Rock the reggae music
"The Reggae Scrapbook," by Roger Steffens and Peter Simon, Insight Editions, 2007, $45. 124 pp.
Roger Steffens and Peter Simon's "The Reggae Scrapbook" is a treasure trove of reggae history, lore, and memorabilia. The volume is jam-packed with text, photography, and replicas of original promotional materials. Tucked into the pages are postcards, poster replicas, mockups of LP sleeves, and a DVD of additional material. Each perusal of the text reveals new facets of Jamaica's homegrown music.
Writer Roger Steffens is the founder of The Beat, the seminal reggae/world beat magazine. Through his LA radio program "Reggae Beat" and articles in Rolling Stone, Spin, and the New York Times he has boosted reggae's popularity throughout North America. He teams with photographer Peter Simon, co-author of the classics "Reggae Bloodlines" and "Reggae International" (with Stephen Davis, who writes the introduction to this volume). Toots Hibbert of Toots and the Maytals provides a heartfelt foreword.
For those whose knowledge of reggae is limited to Bob Marley's greatest hits, the book is an eye-opener. While "Reggae Scrapbook" acknowledges Marley's tremendous contribution to spreading reggae around the world, it devotes the bulk of its pages to the other artists who contributed to the reggae canon. The text traces the growth of Jamaican music from R+B and doo-wop covers in the 1950s to its post-independence cultivation of African and Latin influences to create ska and reggae.
In addition to Toots Hibbert, Jimmy Cliff, and Peter Tosh, we meet lesser-known icons Coxson Dodd, Delroy Wilson, and Jacob Miller, The Heptones and The Techniques. Pages are devoted to Rastafarian culture and the historic importance of Ethiopian leader Haile Selassie. Other sections explore the role of ganja in reggae, quoting Peter Tosh as saying, "It is against my religion not to smoke herb."
What is striking about "Reggae Scrapbook" is how the text and visual elements work in tandem to bring reggae to life. Peter Simon has culled striking photos from his many travels to Jamaica that capture the essence of the island, from the creased smiles of locals to the colorful vistas of the cities and rural towns. The reader feels transported to the island, with its contrasts of lively humanity and grim poverty. Lovers of reggae will find this volume more than a coffee table decoration; it's a portal into the rich, vibrant world of Jamaica's ever-evolving music culture.
Julian Wise is a contributing writer to The Times.