This is an introduction. For I and you. I first met Seth Herman in a building called the Pink Warehouse, which houses the Rootfire office, and our friendship is the true result of good ingredients: soccer, music, and writing. When I moved to Charlottesville to run a newspaper, I asked a musician if he knew any soccer teams around. He introduced me to Seth and we were kindred right away, even before we ever talked about reggae.
For a few years I wrote a weekly essay for the newspaper, kind of a commentary running parallel to the happenings of things, and Seth was one of the people who liked to read it first. Whenever I saw him, he always made it clear he dug what I was saying. It was like Rob Brezsny and Seth Godin had kicked me a true believer, but probably it was all down to Bob.
I grew up in the ‘80s, when reggae sat at the end of cd aisles in chain music stores, stuck in sad sections of the stacks labeled World Music, right after Rap, before Rap was called Hip Hop. What does Burning Spear have to do with Yanni or The Gypsy Kings? What do the Skatalites have to do with Buju Banton? Nothing ever made sense during the Cold War except the labels.
Seth called me up a few weeks back to ask if I would like to MC the Rootfire conversation by writing an introduction each week and supporting the other people who wanted to write. So that’s what I am going to do.
Semaj Surreal is still keeping Reggae Tuesday real. In a crucial chapter tomorrow he tells how Rebelution shook him to his analog roots, doubling down on a conversation he started a while back examining what it means to practice roots reggae orthodoxy: Judge not, or you judge yourself. Semaj is asking big questions about whether reggae is Jamaican music or a Jamaican music or neither one anymore and relating all that to his journey, playing roots riddim all over the world with the Giant Panda.
I arrive in this conversation about the upsurgency of Roots Reggae late, or early, as the unofficial Secretary of Rootfire, because we’re hoping to start a conversation that needs to be written down. It was a surprise to me that reggae was growing fast outside Jamaica, in Orange and Humboldt County, the Big Island and Wellington, Rochester and Scottsdale. But it’s not a new thing to I that the reggae revolution Bob Marley brought the world took root in one generation, grew slow like a tree, and is now a forest for getting lost in.
In Throwback Thursday this week I am writing about Linton Kwesi Johnson’s debut album Dread Beat an’ Blood, which rocked my world one summer night Uptown in the late ‘90s. It’s a love letter to a reggae record but it’s also yet another place to join the conversation about how reggae takes root outside Jamaica.
Seth asked for a convocation to introduce Rootfire’s new beginning. How bout these words from LKJ? “Out of this rock shall come a green riddim, even more dread than what the breeze of glory bred.”