edit: now in full length on YouTube..
Howard Campbell writes in the The Jamaica Gleaner:
'Rocksteady: The Roots of Reggae' opens in Canada
Published: Wednesday | July 22, 2009
Howard Campbell, Gleaner Writer
Rocksteady: The Roots of Reggae, a documentary on the Jamaican beat that preceded reggae, will be released in Canada on Friday.
The 90-minute film features interviews with some of the genre's leading performers and musicians. It premiered earlier this month at the Montreal International Jazz Festival which had a slot dedicated to the sound.
Rocksteady: The Roots of Reggae, which was partially funded by the Jamaican government, is co-produced by Stascha Bader of Switzerland and Canadian Moss Raxlen.
'A musical gem'
Bader, who says he has been listening to Jamaican popular music since he was a teenager, told The Canadian Free Press that discovering rocksteady was like 'finding a musical gem'.
He and Raxlen worked on the project for five years. They were in Jamaica in April last year, completing interviews and a soundtrack with big rocksteady names like singers John Holt, Leroy Sibbles and Marcia Griffiths.
The documentary also has interviews with guitarist Lynford 'Hux' Brown, keyboardist Gladstone Anderson and bass player Jackie Jackson.
Rocksteady replaced the jazzy ska as Jamaicans' beat of choice in 1966. It lasted for only three years but produced some of the most memorable sounds in the annals of the country's music, largely through harmony groups like the Heptones, the Paragons and soulful singers such as Toots Hibbert, Alton Ellis and Ken Boothe.
Although rocksteady has never earned the international acclaim of ska or reggae, it has its share of famous admirers. British band UB40 has covered several songs from the era while American punk band Blondie had a number-one hit with the Paragons song, The Tide Is High.
Rocksteady: The Roots of Reggae's Canadian run begins in Vancouver and Toronto. It is scheduled to open in Ottawa in August.
Liam Lacey writes in Globe and Mail:
Rocksteady: The Roots of Reggae
•Directed by Stascha Bader
•With Stranger Cole, Judy Mowatt, Marcia Griffiths, Rita Marley, Ken Boothe, Leroy Sibbles, Hopeton Lewis and Dawn Penn
What a delight it is to watch Jamaican musicians of the late sixties reunite for the film Rocksteady: The Roots of Reggae . There's such a combination of personal warmth, talent, history and creativity that it's impossible not to get caught up in their pride and love for the music they created.
A Canadian-Swiss co-production, the film is smartly directed by Swiss filmmaker Stascha Bader, who did his doctorate on Jamaican music. He lets the musicians tell their own stories in a series of interviews, interspersed with in-studio musical performances. The whole package is held together by the gentle voice-over narration of Stranger (Wilburn) Cole, a percussionist and singer who was a central figure in the sixties' Jamaican music scene.
Like two similar documentaries, Buena Vista Social Club , about veteran Cuban musicians, and Standing in the Shadows of Motown , about the Motown house band, this is a film about people who were young 40 years ago but still carry a real fire for the music they created.
The subject, at first, seems an odd one: Rocksteady was a transitional genre, a slow and soulful style that only lasted for about three or four years, between the cranked up rhythms of ska (typified by the 1964 Millie Small hit, My Boy Lollypop ) and the more rock-influenced reggae music of Bob Marley and other bands that became Jamaica's biggest cultural export.
Many of the rocksteady tunes are straight-ahead love songs such as The Tide Is High (revived by Blondie in 1980). Singer Judy Mowatt refers to rocksteady as taking place just at the beginning of the “consciousness era,” and the musicians collectively seem to see it as a relatively innocent time and an optimistic one in the first years following Jamaican independence (1962). Of course, it was the sixties, and some of the songs deal with social commentary about the back-to-Africa movement and the emerging “rude boy” gang violence. Sly Dunbar, drummer extraordinaire, even suggests rocksteady might have been a musically richer period than reggae, marked by a combination of heartfelt melodies and jazzy instrumental intricacy.
Poverty, oppression and exile are all themes here. Marley's widow, Rita, takes us on a tour of the impoverished community of Trenchtown and talks about how you can hear the yearning for a better life in the music, which eventually merged into the more militant themes of reggae.
Marley, who now lives in Ghana (she was in Jamaica during filming to attend the funeral of her deceased husband's mother), points out the kitchen in which she first made love to Bob Marley. Raggedly dressed kids still hang around in trash-filled streets, where, she says, as a girl she used to wait eagerly for garbage day to see what food and treasures she could collect.
The film focuses on such Jamaican musical institutions as the Tuff Gong studio and the Alpha Boys School, springs of Jamaica's prolific music culture. We see the reunion of a couple of dozen of the genre's leading performers including Hopeton Lewis, Ken Boothe, Leroy Sibbles, U-Roy, Dawn Penn, Derrick Morgan, and Bob Marley's backup singers, I Threes (his widow, Mowatt and Marcia Griffiths). The backup band includes legendary pianist Gladstone Anderson, drummer Dunbar and the sweet-voiced male backup group, the Tamlins. If these aren't familiar names, the movie does a good job of leaving a quick, vivid imprint of their individual styles and personalities.
Most of the performances filmed here are being recorded for an album ( Rocksteady: The Roots of Reggae on the Moll-Selekta label), but the moments when the recordings go wrong or the singers improvise are some of most revealing about their creative styles. The film also includes interviews on a Jamaican radio show before a Kingston reunion concert, though only a couple of minutes of that concert are shown in the film. The musicians from the film also played for 125,000 people at the recent Montreal Jazz Festival and, perhaps, that's a promotional strategy in not giving away too much in the film: Rocksteady's music definitely leaves you wanting more.