story of poor Bob Marley, now that he is dead he is given everything, and he’s dead and gone. While I’m alive I’ve been able to be remembered,” said Sonny Bradshaw.
“It’s long overdue. It’s good to see that someone is recognising the music. You know politicians don’t care about the music until they need to use it. I will support it 100 per cent by giving them any information or artefacts that they need,” he said.
Very recent standouts who have also been archived are Mr. Vegas, Wayne Wonder, Buju Banton, Beenie Man, Capleton, Shaggy, Ninjaman, Bucaneer, Lady Saw, General Degree, Bounty Killer, Anthony B, Sizzla, Elephant Man, Sean Paul, Junior Kelly, T.O.K, Red Rat, Morgan Heritage, Spragga Benz and Tanto Metro and Devonte,
“I’m so flattered. At least somebody knows that Mr. Vegas is working hard. I really was about to retire because I thought my work has gone unnoticed. I may not be the greatest, but I deserve my place in history,” said Mr. Vegas.
“The museum is good because people will see that these artistes are working hard and taking the music not only locally but internationally. A piece of history is created whenever Mr. Vegas goes into any chart across the world, because I take a piece of Jamaica with me,” said Vegas.
Channel 1 Recording Studio, Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry’s Black Ark Studio, Greensleeves and VP Records have their space in the archives as well. There is a representation of the Black Ark Studio, as well as an old mini pressing plant for 45 records. VP Records’ ‘Strictly the Best’ series is also noted. DJs and dub, a very important part of Jamaica’s music culture are a part of the collection. Some of the historic figures are Tenor Saw, Johnny Osbourne, Dillinger, Junior Murvin and again ‘Scratch’ Perry.
As you leave, memorable songs of the 60s ring in your ears. Bedward The Flying Preacher by Prince Buster, Tribal War by Little Roy, King at the Controls by Carlton Patterson and King Tubby are some of the songs that escort you to the door.
-Kesi Asher, Staff Reporter, Jamaica Gleaner