World, meet Reggae

40 years ago this month, Desmond Dekker and The Aces introduced the world to Jamaican music with their reggae classic “Israelites”.

Catchier than swine flu, “Israelites” is also a profound meditation on the parallels between Jamaican poverty and the starved desert wanderings of the Hebrews chronicled in Exodus from the Old Testament. Despite complaints that Dekker’s thick Kingston accent made lyrics difficult to understand, the track reached #9 in the US and #1 in the UK.

If that toe-tapping foot-flapping bass-line arpeggio sounds vaguely familiar, you may be recognizing its influence on The Beatles’ “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da”, where they lyrically reference Desmond Dekker.

I’m a big fan of the art of the music clip, but this video exemplifies why live performance can often be more compelling, particularly as a verite record of history. Shot by the BBC the year following its release, the Brits in the audience are clearly having fun, but are unsure how to transfer “Israelites” infectious rhythm to their feet.

The photography is excellent, soft focus beautifully diffuses the stage lights, slightly overexposed so that Dekker’s funky bodysuit literally glows. A long dolly shot tracks behind the audience, tables and pillars; effectively establishing place, with a few bumps excusable given the live and crowded circumstances. Some shots use depth of field to show an old schooner glass on a bar, more drained with each edit (I reckon the cameraman was sneaking an ale).

Then there’s the performance, for which I’m at a loss for words…

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2 Responses to “World, meet Reggae”

  1. Great tune. Thanks for posting this…

  2. Not noticed till now that there are audio-syncing issues starting about a third the way through. Still got me ass-dancing on a fit-ball though…

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