The Rise of Reggae
Peter Simon (COM’70) and Roger Steffens have produced a history of the musical phenomenon| From Alumni Books | By Katie Koch
Chronicling the rise of reggae, the musical phenomenon that brought Jamaican culture and Rastafari spirituality into the mainstream, has never been an easy task for a journalist. There is the sheer exoticism of Jamaica — its expanding economy and friendly people juxtaposed with growing violence and political and social unrest in Kingston slums — not to mention the difficulties of conducting interviews with the musicians themselves, who are often ganja smokers, esoteric mystics, or both. Take Toots Hibbert, lead singer of the Maytals and the man who coined the term in 1968 with his hit song “Do the Reggay.” “If you ask me how I came to write it, the answer is that I didn’t ‘come to write’ that song . . . it just came to me,” Hibbert says in the foreword to Reggae Scrapbook (Insight Editions, 2007), a new history by Peter Simon (COM’70) and Roger Steffens, with an introduction by Stephen Davis (CAS’70).
An iconic 1976 portrait of Bob Marley. Photo by Peter Simon (COM’70)
It is, indeed, a hard movement to crack; as the authors half-jokingly note, “there are no facts in Jamaica.” Thank Jah, then, for Simon, Steffens, and Davis, who have become the foremost authorities of the reggae scene. Simon and Davis, who met at BU in the turbulent late sixties and later worked together at Rolling Stone, first traveled to Jamaica in 1976 to cover the island for the New York Times. The experience produced their first book, Reggae Bloodlines (1977), which introduced reggae to America; it also helped introduce Simon to Steffens, a Los Angeles DJ who had recently founded The Beat, a magazine about world music.
Now, thirty-five years after their obsession took root, Simon and Steffens — in true Jamaican fashion — have produced a history of reggae as they lived it: a collection of documentary photos, pullout concert posters, meticulous timelines of the genre’s offshoots, and interviews with reggae’s heroes. Steffens scoured his Reggae Archives, while Simon returned to Jamaica with his son to photograph the contemporary music scene, giving the reader a sense of the island’s people and philosophy beyond the Marley-and-marijuana stereotypes. Reggae Scrapbook is just that: an exhaustive memory book by real reggae fans.
Reggae Scrapbook (Insight Editions, 2007)
Photography excerpted from Reggae Scrapbook by Roger Steffens and Peter Simon ©2007. Published by Insight Editions. All rights reserved. Used with permission. http://www.InsightEditions.com