Associate editor Paul Felt visited ReggaeXplosion, the anchor
attraction of Island Village, a new entertainment and retail center
in Ocho Rios, Jamaica. His report follows:
eggaeXplosion, the multimedia
exhibition of Jamaican music that opened in Ocho Rios' Island
Village in March, is more like a cross between a multimedia art
gallery, a record store and a dance club than a museum.
The place throbs with music. Overhead monitors broadcast concert
and music videos. Bass speakers positioned under the dance floor
drive the beat of the music up through the toes.
The Jamaicans are proud of the profound effect their tiny island
of 3 million people has had on pop music around the world.
Rap began here. Dub, remixes and electronic effects emanated
from here, as well, according to the introduction I read at the
entrance. Other musical inventions Jamaicans lay claim to are ska,
mento, rocksteady, dancehall and the mobile sound system.
The dictionary defines reggae as "popular music of Jamaica
origin that combines native styles with elements of rock and soul
music and is performed at moderate tempos with accent on the
Rather than attempt to define reggae, the exhibition instead
provides examples from its past and present and maintains that
"reggae is a rebel music -- an anarchic form that defies
However, ReggaeXplosion does point out a common thread that runs
through reggae and other Jamaican music: It consistently honors its
African roots, particularly African rhythms.
Even in the dancehall, which is a stripped-down, electronic
dance music, the most ancient form of African art is in the beats,
the exhibition maintains.
The exposition's introductory notes advise visitors to view
reggae as "a living force" and ReggaeXplosion as a beginning, "an
initial collection that we hope will present reggae as an exciting
and entertaining popular art form."
ReggaeXplosion succeeds in its presentation. It invites people to
use the senses of sight, sound and feel to better understand and
appreciate Jamaican music and its international influence.
I was pleasantly surprised to hear an early song by the pop-rock
group, the Police, being played alongside the reggae music of
native sons Bob Marley and Shaggy, for example.
The exhibits present a colorful cast of characters, including
pop stars and those who worked mostly behind the scenes.
Take Lee "Scratch" Perry, recording engineer, for example.
Although retired from the music business and living in Switzerland,
according to our guide, interview footage playing on the video
monitors showed a man every bit as visually flamboyant and "out
there" as American funk pioneer George Clinton.
One room of the Perry exhibit is given over to a re-creation of
his Black Ark recording studio, which was painted and decorated
like a voodoo shrine. On top of Perry's mixing console were two
open books, one a textbook titled "Animal Biology" and the other
I was struck by a combination of puzzlement and intrigue as I
picked up the Bible and then the textbook. There was a shaman in
this showman, I thought.
Now I understood the notes to the exhibit I had read at the
entrance: "The story of reggae is built on contradiction, fact and
fiction, folklore and memory, fantasy and reality, poverty and
greed, fame and fortune."
Hence, the story of Jamaican music is a tricky one to tell. More
importantly, the universal stories that the great reggae songs
themselves relate -- of love and the sometimes hapless search for
love; standing resilient against adversity; and the quest for
spiritual freedom -- never seem to tire.
ReggaeExplosion: By the numbers
Phone: (876) 974-8356
Admission: $5 (adult); $2 (under 13)