Michael E. Veal,
Dub: Soundscapes & Shattered Songs in Jamaican Reggae
(Wesleyan University Press, 2007)

This is the definitive book on the style of music called dub, developed in and associated with Jamaica. Author Michael E. Veal has interviewed a number of dub originators, and he has gone into great detail about how the music was put together in various studios.

Dub could be called the predecessor of hip-hop and sampling. Veal shows that many of the techniques used in today's urban music were developed by dub producers in the 1970s.

Dub developed from roots reggae, which was popular around the same time Bob Marley became an international celebrity. In Jamaica it was music of the poor, many of whom could not afford to buy records. Reggae was heard at dances through large portable sound systems.

Studio producers developed "dub" versions of popular hits. Mostly instrumental, they could be used by DJs for "toasting," talking over the music for bragging or attacking rivals. A strong case can be made that this was the beginning of rap.

With equipment that was primitive by today's standards, electronics wizards could strip down a song to its basic rhythm components, or add reverb and echo for "psychedelic" effects.

Dub may have been the first music to be primarily created by producers instead of musicians. Legends such as Lee Perry and King Tubby are better known than nearly all of the session men that made the music they reconfigured.

Veal is particularly skilled at describing this music, which some readers will not have heard. He takes many individual recordings and explains how they were created, their chords and rhythm patterns and, most importantly, the feelings and moods they created.

Veal intellectualizes in the final chapters, with sentences like, "Parisi's use of dub in this way also typifies the music's conceptual usefulness in challenging the perceived foundations of modernism." Such observations may be true, but they are speculative and may not be interesting to many readers.

The final chapters do have relevant information about dub's influence on punk and its spread to other countries in a "neo-dub" form.

This book is not for casual readers. Although it is only 260 pages long, it is dense with information and theory. It is essential, however, for those who wish to learn about the music of Jamaica.

review by
Dave Howell

17 November 2007

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