Reggae Lessons



Klive Walker


Some of the most alluring and powerful reggae writing can be found in poetry and fiction. For example, Lorna Goodison’s poem For Don Drummond, Nalo Hopkinson’s novel Midnight Robber and Marlon James’ epic narrative A Brief History of Seven Killings are all steeped in reggae’s rhythms and themes, its overall aesthetic. Here are three important non-fiction titles guaranteed to interest the well-versed enthusiast as well as those seeking an introduction to reggae.


1. Global Reggae edited by Carolyn Cooper (University of the West Indies Press, 2012)



Edited by Carolyn Cooper, an expert in dancehall reggae, the 16 essays in Global Reggae represent a unique collection of writing by historians, journalists and scholars from around the world. All of the writing here is interesting. Louis Chude Sokei ’s Roots, Diaspora and Possible Africas is an excellent meditation on the portrayal of Africa in reggae songs, while Marvin D Sterling’s assessment of Japan’s relationship to dancehall is a revelation. Brent Clough’s fascinating Oceanic Reggae highlights the region’s indigenous population. My own essay provides a history of the music in Canada that focuses on its Caribbean diaspora artists. Global Reggae showcases this music’s international appeal from the inside out.


2. Bob Marley: Lyrical Genius by Kwame Dawes (Sanctuary, 2002)


In Lyrical Genius, Kwame Dawes, an extraordinary poet, delivers possibly the most thoughtful and rigorous assessment of Marley’s lyrics to date. Through a deep tissue analysis of the great songs, Dawes offers fresh insights into Marley’s life. Dawes’ Natural Mysticism is also essential reading for anyone interested in reggae’s influence on Caribbean literature.


3. Reggae- The Rough Guide by Steve Barrow and Peter Dalton (Rough Guides,1998)


Reggae-The Rough Guide boasts that it contains more than 1,000 cd and vinyl recommendations. What separates it from similar books is that it includes reggae history, artist profiles and interviews, all taking the reader through a journey of every Jamaican music genre from folk to dancehall. The book’s comprehensive index makes it a kind of reggae encyclopedia. More important, is that its non-Caribbean authors treat reggae as it would any mainstream music rather than some quaint island distraction.


Klive Walker is a Jamaican-Canadian author, cultural critic and reggae historian. His book Dubwise: Reasoning from the Reggae Underground was published by Insomniac Press in 2005. His contribution to the CBC music website Get Up Stand Up- 50 years of Jamaican Music covered ska, rocksteady, roots reggae and dancehall. Walker lives in Toronto.