Jamaica to Toronto: Soul Funk & Reggae 1967-1974
Light in the Attic
n the early 1960s a funny thing happened: natives from the West Indies, especially Jamaica, began to migrate north through the United States and into Canada. Naturally, the process brought together a community of transplants who were not accustomed to the social confines nor the wintry chill of their new homeland. As passages like this occur, it’s human nature to closely grasp the items and practices which are most dear to one’s previous culture. Often immigrants pronounce these customs in order to retain the only self-character they’ve ever known. For many Jamaican-Canadian transplants of the ‘60s, music was an obvious core value if not a matter of lifestyle.
But during the early ‘60s there were no settled Jamaican establishments—clubs/restaurants, record shops, recording studios, or radio stations—so the musicians would find themselves surrounded by the Northern soul and R&B; sounds that were quite popular at the time. What resulted when those two influences combined was a sound unique to that era, place, and (most of all) feeling.
Jamaica to Toronto is as historically interesting as it is exceptional musically. Obviously there are three musical modes—funk, reggae, and soul—but all of them have a Jamaican island slang/accent and a duality of style, a combination that The Meters made popular soon thereafter. Each of the groups seem to have a personal influential bent that makes their sound a different shade from the next, whether it is derived from Herbie Hancock (Jo-Jo and The Fugitives), Ray Charles (Eddie Spencer), Sam & Dave (Bob and Wisdom), or even the Temptations (who The Cougars cover with “I Wish It Would Rain”).
Part of the charm of this compilation is its balance between soulfulness and grit. One thing to realize here is that the tracks are all rare, crate-dug singles, originally released on 7” vinyl. But the ‘60s-‘70s recording process pit inspired, distinctive musicians such as these against a technology that wasn’t as capable as it is today. That lack of editing/layering/tinkering possibility left the responsibility for accomplishment in the right hands; those of the performers.
DJ and Canadian music historian Sipreano, who helped the label curate and compile the music and liner notes, was able to find exemplary selections. Eddie Spencer leads the way with his Motown-inspired “If This Is Love (I’d Rather Be Lonely).” The tune goes full out with an orchestrated string-horn section, an upbeat and dancing R&B; rhythm, a tambourine on the beat, and Spencer’s Ray Charles soulful vocal impersonations.
There’s more than just a Motown influence here, though: a Jimmy Smith/Meters-inspired funk/jazzy groove is portrayed in organist Lloyd Delpratt’s string section-infused “Together”; straight-up reggae is found in Johnnie Osbourne’s “African Wake” (the liner notes describe the song’s saxophone riff as “a call to arms, announcing the dawning of a new era for homegrown reggae music in Canada”); a Westernized wah-wah guitar is the centerpiece of the funked-up ‘vocal sermon’ that is RAM’s “Love Is the Answer” (which could have served as a template for anyone from Talking Heads to Isaac Hayes), and there’s even a reflective dub tune: “Memories” by Noel Ellis.
When ideas cross and melt into one another, things often get strange and interesting. With the founding of new clubs (Club Jamaica, Club Tropics), record shops (Jackie Mittoo’s, Sir Charles Record Mart), and events (the Caribana festival), Jamaicans put their own stamp on the sounds that they encountered and the sounds that they heard in their own heads. Jamaica to Toronto: Soul Funk & Reggae 1967-1974 is some of the best results of that labor.
Reviewed by: Josh Zanger
Reviewed on: 2006-07-31
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