Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Formally, reggae dancehall is an inevitable outgrowth of spare, spacy, electronic dub and the toasting style that also inspired rap. Culturally it's both a revolt of the body against Rasta mysticism and an escapist alternative in a Jamaica brought to its knees by the World Bank. And for the past five years its spare, guttural, high-energy autohypnosis, usually alternating highly rhythmic chants with dub sections that are the equivalent of disco breaks, has kept reggae alive.

Like most dance music, dancehall is rarely album-ready, though I'll settle for Jah Disciple (RAS) by Sister Carol, whose imperturbable Wild Thing closed Jonathan Demme's Something Wild. It's a music of great singles, most often encountered outside a Jamaican context varying a disco's house mix, or, increasingly, booming out between sets at a rap show. J.C Lodge's Telephone Love is one you might have heard somewhere, or Shelly Thunder's Kuff, or maybe the Tiger song that provides the title of Mango's Ram Dancehall collection. If you're lucky, maybe you've had a taste of Sophia George's refreshingly militant Tenement Yard, or Half Pint's beatmastering Level the Vibes, one of those irresistible dance tracks that scores on forward emotion alone.

Unfortunately, no one compilation includes all the above semiclassics--now that the style has caught on among U.S. dancers, nobody can corner the market. Disappointingly for pur leading reggae label, not one is on Ram Dancehall, including the roaring Ram Dancehall itself, available instead on Profile's recommended 12-cut Best of Reggae Dancehall Vol. 1, as can a little something by Gregory Peck (not the film star) about a big something called an Oversized Mumpie. Mango had to settle for subtler stuff, including Tiger's chin-up sermon Never Let Go. And if you want to hear Level the Vibes, you'll have to resort to volume one of Pow Wow's Fresh Reggae Hits. As the World Bank will be happy to tell you, it costs money to shake your mumpie.

Playboy, Apr. 1990


Mar. 1990 May 1990