Deep Roots Music

Deep Roots Music is an extraordinary documentary on Jamaican reggae music that was originally filmed in the early ’80s as a six-part series for the BBC. Director Howard Johnson takes us on a musical journey through the complex history and culture of reggae music. Included are countless interviews and vintage footage of some of Jamaica’s most prolific musicians, producers and cultural icons.

What is remarkable about this series is that it deviates from the customary documentary format and, instead, is filmed with a process-oriented theme that gives the viewer a fly-on-the-wall perspective to Jamaican music and culture. The series is narrated by the late British-reggae icon Mikey Dread, who provides the minimal commentary tying the segments together.

Revival (Part 1), explores reggae’s roots and stylistic influences, including Kumina, Poco, Burru, Mento, and Ska. Featured is archival and never-before-seen footage of the Skatalites, Toots and the Maytals, Saint Catherine Kumina Soul Searchers, Jimmy Cliff, Don Drummond, Count Ossie, and Jimmy Riley. Scully, Jah Jerry, and Aston Thomas hold a session inna di yard and an interview is featured with folklorist and poet Louise Bennett-Coverly aka Miss Lou who explains the history of reggae music and its lineage to African music in a beautifully eloquent and excited manner.

Ranking Sounds (Part 2) unveils the origins of DJing and toasting by introducing the mobile soundsystem and the birth of the Jamaican recording industry. Featured in this segment are Count Matchoucki, Sir Lord Comic, U-Roy, Prince Jammy, Stranger Cole, Monty Morris, Prince Pompidou, Millie Small, Prince Buster in Harry J’s studio, Jack Ruby’s Hi-Power Soundsystem, and a rare interview with Lucille Reid, wife of Arthur “Duke” Reid, who talks about the old days and said the people would say “All other soundsystems haffi pack up an’ go home, for The Duke is on now!”

Bunny Lee Story (Part 3) is an intimate look inside legendary producer Bunny Lee’s studio featuring performances by and conversations with Prince Jammy, Delroy Wilson, Jackie Edwards, Johnny Clarke, Wayne Smith plus Bunny Lee’s parents. Killer session!

Black Ark (Part 4) looks at the influence of Rastafari on reggae music, featuring rare footage of His Imperial Majesty Haile Salassie I during his visit to Jamaica, as well as Nyahbinghi drumming, the Mighty Diamonds in the studio and Bob Marley performing live in 1977. Also provided is an in-depth look into the creative cosmos that is Lee “Scratch” Perry and his Black Ark studio.

Money In My Pocket (Part 5) shows the connection between politics, commerce and music. Featured in this segment is the footage of the infamous Bob Marley & the Wailers concert where he united rival political candidates during the bitter and violent campaign of 1978. Also highlighted in this segment is a close look at the “Crown Prince of Reggae,” Dennis Brown, in his studio, Marcia Griffiths performing, and Randy’s record shop.

Ghetto Riddim (Part 6) examines the process of finding new talent by showcasing street-corner auditions, including an afternoon at Jack Ruby’s as he holds his weekly auditions outside the gates of his studio. You also get to check out the Swing-a-Ling van in action!

Deep Roots Music is a crucial series that provides much greater depth than most documentaries on Jamaican music. The interviews and rare footage alone make the series one of the most definitive resources on reggae music to date.

Personally, this 5-hour long film blew me away. I had never seen this in its entirety, only short clips, and the footage I had missed left me with goosebumps. It’s not the highest quality production by any means and probably could have gone for a re-edit when it was re-released a few years back, but who cares really. Just having the footage is all that matters.

For me, my fascination with researching anything and everything Jamaican was limited to the sounds from the grooves on the records, reading liner notes pon liner notes, reading biographies and other books, and watching a small batch of films; none of which quite captured the pulse of the Kingston scene like this film does.

I had never even seen a picture of Scully before despite listening to hundreds of his records. Here, I got to not only see him, but see him play and listen to him speak. I had never seen any video of Tommy McCook before. Here, I got to see him play a session with the Skatalites and also sit roadside and discuss the old times. I had never seen any video of U-Roy before. Here, the legendary DJ mashes up a version of The Melodians “You Have Caught Me”. The list really goes on and on regarding the great moments laced throughout this thing. This one is a truly special documentation of history. Cue up di reel and run di riddim!

Deep Roots Music – Directed by Howard Johnson; BBC, 1983

(All Passwords: fir3blaz3)

Part 1: Revival & Part 2: Ranking Sounds;

Pt.1, Pt.2, Pt.3, Pt.4, Pt.5, Pt.6, Pt.7, Pt.8, Pt.9, Pt.10, Pt.11

Part 3: Bunny Lee Story; Pt.1, Pt.2

Part 4: Black Ark; Pt.1, Pt.2, Pt.3, Pt.4, Pt.5, Pt.6

Part 5: Money in My Pocket; Pt.1, Pt.2 (Coming Soon!)

Part 6: Ghetto Riddim; Pt.1, Pt.2, Pt.3, Pt.4, Pt.5, Pt.6

Film review adapted from Heather O’Sullivan’s Black Grooves article.

Film links courtesy of Fir3Blaz3.


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