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BBC – Music – Review of Various Artists

Written by on October 17, 2020

There have been numerous box sets marking the 50th anniversary of Jamaican independence. But only this one is compiled by a former Prime Minister: a man who set up one of Kingston’s early recording studios and record labels, and produced traditional folk music and Jamaican R&B.

Throughout his life, Edward Seaga has been a fervent advocate for the promotion and preservation of Jamaican culture. Now, in retirement, he has curated this four CD set, telling the music’s story from Manny Oh to Mavado, from the very beginnings of ska (Easy Snappin’) to post-dancehall nu-roots of Queen Ifrica and Etana.   

It’s a clever compilation, too, telling Jamaica’s music’s story with no leaning toward any particular aspect; and by not sticking exclusively to one record label, he’s able to go genuinely across the board. This set mixes songs so well trodden they’re almost clichéd – Oh Carolina; Police and Thieves; Sleng Teng; Welcome to Jamrock – with the relatively obscure: Occupation; We de People; Push Come to Shove; Untold Stories.

There’s also some “Gosh, I haven’t heard that for ages!” selections – Take It Easy; Fade Away; Electric Boogie; Sycamore Tree – meaning the music is documented purely by what was important or pivotal. Naturally Bob Marley is there (Trench Town Rock, Kaya and It’s Alright) but, crucially, this is as part of The Wailers and produced by Lee Perry, from a period many consider the group’s best.

There’s rocksteady love songs like The Tide Is High and No More Heartaches, righteous roots such as Them a fe Get a Beatin’ and Marcus Garvey, and dancehall tomfoolery with I’m Getting Married and Arleen. It even crosses over to the UK with Silly Games and Maxi Priest’s Wild World.

It’s an uncomplicatedly enjoyable collection that sits comfortably with Seaga’s extensive booklet notes and track annotation, explaining not only the introductory what was what and who was who, but incorporating context of why certain things happened when they did. It’s as if the tracklisting was selected to go with the narrative rather than the other way around, as is so often the case.

When you add the writer’s wealth of personal knowledge, insider anecdotes and rare photos, Golden Jubilee becomes a most comprehensive and dedicated history. It has a depth of presentation that positions it as the only 50th Anniversary set to satisfy collectors and connoisseurs, yet is completely accessible and encouragingly familiar for the novice.

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