Various Artists

It’s an album of two halves, continuing the themed series, ‘Kings Of….’ Each CD has a whole different feel, treading it’s way through the genre, demonstrating depth beyond that glimpsed by the casual listener. Naturally, you will have a favourite; mine is David Roddigan’s set. Songs all work around political themes – the back to Africa movement of the eighties Rasta set, cries for freedom, histories of oppression and songs of poverty. Raddigan has been a reggae DJ since the early seventies and his sense of history shows. The Abyssinians offer a journey into sixties Rasta thought with Satta Massa Gana (Ethopian for ‘give praise and thanks’). Dennis Brown offers smooth seventies beats and Aswad remind us they were more than a child TV star fronting a band – Back To Africa carries a Rasta Roots spirituality that contrasted with the imbecilic cries of Enoch Powell’s supporters. And who could knock the timeless Burning Spear’s Marcus Garvey – at once a celebration and a lament. Marcia Griffiths will always be remembered for Bob & Marcia’s ‘Young, Gifted And Black’ but she also led the I-Threes’ Bob Marley’s backing band. Her contribution is a slice of skanking sweetness.

Junior Murvin’s ‘Police And Thieves’ is almost more famous for being covered by The Clash but is here in the never-bettered original, produced by mad-as-a-drum Lee Perry. The rhythm track he lays down here is impeccable – the sharpest beat he ever made, resulting in him re-working it umpteen times! Jimmy Cliff shows up for ‘The Harder They Come’ – is it possible to get bored of this record? John Holt drops the soppy love songs he made a name on (1000 Volts Of Holt, anyone?) for Police In Helicopter. He’s mad as hell and warns them that if they continue to burn down the herbs, he’s going to burn down the cane fields. You know where your priorities are, eh, John? The set wraps up with a track from the second most spiritual reggae album ever – The Congos: Heart Of The Congos, again produced by Mr Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry. (In case you were wondering… the most spiritual is the sadly out of print “Misty In Roots Live At The Counter-Eurovision Song Contest ‘79”). A couple of contributions are more contemporary but most of the set is well known sixties and seventies material. It’s not one for the obscurantist but offers a wider and more thoughtful range than those ubiquitous Trojan collections.

I’m less keen on Sting International’s disc but you might disagree (if you do, please write in and tell me where I am wrong). Songs work mostly round love and sex, as you might expect from Shaggy’s producer. Old smoothy John Holt has calmed down and reworks his style for the eighties. Josey Wales (don’t you love that name?) slides into toasting. Dennis Brown (‘Caress Me Girl’) continues the eighties trip and Ranking Dread offers tribute to fat girls. Dennis Brown reappears to chat us some sweet biblical verse. Yellowman, unsurprisingly, has a ‘special request for all you girls’. “Dem a mad over me”, he says, and he was, I remember, an unlikely sex symbol for a couple of years. The song devolves into a mad and hilarious food song about ketchup and chips as he chases the rhymes.

If you buy this collection, you’d better have your wallet ready, because if you don’t know the songs (and only someone not knowing them is going to buy this one), you’re going to discover a whole load of albums you need to buy and cherish. Let’s start the list with Heart Of The Congos, Garvey’s Ghost, Lee Perry’s Arkeology collection, Counter Eurovision (if you can find it second-hand) and Aswad’s Showcase (again, only second-hand). There’s a world of musical art out there to discover…

Ross McGibbon