There was a time when the albums which I have used to mark the progression – and also progress – of the Jamaican popular music I am in tune with were woefully thin on the ground. My tally began in the early 1990s with artistes who emerged when I was an adult (so persons from the 1980s like Shabba Ranks with his double Grammy winners, As Raw As Ever and X-Tra Naked, are nor factored in).
And we are talking structured, cohesive projects here, not a collection of singles which had been previously released.
Among the projects which struck me were Luciano’s Where There is Life and, of course, Buju Banton’s Untold Stories (both in 1995), Sizzla’s magnificent double of Praise Ye Jah and Black Woman and Child in 1997, Buju again with Inna Heights (1997), Tanya Stephens’ Gangsta Blues (2004) and, of course, Damian Marley’s Welcome to Jamrock in 2005. The list is not exhaustive – among the many that have been left out due to word count constraints are Bushman’s Nyah Man Chant (1997), Capleton’s Prophecy (1995) and Morgan Heritage’s More Teachings (2001).
Then there was a dry period until well into the second half of this decade, a period which, happily, has been broken. For after the drippings of albums which have struck my fancy, there has been a veritable flood, which currently has Chronixx’s Chronology, Damian Marley’s Stony Hill and Samory I’s Black Gold leading the charge. Then there is Kabaka Pyramid’s debut album to come. The sets which have been released before this include Agent Sasco’s Theory of Reggaetivity, Jah 9’s New Name (2013) and Protoje’s 7 Year Itch (2011) and 8 Year Affair (2013). Queen Ifrica’s Climb, earlier this year, struck a good note, too.
So it shall be very interesting to see the outcome of the Grammy Award in the reggae category next February. Even the nominations shall be interesting. However, we should not forget that the awards are voted for by a large body of persons who tick a box, not necessarily listen to each album and make a critical decision.
Maybe it is time a group of persons – and not necessarily those who have Grammy voting power – did just that, assess the Reggae Grammy nominees critically and come to an independent conclusion. Heck, maybe they should create a pool of nominees on their own, which would do better justice to the album output which has restored my faith in the commitment to long-term views of the music we have been blessed with.