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Friday, 2 August, 2002, 16:21 GMT 17:21 UK
Jamaica's musical independence
Bob Marley
For many Bob Marley epitomises Jamaican music
On Tuesday, Jamaica's celebration of 40 years of independence will reach its crescendo, with much of the festivity centring on the rich musical heritage the Caribbean island has built up over that time.

With the birth of Jamaica in 1962, a new type of music was also rising that eventually found its globetrotting ambassador in Bob Marley.

The new self-confidence of the Jamaican establishment was matched by youths in the poverty-stricken Trenchtown area of Kingston, listening to American R&B on beat-up radios.


The Harder They Come captured a time and the spirit of what was going on at the time

Jimmy Cliff
They took what was best of America music and combined it with their own musical traditions to form ska, often-revived and the forerunner of the slower reggae rhythms that shoot through so much modern music.

'Music form'

The Harder They Come star Jimmy Cliff told BBC Breakfast music in Jamaica had often followed the progress of independence.

"It helped to establish a music form that has become the standard music form in the world today known as reggae.
Jamaicans
Jamaicans are celebrating 40 years of independence

"Forty years of independence, I have to relate it to the music a lot being a musician, because when independence came we started to form the music form which we called ska.

"It was upbeat because everybody was in an upbeat mood. It slowed down to rocksteady because everybody wanted to slow down now and observe what is independence all about.

"Then it went into reggae as people start saying 'Is this independence? I really need to look for my culture.' So people started looking to Africa."

Bitter

The incendiary nature of Jamaican politics was always caught up with Jamaican music, which for all its good-time rhythms often carried a sharp message.

Most artists preferred to tackle subjects obliquely, choosing attacks on general social ills to make a political point without being drawn into Jamaica's bitter internecine party politics.

The Wailers and Marley voiced the discontent of many about excessive curfews (Burnin' and Lootin'), police roadblocks (Rebel Music) and malnutrition in the slums (Them Belly Full).

Ruminations on slavery such as The Wailers' Slave Driver could be viewed as veiled political criticism in a new nation with an ongoing post-colonial hangover.

Eager

Indeed Jamaica's independence day has often played second fiddle to emancipation day, celebrating the end of slavery on 1 August 1838.

The more popular stars like Marley became, the more pressure there was from politicians eager to improve their standing with celebrity backing.
Jimmy Cliff
Cliff was a friend of Bob Marley

Many attribute the attempt on Marley's life in 1976 to perceptions he had given tacit support to the left-wing government of Michael Manley by deciding to play a free concert.

The brutal politically-inspired gang warfare and high levels of crime in Jamaica continue to be a topic for recording artists.

'Spirit'

And it provided the backdrop for The Harder They Come, the 1973 tale of a country boy sucked into urban violence that gave Cliff celluloid and vinyl fame.

He recalled: "It was the thing I did in my career that really showed me to the world. I had hit records prior to that but it showed me as an actor and also as a singer

"It captured a time and the spirit of what was going on at the time that is very relevant today.

"It showed a country boy who comes to the city trying to make a life because we are all programmed to think that the city is where we can make a life.

"He comes to the city very innocent and he got caught up in all of the wrong turns in the city."

Illustrious

Cliff, touring in the UK at the moment, helped Marley in the early meet a producer in the early years.

"My career started prior to Bob's and I was introduced to him and happened to be the person that introduce him to my producer and he made his first record and we became friends and brothers."

What is clear is that however Jamaica celebrates independence next week, its stars will continue to sing about the same problems as their illustrious forebears.

See also:

30 Jul 02 | Country profiles
02 Aug 02 | Breakfast
06 Jun 02 | Americas
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