Two films take a look at the echoes of Jamaican music worldwide.
Director (and XLR8R scribe) Bruno Natal’s sweeping documentary on the history of dub and its effect on the world of dance music is nothing short of breathtaking. Natal, a native of Brazil, worked for four-and-a-half years traveling the world and collecting footage of the still-living original vanguard of dub, capturing interviews with legends like King Jammy, Bunny Lee, Mad Professor, and U-Roy. Currently making the festival rounds in search of proper theatrical distribution, Dub Echoes (to be released on DVD by Soul Jazz) lays out the history and origins of dub in studios like Black Ark, and does a wonderful job revealing the quixotic nature of the Jamaican music industry of the ’70s and ’80s. (The number of unheard dubplates crumbling in Bunny Lee’s warehouse is mind-numbing.) The film then moves on to cover the legions of musicians influenced by dub music, and everyone from Don Letts (London’s original punk/reggae DJ) to DJ Rhettmatic to Adam Freeland to Congo Natty to DJ Spooky and Kode 9 weighs in on how dub’s sound and culture influenced their own music. Historian David Katz (also an XLR8R staff writer) offers commentary along the way, and the whole thing is woven together with beautiful animations that help tell the story. The second half is a little self-indulgent in its leaps to connect every conceivable element of modern production back to dub (and Howie B comes off sounding like a complete twit), but overall the film gives vital insight into just how influential dub music has been on production since the ’70s. Matt Earp
With a title like Reggae Uncensored (Caroline/Golddust Media; $12.99), one can only dream about the deluge of Passa Passa T&A footage that viewers might be in for. But Girls Gone Wild: The Reggae Edition this is not. Instead, director Ray Stewart takes us on a tour of Jamaica’s dancehall and roots scenes as seen through American viewers’ eyes. Shot in a faux TV-news style, and appearing to have been filmed entirely on the U.S.’s East Coast, Reggae Uncensored packs a stack of performances and interviews with some of reggae’s biggest stars into a little over an hour. Where it suffers is in its structure: There’s no real theme or narrative threading together each interview or show (from the likes of Damian Marley, Mavado, Collie Buddz, and Beenie Man); the clips live independently of one another, as if placed randomly into a non-existent timeline. (Oh, and that “uncensored” tag is a bit of a misnomer, as there’s nothing gratuitous or controversial–save for a choice freestyle from Aidonia–to speak of here.) Where the doc hits really hard is in its footage of on-stage performances. From a rare Ninja Man show, to the Labor Day Parade at Brooklyn’s Eastern Parkway with Beenie Man, Sean Paul, and Macka Diamond, to an absolutely fiery performance from Sizzla in Hartford, Connecticut, Reggae Uncensored’s concert clips make up for what it lacks in the not-for-kids department. Ken Taylor