Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Short history of Jamaican r&b (aka Blue Beat, Ska and Rock Steady)

After the Second World War the UK was devastated and in need of rebuilding. The acute labor shortages meant many poor immigrants from the British colonies moved to the UK. Most settled in the larger cities and the new communities brought their culture and music. West Indian music was colorful and based on native dance rhythms with Calypso from the Caribbean, and Mento folk music, from Jamaica. When the slaves of the Caribbean were forbidden to talk to each other they sang using a form of West African kaiso, to communicate and mock their slave masters.

Early calypsos were sung in a French-Creole dialect called patois ("pat-was"). These songs, usually led by one individual called a griot, helped to unite the slaves. Later the griot became the chantuelle and now as the calypsonian. Calypso recordings started in 1914 and by the late 30s stars like Atilla the Hun (Raymond Quevedo), Lord Invader (Rupert Grant) and the Roaring Lion (Rafael de Leon) were dominating the Caribbean scene.

A decade later, Lord Kitchener (Aldwyn Roberts) had came to prominence and continued to make memorable hits until his death in 2001.

After the Andrews Sisters did a cover version of Lord Invader's, hit Rum and Coca Cola, Calypso became an accepted musical genre with Harry Belafonte the best known calypsonian of the 50s. In 1956 he sold over a million copies of the Banana Boat Song ("Day-O") which made him an international success.

In the same year, US troops were withdrawn from Trinidad and the Mighty Sparrow recorded Jean and Dinah which ushered in a new era of politically charged calypso. As the people of Trinidad worked toward independence from Britain, political calypso became an important social influence. The lyrics of political calypso were protest songs which contained social commentary and humorous satire on current events. The clever use of double meaning and innuendos was a major feature too. Whilst most of the early calysonians were male Calypso Rose became the undisputed "Queen of Calypso" in the 60s.

The established record companies in the UK were defiant and would not cater for new ethnic tastes which presented a window of opportunity for independent companies to fill the void. Melodisc records was started by Emil Shallit in 1947, and they released Jazz and Blues imports from the US. Melodisc Records also recorded Jamaican Jazz artists like, Joe Harriotts, and African Highlife acts like Ambrose Campbell & His West African Rhythm Brothers, and The Nigerian Union Rhythm Group among many others.

Trinidadian Calypso was however the mainstay of the 1950s Melodisc catalogue with artists like Lord Kitchener, Lord Beginner (Egbert Moore), Trinidad All Star Steel band, and The Sparrow all made available to listeners in the UK. The absence of recording studios in Jamaica meant many artists came to London and started to integrate with other UK musicians. Soon recording studios were opened in Kingston, Jamaica and Emil Shallit licensed music direct making important links with Jamaican based producers and acts. The Kalypso label was set up in the UK (as a subsidiary of Melodisc) and the label released the first known recordings from Laurel Aitken and Lord Tanamo (Joseph Abraham Gordon). Lord Tanamo was also the lead singer with the Skatalites.

In an era prior to television and commercial radio, records and live music were the only way to hear ethnic music and when the popularity of the minority interest grew, niche record labels flourished. By the late 50s there were three main record labels producing popular West Indian music, these were: Dice, Rainbow and the most influential, Blue Beat. Blue Beat Records was another subset of Melodisc and became synonymous with Jamaican R&B. Mods and skinheads (sometimes referred to the Suedehead culture of the mid to late sixties) took bluebeat to heart and dance clubs would play both US Soul and Jamaican Bluebeat. Blue beat was made popular by disco D.J.'s like Mike Quinn from the Marquee in London. Often individual record sales far exceeded those in the charts but Bluebeat outlets were independent record shops, the sales of which were not included in national chart returns. During the sixties Prince Buster (Cecil Bustamente Campbell ) and the Bees (Later The Pyramids) became widely known with records like “Al Capone” and “The Ten Commandments.” Other well known Bluebeat acts included: Laurel Aitken, Derrick Morgan, Blue Rivers, Desmond Dekker.

