various artists,
Righteous Reggae Jams
(K-Tel International, 1997)

This is an excellent compilation of conscious spiritual reggae in a range of styles that varies from roots to dancehall. One generally doesn't hear much spiritual reggae unless one actively seeks it out; the reggae more commonly available in the U.S., at least, tends to be personal and secular in orientation. The music on this album and the excellent liner notes help us understand the origins of reggae in intense spiritual and political consciousness. While I know and enjoy explicitly political reggae, I appreciated this CD's range of Rasta spiritual reggae.

That said, I liked the more political tracks better than the most religious ones, at least in content. I'm not Rasta myself, so the most specifically Rasta religious lyrics didn't touch my heart as much as the others, though I appreciated them musically and intellectually. I tend to like music that deals with a range of subjects, including political and spiritual, and that's one of reggae's strong appeals -- especially when it rocks as well! "Jah Jah" by the Wailing Souls and "Keep On Grooving" by Damian Marley, for instance, combine spiritual themes with calls to social justice in wonderful music and rhythms.

I did like many of the most explicitly religious songs as well. Even when its lyrical content is so different from my own spiritual path that I find little to connect with, the songs themselves are great! "Here I Come" by Dennis Brown, "Jah Jah Children Moving Up" by Third World and "Picture on the Wall" by the Naturalites have a great roots sound and a spiritual content that's broader than the explicit Rasta focus of some of the others. "I Love King Selassie" by Black Uhuru, "Abbabajanoi" by Sister Carol and "Selassie Lives" by Screwdriver have the same strong roots sound and specific Rasta themes.

"Know Jah" by Tony Rebel, "King of Kings" by Terry Ganzie and "Who's Gonna Help Me Praise" by Tenor Saw are solid dancehall tracks. I very much enjoyed hearing conscious dancehall! I like the sound a lot but don't care for the lyrics of many dancehall songs I hear, so I appreciate these songs with a content other than swagger or sexual conquests. I know there's more to dancehall than that (it's more reflective of the tastes of the people who do the reggae radio shows around here) and I was glad to hear it!

"Bone Lies" by Mutabaruka, with Dennis Brown, Cocoa Tea and Freddie McGregor, combines roots and dancehall elements with spoken dub poetry to great effect, on one of this album's most striking tracks.

The liner notes are very good, telling us enough about the culture, music and artists that we can appreciate the music more deeply. The cover depicts a Rasta version of da Vinci's "Last Supper," a choice I enjoyed.

I'm glad to have this album. It helped me broaden my knowledge of Rastafari and reggae, and is great to listen to as well. I recommend this CD to people who are starting to get into reggae or whose experience of it has thus far been restricted mostly to secular subjects -- you deserve to know about its roots, and as more than a musical style.

[ by Amanda Fisher ]
Rambles: 4 July 2001

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