Seaga 'drops legs' talks music history

Signalling to the disc jockey to turn up the volume, former Prime Minister Edward Seaga got to his feet and showed all present in Lecture Theatre 50 at the University of the Technology (UTech), Jamaica, that he can still 'buss a move' as he danced to the music of the Skatalites.

Seaga never gets tired of talking about what he loves more than politics - music. He was at it again last Thursday, in a lecture titled 'The Origins and Development of Jamaican Music'. Set within the context of his commemorative musical book box-set collection: Reggae Golden Jubilee 50th Anniversary: Origins of Jamaican music, it fit perfectly in the university's 60th anniversary theme - 'Pioneering Past, Bright Future'.

But this was no boring talk as in between sharing some of the findings of his anthropological and sociological analysis, he played some of the music that was instrumental in shaping today's genre of Jamaican music dating from the 1950s, before the sound had a name.

"I yearned to make people understand what life among the poor and, more specifically, the creatives was like," he said. Before his political career, Seaga lived in west Kingston, and that was where his interest in music deepened. "My learning came through feelings, always has, and not through [my brain]," he said, pointing to his head.

From Blues to Ska

He spoke about early critiques of rock and roll and rhythm and blues music during the 1950s, recalling farm workers returning to the island with jukeboxes on their shoulders blaring the blues from the southern section of the United States - a sound that was often confused with our local folk music.

His musical selection started off with the Joe Higgs and Rob Wilson collaboration Oh Manny Oh, one of two songs which he produced (Oh Carolina by the Folkes Brothers being the second) that could compete with the music that entered from the South. It was an achievement of the politician to produce the debut single of the Trenchtown-based musicians who were considered two of Jamaica's first indigenous recording artistes. Prince Buster's Wash Wash, Sammy Dead by Eric Morris, and My Boy Lollipop by Millie Small were also used to explain the transition from the blues to ska.

"The productions of the late '60s were not by design but by an awkward occasion where the music in studio was not playing at the level the singer wanted - then came rocksteady," Seaga said as he familiarised the audience with Rocksteady recorded by Alton Ellis.

What he called the "turbulent '70s" marked the beginning of deejaying.

"It was the beginning of deejaying, new rhythms, and toasting, where artistes such as U-Roy had up to three records ranked at number one." Other notable mentions of the toasting era were King Yellowman and Ernie Smith.

The former politician explained that music has always been widely accepted, even the more controversial songs such as Buju Banton's Murderer, Sleng Teng by Wayne Smith and The Harder They Come by Jimmy Cliff which highlighted the social, political and cultural issues of the 80s.

"I don't even know what Sleng Teng is," Seaga said with a smirk. "But it was a moment in music development that a simple Casio keyboard provided all the music accompaniment to an artiste that did not want to bother with a band."

The Younger generation

First-year computer science student Ralph Taylor said that he was attending because of peer pressure. But he was inspired to ask Seaga what he thought of the current crop of musicians, specifically Chronixx, and if he thought the artiste could bring reggae back to its former 'glory'. The music connoisseur noted, "Although Chronixx is fairly new, if there was one that I thought could compete and bring back the music, he would be one."

When The Gleaner asked his thoughts on recent developments of reggae/dancehall variants that incorporated the sounds of rap and hip hop, he said, "Those are two styles of music that I don't like. But what many do not know, is that they were created out of our music first, and there are persons who do not know the history of the music from the '60s to '80s."

He continued, "It does not add or take away from our genres - there is nowhere in the world that a Jamaican can go and not get respect. That's because of our tremendous creative ability in music."

But he was adamant: "If I cannot whistle it, it is not music. It seems as though we have lost the real Jamaican music and I am calling for more of it (ska and reggae). Lectures like this help exposure the developments that have been epiphanic in our time and in popular culture."

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