Jamaica’s signature reggae music is sound made visual, in an exhibition of posters by graphic artist Michael Thompson, being hosted at the UWI Museum. The exhibition captures some of the history of the musical form.
The role of King Tubby, whom Thompson describes as a “dub Beethoven” is remembered through the imagery of the vinyl disc with a sidebar recalling the various effects brought to the music through treble, bass and reverb.
Thompson, who uses the name ‘Freestylee’, remembers growing up in Downtown Kingston, the belly of Jamaica’s capital city, near to the early heartland of the music as it moved through various incarnations including ska and rocksteady. His ‘rocksteady’ poster recalls the loudspeaker trucks that would blare out the new sounds; the Orange Street location of many of the studios and promoters, and names like Tom The Great Sebastian, Sir Coxone Dodd’s Downbeat and Duke Reid’s Trojan label.
Posters also recall the tight intertwining between the Rastafarian community in Kingston and the message music that was reggae, especially in its early years.
The transmission of reggae from Jamaica to the world, mainly via the United Kingdom where many Jamaicans went as immigrants, is also recalled. Thompson, whose musical roots are in the 1970s and 80s, is particularly big on dub music and on the role of the sound systems.
The 19 reggae posters on display were sources of illustration for the recently launched Global Reggae book, published by UWI Press, edited by Professor Carolyn Cooper, the UWI’s Professor of Cultural & Literary Studies. Thompson also has three UWI-related posters in the Museum’s collection.
Michael Thompson, whose role models include Cuban post-revolutionary poster propagandists, other more recent poster activists and early Rastafarian artist Ras Daniel Hartman, is also well known for posters supporting such social and political causes as water for African people, an end to violence against women, and the Arab Spring. His extensive range of posters can be seen on www.freestylee.net .
His exhibition of reggae posters is on show at the UWI Museum through mid-April and we hope that Thompson will lecture at UWI before the end of the exhibition. Those of you in Jamaica, look out for that!