- Shopping Bag ( 0 items )
Awide-ranging look at the cultural, political and religious forces that inspired the pioneering reggae group.
This history of the Wailers, among the first acts to bring reggae to a worldwide audience in the 1970s, doesn't function like most music biographies. Grant (Negro With a Hat: The Rise and Fall of Marcus Garvey, 2008) resists assembling detailed family trees for the band's prime movers, Bob Marley, Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer. Nor does he obsess over discography or even dwell much on the musical shifts the trio made as it evolved from playful, syncopated ska to emotionally intense Rastafarian reggae. Instead of writing from a critical remove, Grant freely injects the story with first-person asides about his experiences with interviewees. All these tactics are assets, because they help the author avoid stock band-history patter and instead drill into the broader cultural life of 20th-century Jamaica. Looking at Trench Town, the slum from which the trio emerged, Grant explores British colonialism, violence, race relations and sexual mores that defined life on the island. He offers a pocket history of Ethiopian leader Haile Selassie (aka Ras Tafari) and his messianic following, and those passages go a long way toward de-glorifying the mythology of marijuana and Rastafarianism that wafts around the Wailers. The book never feels digressive or off-point, though the three musicians occasionally seem to get lost in the shuffle. Some of the interviews—as with Island Records chief Chris Blackwell, who popularized theWailers' musicin the United States—feel perfunctory. (Grant seems more engaged with a West Indies scholar who specializes in Jamaican slave life.) Still, the book clarifies the band's impact in its home country, which collectively mourned when Marley succumbed to cancer in 1981 and Tosh was murdered in 1987.
A lively, informed study of the Wailers,though not a straightforward introduction to them.