Book Reviews – January/February 2010

The new books that are reflecting the region right now

  • Courtesy I.E. New Media Publishing Company
  • Gabriel with some of his creations. Photograph courtesy Soul Jazz Records

Realities of reggae

David Katz

Toronto’s Reggae Quarterly was one of the most impressive publications devoted to reggae during the 1980s. A labour of love by photographer and journalist Beth Lesser, each issue was a treasure trove of information, lovingly presented without the pretension or editorial bias that blighted many other music journals.  Instead, it featured up-to-the-minute reports and in-depth interviews with newcomers and veteran artists, accompanied by visuals that brought home the harsh realities of Jamaica’s volatile music scene.

Lesser’s previous book was a slim tome profiling King Jammy, one of Jamaican music’s most important producers. Now, in Dancehall: the Rise of Jamaican Dancehall Culture, she expands on her groundbreaking work in Reggae Quarterly to deliver a high-quality coffee-table book exploring the complex situation of Jamaican popular music during the transitional decade of the 1980s.

The book is filled with evocative, full-colour images from a more innocent age, while the text goes back to the early sound-system days of the 1950s, passing through the music and politics of the 60s and 70s. It hits its stride in a vivid exploration of the 1980s, revealing the complex and often contradictory forms of cultural expression that then found their way into dancehall.  Barrington Levy, Frankie Paul, Cocoa Tea, Chakademus and Pliers and Half Pint are just some of the names who guide us through dancehall’s evolution.

Dancehall: the Rise of Jamaican Dancehall Culture
Beth Lesser (Soul Jazz, 978-0955481710, 217pp)


Dark secrets in Sundance Caves

Guyanne Wilson

When Karys Kitane’s parents send her to spend her school holidays with her great-aunt in Bekano, she could hardly have guessed what adventures the journey would hold. Haphazard Bekano is a far cry from perfectly ordered Nickerie Lane, where the awkward Karys never fitted in.

At her great-aunt’s small home, Karys discovers a mask behind a locked door, and with the help of characters such as Mooneye Mauler and the Dotsi Twins, Karys slowly uncovers the secret of the mask and of the fearsome beast that dwells in Bekano’s Sundance Caves.

Author Sharla Shangeling borrows heavily from Greek mythology, as well as West Indian folk traditions. Though at times this may be confusing, on the whole it creates a magical mood that keeps the reader spellbound. There are some inconsistencies in the plot, and it is never clear how the root that Karys eats as a toddler shapes the journey upon which she eventually embarks.

The setting is unmistakably Caribbean; Eryne’s enchanted forest of Bekano is filled with familiar flora and fauna, and local images abound. The novel contains old lessons for its young readers: that love can come in many forms, even that of a misshapen great-aunt, and that a sense of belonging need not be restricted to clean-cut suburbs with perfect homes. Overall, the various elements combine to make The Secret of the Sundance Caves a real pleasure for Caribbean young readers of the Harry Potter generation.

The Secret of the Sundance Caves
Sharla Shangeling (New Media, IBSN 978-1-4196-5479-4, 285pp).

Funding provided by the 11th EDF Regional Private Sector Development Programme Direct Support Grants Programme.
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