Greensleeves 'Feel It In The One Drop'

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greensleeves.jpgReggae music has too often been criticised for its willingness to deal with a painful reality that many would rather pretend was not happening at all and there is an implicit contradiction in attempting to make what could be classed as 'entertainment' out of real pain and suffering. It can sometimes be the only means of dealing with a reality too harsh to contemplate in any other way. Music can give a voice to the voiceless and out of the current conflagration of internecine violence simmering in the ghettos of Kingston has stepped a whole new generation of singers and deejays whose voices cry out to be heard... and the sound of the One Drop.

Unafraid to hold back they are not only facing up to the harsh realities of life but also the omnipresence of death and the music now coming out of Jamaica is a direct echo of the upheaval and unrest on the streets of the capital. The need to sing about peace, love and understanding has never been greater.

In a country notorious for its violence the murder rate in Jamaica this year has already risen to its highest ever toll of sudden, bloody death... two shot dead on a bus travelling from central Kingston to Mountain View… four shot dead, including a six year old child, at a football match in Clarendon… twelve shot dead from sundown to sunrise... twenty nine shot dead over one weekend. The headlines and the statistics tell their own terrible tale but it is the sheer senselessness, the scale of the inhumanity and the apparent absence of any kind of value on life that is impossible to comprehend. A government initiative to attempt to curb this rising tide, 'Operation Kingfish', has seen many infamous gunmen incarcerated but the violence continues unabated as others seek to fill their places in the hierarchy of ghetto lawlessness. Those that are able are fleeing the city and thousands have already left Kingston for the promise of tranquillity and a new life in the country.

In the face of this nihilism an astonishing new level of creativity has risen to meet the current crisis in Kingston as a brave new wave of artists step from behind the barricades and put their heads above the parapets to bravely confront the situation. It is no longer considered safe to hold Sound System dances in the capital and so the beleaguered inhabitants of the strife torn ghettos have remained in their homes and listened to the radio. Many felt that the heart had already begun to go out of the dances with the tragic death of dancer extraordinaire 'Bogle' for the Sound System dance has always been the lifeblood of Jamaican music. In the absence of weekly dances a new 'radio friendly' sound now transmits a music that could perhaps be described as bulletins from a war zone. The music of Jamaica has always been able to reinvent itself and its capacity to adopt and adapt is nothing short of miraculous. There is always the danger that this can lead to what one noted record producer tellingly termed 'the zinc fence mentality' where images of the ghetto are used to cynically sell a product but there is no exploitation to be found here. These songs are full of real anguish and pain, heartfelt and full of hurt.

Many outside observers complain that reggae music started to die with the untimely death of Bob Marley in 1981 and argue that the music then continued to finish itself off throughout the eighties and the nineties with the explosion of the dance hall style where the cultural concerns of the previous decade were swept aside. But what these observers fail to understand is that dancehall (or digital or ragga or bashment or whatever the current term happens to be) was a very real response to a very real situation and that nothing has changed. Reggae has always operated without any outside agenda but, for those who longed for the return of 'reggae like it used to be', it is apposite to consider that Damian 'Junior Gong' Marley, one of Bob Marley's talented progeny, is now making waves all around the world with 'Welcome To Jamrock' and that the style of music known as 'One Drop' and celebrated in the song of the same name by Bob Marley & The Wailers over twenty five years ago should be the current sound of Jamaica.

"We feel it in the one drop
For we still got time to rock
And we’re making the one stop
The generation gap..."

Bob Marley: 'One Drop'

Yet this set represents far more than a yearning for the 'good old days' and is not to be confused with nostalgia. One Drop does not stem from a lack of inspiration but from an acute awareness of a hard fought musical tradition. The best of the past is here, as always, but combined with the stark reality of the here and now to fashion the sound of the future.

There is little to celebrate on the streets of Kingston and the One Drop describes a life lived on the brink: 'Serious Times' from Gyptian currently holds the number one position in the Jamaican charts and is a summary of all that's going on as he sings of the worries and woes of a strife torn society. However the artist who probably best epitomises the style is Jah Cure who features on six tracks on this compilation. Previously a revolutionary firebrand Jah Cure has been locked up in jail for a number of years where he has continued to make records. He now sings of the need for love and understanding and is currently the most popular artist in Jamaica. He has always protested his innocence. It is nothing short of astounding that such beautiful music can come from so much pain but his determination to continue against seemingly insurmountable odds has proved inspirational and can be read as a metaphor for the current situation for this same paradox runs throughout the music of the One Drop.

For as long as they are able to draw breath the poor, the disenfranchised and the sufferers of Jamaica will continue to make themselves heard. Linked to the past by the same burning concern that motivated the artists now considered to be the legendary greats of reggae music the sound of the One Drop is the sound of the new millennium from some of its most committed artists. Their weapon is music; their fight is with the One Drop as they yearn to turn their vision of peace and coexistence into a living reality.

Greensleeves Records Ltd