Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Despite Jamaican dancehall's cottage-industry vitality, reggae's standing as the beat of Third World protest has internationalized it. From country to metal to any African-derived genre you fancy, that herky-jerk groove is infinitely malleable.

Ziggy Marley has been looking back at his old man since his first album in 1984, even recording with a genuine Ethiopian band in Babylon Central, a/k/a New York City. His latest album with the Melody Makers, Jahmekya (Virgin), is a Jamaican affair, cut in Kingston with a band featuring two ex-Wailers and increased input from his numerous siblings. But never before has Ziggy--or many other Jamaicans, including Dad, who tried--been a more convincing rhythmic citizen of the world. Because Ziggy's politics suffer from the idealism of fighting poverty at a distance, his lyrics will never equal Bob's, but the beat that powers them, a funk-reggae hybrid with Babylonian horns, is his own.

Lyrics have never been Linton Kwesi Johnson's problem--this Brixton poet-activist-professor is as learned as pop musicians get. His Tings an' Times (Shanachie) is a weary, witty meditation on political endurance, and if you take the trouble to penetrate his patois you'll be glad you did. But over the years, LKJ and bandleader Dennis Bovell have learned to embody [his?] black-power humanism in jazzy skank, and here the violin and squeezebox make clear that there's more to the world [world-beat] than the African diaspora. [As does a glasnost song that hopes everything comes out all right.]

Playboy, May 1991

Apr. 1991 June 1991