The beats go on: the rise of reggae’s sinister side – Features, Music – The Independent

The beats go on: the rise of reggae’s sinister side

The opening of The Harder They Come at the Playhouse Theatre returns us with a bang to the moment reggae entered the world. There had been one-off ska hits from Jamaica before. But the 1972 Perry Henzell film this musical is based on, and the soundtrack album, mostly by its star, Jimmy Cliff, showed outsiders the Kingston streets, simmering with heat and violence, where the music was made. Playing “rude bwoy” Ivan Martin, a sweet-voiced country boy who comes to the city to make his fortune, is burnt by Jamaica’s corrupt music industry, and in his fury becomes a gun-toting ghetto legend, Cliff offered a microcosm of reggae’s impoverished roots, aspirations and eventual, bloody decline. Island Records’ Jamaican boss, Chris Blackwell, modelled Bob Marley’s early persona on this archetype, setting the stage for the 20th century’s most globally potent superstar, and reggae’s growth as an international force.

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