The documentary film Rocksteady: The Roots of Reggae is a musical journey to Jamaica’s Golden Age of music, Rocksteady. The film features the music and stories of the legendary singers and musicians of the Rocksteady era. They come together after 40 years to record an album of Rocksteady hits, to perform together again at an All-Stars reunion concert in Kingston, Jamaica, and to tell their story.
Rocksteady was the rage on the Caribbean island from 1966-69. By 1970, Rocksteady had transformed into Reggae, the popular musical style known and loved around the world today. While everybody has heard the music of Bob Marley, the superstar of Reggae, few people know that it was Rocksteady that developed the buoyant rhythms, prominent bass pulse, soulful vocals and socially conscious lyrics that gave Reggae its power.
In their own words, the Rocksteady singers and musicians tell the audience about the 1960s in Jamaica, a roller-coaster decade during which the island was transformed politically, socially, economically and culturally.
In 1962, the island gained its independence from Great Britain. During the next few years, there was celebration, optimism, economic growth and opportunity. Recording studios popped up all over Kingston, competed for the best artists and produced an astounding number of songs, many of which became hits in Jamaica and overseas. Many wonderful and famous songs were created during this era, such as “You Don’t Love Me Anymore, No No No,” “Tide is High” and “Rivers of Babylon.” By 1968, however, Jamaica’s economic bubble had burst and unemployed youths fought with police for control of the streets. As violence, poverty and political upheaval spread, Rocksteady artists stopped singing about love and romance and instead gave voice to the social problems around them.
The performers include Hopeton Lewis, a Gospel-Reggae singer in New York who recorded the fi rst Rocksteady song “Take it Easy” when he was 16; Dawn Penn, nowadays a community worker in London, whose Rocksteady song “You Don’t Love Me Anymore, No No No,” was re-recorded by many other artists and became a world hit; Wilburn “Stranger” Cole (“Love me this Evening”), who had left Jamaica for a new life in Canada; Marcia Griffiths, a Reggae performer who still tours the world (“Tide is High”); Ken Boothe, who performs in Reggae festivals worldwide (“Shanty Town, 007”); Derrick Morgan (“Tougher than Tough”), a famous Ska singer who also had numerous hits during the Rocksteady era; Leroy Sibbles (“Equal Rights”), who, as part of the Heptones, created many Rocksteady songs; and U-Roy (“Stop That Train”), a “toaster” who influenced “rap music” in the U.S.; and Judy Mowatt (“Silent River Runs Deep”), who, with Marcia Griffiths and Rita Marley, was part of the I-Threes, legendary backup singers for Bob Marley. In a special appearance, Rita Marley tells the audience about her life in Trenchtown in the 1960s with Bob Marley.
The musicians featured in the film include Earnest Ranglin, Sly Dunbar, Jackie Jackson, Gladstone Anderson, Hux Brown, Lloyd Parks and Scully Simms among others.
The film features a mix of studio recording sessions at Tuff Gong Studios, rarely seen archival footage from the period and interviews with the performers at home or at places on the island that had had profound effects on their music and lives.
The film takes the audience to the roots of Reggae and also draws a colorful and enriching portrait of the founders of this great musical heritage.
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