Monday, January 18, 2010

Dust Out A Sound Boy

I can't seem to stop embedding things this month (got another one after this). Originally I was going to just post this song with little commentary, but then it struck me as an elegant illustration of Jamaican music's implicit argument against copyright. Recorded sometime in the early 1990s, Super Beagle's "Dust Out a Sound Boy" uses the famous Stalag rhythm. If you're unfamiliar with the term 'rhythm' (also spelled phonetically as riddim, but I will never be comfortable doing that), we're more or less talking about the music that backs the vocal, especially the bassline melody. Rhythms are endlessly recycled in reggae and there are some that are more than forty years old that are still in use; Stalag is from 1974 and was originally produced by Winston Riley, who also produced Super Beagle's take.

The infinite creativity of the rhythm phenomenon is already an argument against copyright; though the penury of all but a very small number of people in the JA music business should give pause to anti-copyright activists looking to idealize the situation. Super Beagle complicates the situation even further by basing his vocal melody on perhaps the most famous rhythm of all, Real Rock, and borrowing the lyrical structure from perhaps the most famous version of that rhythm, Willie Williams's "Armagideon Time". Non-reggae fans might know that song from The Clash's cover of Williams's classic, which was recorded in 1980 at Studio One where the original "Real Rock" was recorded thirteen years earlier by Studio One's house band Sound Dimension. Somewhat to my surprise, the New York Times has a nice little history of Real Rock here.

So, in addition to serving as argument against taking an overly assiduous approach to enforcing copyright, "Dust Out a Sound Boy" also encapsulates what can be both daunting and fascinating about trying to ground yourself in the history of Jamaican music--and I didn't even explain what a 'sound boy' is or who Fuzzy Jones, whose voice you hear introducing the song, is.

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