Ask Ty...May 16

Q: RayGay Music
Do you know anything about reggae music? Or do you know anyone who does?

I don't. But I heard a Toots and the Maytals song last night and thought, maybe I should like to learn about some reggae music. But the real shit. And from the beginning. And from someone who knows a shit or two about it.

After all, I'm white. But I want to know for real reggae music and not just Legend or UB40 or some such typical and whitewashed reggae that I would find in the CD department at Target. And I'd like to know from the beginning.

- Are Dub
Ty: Good question and an even better observation. I, too, have attempted the real reggae quest. Not the collegiate Bob Marley Legend version, but, as you say, "the real shit." I totally know what you ask. I do not have a good history with reggae, unfortunately. I am not the expert you seek. Nor can I point you toward the experts you seek. I can only tell you what I know. So, there. Your questions are hereby answered: A) I know very little about reggae music; B) I do not know anyone who does. There's your answer. That's all I know.

Oh, and it ain't a white or black thing, mon. Trust me on that.

Just a guess. The end.


No, wait....there's just a little more.

1) My mother (the incredible, beautiful, complex, intelligent woman who birthed me (rather than the woman I grew up with)) lived in Jamaica for a bunch of years. Jamaica, as you know is the home of reggae and all things Rastafari; the real shit. Now, listen carefully here because I may never say, type or otherwise indicate this information again in my life: My mother was a reggae producer.

So, maybe. Just maybe I do know someone "who knows a shit or two about" reggae. Really. I got your hook-up here. I've, personally, never discussed the topic with her given the breadth of topics before us, but I can (in all seriousness) put you in touch. I'm fairly sure she would be open to discussing reggae with you. Plus, you can meet my mother. There's an answer.

2) Here's the reggae music I presently own:

Toots Hibbert (yes that Toots) - Toots in Memphis, 1988
I do not remember how I obtained this compact disc but it was an important record at some time in my life. Even now during an intensive iPod shuffle session a song from this record will come up and take me back to smaller days. It's pretty much a heartache record (every artist has at least one) with songs like "I've Got Dreams to Remember," "Love Attack," and a six and a half minute, "Love and Happiness." This record is somewhat mainstream as it connects Toots to the Otis Redding and Al Green brand of soul/R&B. A gateway record.
Lee Perry & Friends - Public Jestering, 1990
Oddly enough I was turned onto Lee "Scratch" Perry through the Beastie Boys (Hello Nasty was released 10 years ago? Jesus!). I immediately related to Scratch given my producer's nature. Yeah, Scratch is the real shit and I absolutely love this record. I don't know shit from mulch but this record feels pretty goddamn real to me. I could listen to it nonstop for several days, I'm sure.
Various Artists - Reggae Spectacular, 1988
About a dozen years back, I went on my real reggae quest. I mentioned this already. At the ridiculous corporation where I once worked there was this more senior associate from Jamaica. His name was Elvis. I sat down in his office and asked him to guide me in reggae. His short and smooth answer was, "Start with the Reggae Spectacular and follow your interests from there."

Reggae Spectacular tuned me on to the fact that reggae was much more than Bob Marley Legend. Oh. Jimmy Cliff, Bob and Marcia, the Harry J. All Stars, Glen and Dave, Greyhound, and Blue Haze appear on Spectacular. A 22-track lesson. Most songs are from the early '70s. Spectacular feels pretty real. It's all over the place but it's instructive. While Spectacular is famous for the cover photograph (barefoot Rastafari climbing a palm tree), it's the gatefold and back art (click the picture over there) that lead me to feel it's the real shit.
Easy Star All-Stars, Dub Side of the Moon (2003) & Raidodread (2006)
Dub Side is the all reggae interpretation of Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon, obviously, and 'Dread is the interpretation of Radiohead's OK computer.

On the surface (and without listen) one could easily discount these efforts as novelty; somewhere between Dread Zeppelin and Flight of the Conchords. But it ain't all about novelty. These are more re-interpretations that wholly stand strongly and proudly as statement in and of themselves. If you own or know either of the original records, I highly recommend the Easy Star versions. It may not be real or street but these records quickly gets the listener to the point of what reggae is. Beautiful records, them.

Shit! I almost totally forgot all about the UB40. Dang. I even seen them live at the Hollywood Bowl (Mark was there too). The Dan Reed Network opened. Yeah, UB40 sucks, right? Naw, I cannot hate. I own Rat in the Kitchen on vinyl! It's reggae-ish Brit-pop. It is what it is: inspired by reggae.

To close, yes, you should like to learn something about reggae music. Me too. Reggae isn't easy. It's so much more than music; it's lifestyle. You have to let go of so many preconceived notions of reggae to appreciate reggae. Let go of Legend (as beautiful as it is). It served an important purpose but let it go. Conversely, give props to groups who've really got it and incorporated reggae: Beasties, Cornershop, Ben Harper, UB40, etc. They aren't monkeying reggae, they're honoring reggae.

Oh, call my mom too.