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DVD Reviews

120 Mins
8 Mar 2010

Made In Jamaica

Jérôme Laperrousaz’ Made In Jamaica is a sprawling yet refreshingly unpartisan documentary that gives equal focus to both roots reggae and it's brasher offspring dancehall. Shot on the island in 2004 and 2005 it features interviews and live performances from a commendably diverse range of Jamaican artists discussing music, sex, politics, religion and the grey areas in between.

On the roots/one drop side of things there’s Third World, Bunny Wailer, Gregory Isaacs and Toots Hibbert. Representing dancehall are Lady Saw, Bounty Killer, Elephant Man and Vybz Kartel. Then there are the artists such as Capleton and Tanya Stephens who sit astride the two styles suggesting their dichotomy may not be as clear as received wisdom would suggest.

scene from Made in Jamaica

Laperrousaz has visited this subject matter previously in his 1980 Third World documentary Prisoner In The Streets. Since then the music scene in Jamaica has become a considerably more violent and chaotic place. Rather than easing his audience in with roots vibes and then using dancehall to frame a “where did it all go wrong?” second act, Laperrousaz starts with a bling-laden performance from Lady Saw and Bounty on a boat before cutting to news footage of the murder and funeral of renowned dance innovator Gerald Bogle Levy.

When we do get to the more traditional reggae sounds, the film challenges preconceptions. We see the croaky voiced Isaacs enjoying the wares of exotic dancer Nadine Willis (one of the film's most enigmatic and affecting characters) whereas the highly conscious but well heeled Third World give a concert from an old colonial mansion. By contrast Bounty Killer is seen walking the streets mixing with his public, Lady Saw hangs out with her kids, while Kartel shows a far better grasp of the politics and history of his country than some of his critics might assume. With the exception of a few clips of Elephant Man live in Amsterdam, there’s no assessment of reggae’s impact on the rest of the world (the issue of homophobia is rather pointedly ignored). Nor is there any footage of Bob Marley, although his songs are performed by Bunny Wailer (including an iconoclastic digi rap version of I Shot The Sheriff). Throughout proceedings, the director cuts between hard hitting dancehall and sedate one drop, never allowing us to get too comfortable with one or the other.

The film's over-length, multiple (often unresolved) threads of discussion and rambling structure may become tiresome for viewers seeking a straight forward narrative and some feelgood upliftment. There’s no voiceover, no obvious “argument” just a variety of different viewpoints and sounds that go under the banner of Jamaican music. But given the meretricious reasoning among many music fans that reggae and dancehall are two dualistically opposed and separate genres, this is no bad thing.

© Copyright Angus Taylor 20th February 2010