IN THE EARLY DAYS
reggae enthusiasts were disheartened. Fans had been comfortable with roots music – Burning Spear, Bob Marley, Yabby You, Augustus Pablo, Culture. They felt they knew what reggae was.
As they most people understood it, reggae was music that carried a message. Reggae advocated change, overthrowing the colonialist system and lifting the suffering masses out of poverty. Reggae was the music that gave a voice to those who would speak out against a status quo that had traditionally silenced the voices of the poor. Young people around the world felt a firm affinity with this message. It resonated with their ideal of creating a world without war, oppression and commercialism.
But, the mood in Jamaica had changed. The new decade saw a move away from reggae as reggae fans had known it for almost a decade. Many roots artists seemed to fade into the background as young unknowns arose to take their place. When Bob Marley, the undisputed king of reggae, died in 1981, many people felt that reggae had ceased to exist- that without Bob, there could be no reggae.
In an attempt to keep his legacy, and the music, alive, efforts were made to name various bands and individual artists as his heirs to the throne. But, the attempts were fruitless, because by 1981, the music had changed. The music that replaced roots reggae seemed, to the many disillusioned fans, to be trivial and devoid of deep meaning, lacking the potential to right the wrongs and injustices of society. All the brimstone and fire were gone.
The new music of the 80’s appeared materialistic. It was often sexually suggestive, sensationalist, focused on the excitement of the moment. A large group of former reggae supporters felt abandoned and moved away from the music. But many more new fans flocked to this exhilarating, provocative, bracing new form of entertainment. Jamaica was reclaiming its music and bringing back home. After years of artists vying for foreign exposure, reggae was becoming more purely ‘Jamaican’ than it had even been in its short history. Dancehall had arrived and was bringing big changes to the musical landscape.