ReggaeXplosion: A jammin' Jamaica attraction

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 offbeat."

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 categorization."

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 presents the music's evolution and culture. Above, part of the Bob Marley gallery at ReggaeXplosion. 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 the Bible.

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
E-mail:[email protected]
Admission: $5 (adult); $2 (under 13)

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