Equal Rights: Reggae and Social Change

The artwork for seminal Jamaican albums is the subject of an exhibition at the Jamaica Music Museum, located at the Institute of Jamaica on East Street, in downtown Kingston.

Director and curator of the museum, Herbie Miller, explains that the exhibit, titled Equal Rights: Reggae and Social Change, "uses album covers to highlight the work of graphic artists and the use of art to extend the message contained within the grooves of the records they protect."

The exhibition opened just over one week ago and comprises various themes. These range from the roots of recorded Jamaican music which includes sankeys, Kumina and Revival music, through the late 1950's and the mento and calypso sounds, the attainment of political independence and its impact on new forms such as ska, to the militant 1970's and beyond.

The work of iconic trio The Wailers — Bob Marley, Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer — is another focus of the exhibition. Under the theme, "Wailing Rude Boys," the work of the group is best represented through the popular album jacket for Catch a Fire — their debut album for Island Records.

Miller explains: "Catch a Fire of 1973 was highly original. Presented as a cigarette lighter, it was used to represent how the trio lit up the world, and sparked a fire that would launch the group. It also represented the new creative and artistic manner in which album jackets were being produced."

Record companies used album covers to make a statement, particularly in the 1970's. Marley's Island jackets, such as Babylon by Bus, Exodus and Survival, were done by Neville Garrick. They helped communicate the artist's message of black consciousness and social awareness.

Burning Spear's Marcus Garvey and Tosh's Equal Rights were other outstanding album covers of the decade.

The work of Jamaican women in music is another of the themes covered by the installation. Here Miss Lou and the I-Threes - Judy Mowatt, Marcia Griffiths and Rita Marley -  are used to represent women in reggae music.

"Youth and Optimism" rounds out the exhibit. This is represented by the four-part musical tribute, "Music and Youth," which was produced by the Jamaica Broadcasting Corporation.

The tribute to Jamaica 50 in the exhibition encompasses two special recordings — the History of Jamaica narrated by Adrian Robinson and the suite of songs performed at the Independence celebrations at the National Stadium in 1962 by a 400-voice mass choir. - Richard Johnson

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Jamaica Music Museum

This article originally appeared in the Jamaica Observer on August 22, 2012, and has been re-posted with the permission of the publisher.