Ska (often mistaken for Bluebeat) and Rock Steady music were also Jamaican in origin. In the 50s when local Jamaican musicians started to incorporate North American R & B influences flavoured with mento, then a new up-tempo Jamaican beat was created called ska. Theophelus Beckford is reputed to have made the first ska record with Easy Snapping in 1959. Don Drummond (saxophone and song writer) with The Skatalites (Studio One house band) did much to popularize ska and soon other luminaries followed, including: Derrick Morgan, Laurel Aitkin, and Owen Gray. Many well-known reggae artists began performing ska including; Bob Marley and the Wailers, Toots & the Maytals, and Jimmy Cliff.

The first ska song to become an international hit was Millie Small’s My boy Lollipop (1964).

As the 60s progressed syncopated ska beat give way to a slower, more melodic tempo called rock steady. Musicians experimented with more complicated melodies as vocals came to the forefront and horns took up the background. The most commercially successful act to sing Rock steady was Desmond Dekker and the Aces (consisting of Wilson James and Easton Barrington Howard). They had several hits including 007 (Shanty Town), and the number hit, Israelites.

By the end of the sixties Jamaican R&B had merged into Reggae as Bob Marley and the Wailers rose to prominence.

Over the decades Bluebeat, Ska and Rock Steady music have enjoyed several revivals, most notably in the eighties with 2 Tone music, (reference to black and white musician jamming together). Popular 2 Tone acts included: Bad Manners, the Specials, UB40 and Madness. "Skaville UK" by Bad Manners was the last Blue Beat single to make an impact on the UK charts in 1989.


Worth a listen
Roaring Lion
Ugly woman (1933)
Lord Kitchener
Dr Kitch
Andrews Sisters
Rum and Coca Cola (1945)
Melodisc 78 Bongo Mandates (1949)
Lord Beginner
Victory Test Match (1950)
Harry Belafonte
Banana Boat Song ("Day-O") (1956)
Mighty Sparrow
Jean and Dinah (1956)
Laurel Aitken
Aitken’s Boogie (1960)
Calypso Rose
Fire in my wore (1966)
Lord Tanamo
Rainy night in Georgia (1970)
Keith & Enid's
Worried Over You

Blue Beat
Prince Buster and the Bees (Later The Pyramids)
Al Capone (1967)
The Ten Commandments (From man to woman) (1967)
Judge Dread
Laurel Aitken
More whiskey (1960)
Derrick Morgan
Don't Call Me Daddy (1960)
In My Heart (1960)
Be Still (1960)
Meekly Wait and Murmur Not (1960)
You Don't Know ( later re-titled, Housewives’ Choice) (1961)

Theophelus Beckford
Easy Snapping (1959).
The Skatalites
Guns of Naverone ( )
I'm In The Mood For Ska (1965)
The Wailers (Bob Marley and the Wailers)
Rude boy (1965)
The Maytals (Toots & the Maytals)
Do the reggay (1968)
Jimmy Cliff
Many rivers to cross (1969)

Rock Steady
Alton (Ellis) & Eddy
Let Me Dream (1962)
Alton Ellis
Dance Crasher (1965)
Rock Steady
Willow Tree
I'm Just a Guy
Sitting in the Park
The Tennors
Ride Yu Donkey (1968)
Desmond Decker and the Aces
007 (Shanty Town) (1967)
It Miek (1969)
Isrealites (1969)

2 Tone
Bad Manners
Lip up fatty (1980)
Special brew (1980)
Skaville UK (1989)
One in ten (1981)
The Prince (1979)
One step beyond (1979)
Baggy trousers (1980)
The Specials (Special AKA)
Gangsters" (The Special A.K.A.) (1979)
A Message To You Rudy (1979)
Too Much Too Young" (1979)
Ghost Town" (1981)

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