When Reggae Was King

Bass Culture: When Reggae Was KingBass Culture: When Reggae Was King by Lloyd Bradley
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is not only a comprehensive examination of Jamaican music but a well-written and informative tome on subjects as varied as Rastafarianism, Jamaican independence and politics, as well as emigration, particularly of Jamaicans to the UK.

Musically, it starts with the Sound Systems of 1950’s Kingston and delves deeply into 60’s Ska and Rocksteady before moving into Reggae’s golden age of the 1970’s. Fans will know that, contrary to much conventional wisdom, it doesn’t all sound the same and within the genre there’s a wide range of styles from Roots to Dub to Lover’s Rock and Dancehall.

At 540 pages long, this is probably a book for the passionate fan rather than those looking for an introduction to the music or Jamaica itself; the latter may well be better off with some kind of Rough Guide or suchlike.

Those curious about the subject and willing to make the effort are in for a very rewarding read indeed. (If you think toasters are just an appliance for preparing your breakfast then prepare to enlightened.) There’s little more than one chapter on Bob Marley so the more discerning aficionado is likely to find plenty of interest and learn a thing or two along the way; particularly with the diversity of related topics covered.

Preferring reggae’s social commentary aspect to the full on Jah worship, I particularly enjoyed the sections on UK roots music (albeit very London-oriented). If there is a weakness, it is that the book first published in 2000, appears to tail off, with the second half of the 80’s and the 90’s looking like a footnote to what has gone before.

Bass Culture has been so thoroughly researched that it would be very harsh to criticize Lloyd Bradley for this. Perhaps the music went into a period of decline in the digital age, as the author and others appear to believe, or maybe their time had simply gone and a younger writer will be better placed to pick up the story with the same passion and knowledge Bradley has for the earlier periods.

But for coverage of Jamaican music and its context from the 50’s through to the early 80’s, I have no hesitation in awarding Bass Culture the full complement of five stars.

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