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JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Director Ted Bafaloukos’ Posthumous Photo Book Captures the Turmoil and Glory of 1970s Reggae

Ted Bafaloukos’ 1979 film Rockers is iconic in reggae circles. Its soundtrack captures many of the foremost figures from the golden age of roots reggae at the peak of their powers. The movie became one of that year’s fifty highest grossing films. And it was almost never made.

The late director and photographer reveals the drama, the turbulence, passion, and ever-present danger surrounding the artistic crucible of the mid-70s Jamaican music scene in his richly illustrated coffee table book, ROCKERS: Ted Bafaloukos + 1970s New York + Kingston + On Set Mayhem = The Making of Reggae’s Most Iconic Film, out this year from Gingko Press.

The Greek-born Bafaloukos got his start at the Rhode Island School of Design. His steamship captain father had sent him there after discovering, while docked in Providence, that the school drew students from as faraway as California. The younger Bafaloukos earned media accolades for his photos while still in college. But by 1978 he was struggling as a freelancer, largely supported by his wife’s $78-a-week sweatshop paycheck, sharing a loft at the corner of Varick and Franklin Streets with several friends.

He’d discovered reggae a few years earlier and fallen in love with it after seeing a show by melodica player Augustus Pablo and his band at the Tropical Cove, a club located above Gertie’s Discount Store in Brooklyn. He intuitively grasped the connection between the communal esthetic of reggae and the folk music he’d been immersed in at community celebrations as a child in the Aegean island village of Apikia.

Aided by his new friends from the New York reggae scene, he traveled to Jamaica and decided then and there to make a reggae movie, despite having neither script nor cast. Bafaloukos enlisted several New York friends as production crew, and a hippie neighbor with money to be the producer.

Bafaloukos’ photos from his initial expeditions are a goldmine for reggae fans. The most choice shots are black-and-white. Singer Kiddus I, with record producer Jack Ruby behind him, sits slit-eyed with both a cheat sheet and a spliff in hand at a recording session: it’s clear that this is all live, with no iso booths. A young, thin Burning Spear perches triumphantly atop the ruins of a slavery-era jail in his native St. Ann’s Bay. Jah Spear (who also appeared in the film) pops up again and again, most memorably backstage with an equally rail-thin Patti Smith, laughing it up. And Big Youth is captured on his signature motorbike on a Kingston street, showing off his jewel-embedded teeth

In full color, there’s dub pioneer Lee “Scratch” Perry in his ramshackle, rundown original Black Ark Studio before he burned it down: from Bafaloukos’ description of the setup and gear, Perry’s engineering genius becomes all the more astonishing. A series of 1975 portraits capture Bob Marley on Sixth Avenue near West 8th Street in Manhattan. There’s owl-glassed, bearded folk music legend and experimental filmmaker Harry Smith with Burning Spear drummer (and eventual star of the film) Leroy “Horsemouth” Wallace. Impressively, the book’s candid photos far outnumber stills from the movie.

Which is basically The Bicycle Thief transposed to Jamaica, with tons of classic songs and a cast comprising the most colorful people the filmmaker had met while traveling across the island. “For those who think that movies get made in the editing room, Rockers is not a case in point,” he avers. As he tells it, the film ended up being even more highly improvised than originally planned.

The problem with crowdsourcing your cast is that a bigger crowd comes with it. It ended up taking Bafaloukos more than a couple nickels to buy his way out of many pickles, several brushes with death and, as he tells it, a mutiny by the movie’s two stars, who had held out for more money. Considering how hard both cast and crew partied when they weren’t working, and how many challenges – several at gunpoint – they had to overcome, it’s a miracle they were able to finish it.

And considering how breakneck – literally – the pace of the filming was, some of the most memorable moments in the narrative are the asides. We find out that Earl Chin, who in 1975 had not yet become the legendary host of Rockers TV, is a crazy driver: gee, big surprise. The movie’s crucial set piece – a very fickle, used motorbike – ends up being delivered by none other than the Cool Ruler, Gregory Isaacs. And Bafaloukos recounts the priceless moment at Bob Marley’s Peace Concert where Jacob Miller leaps from the stage, goes up to a cop guarding the Prime Minister and offers him a spiff. When the cop declines, Miller steals the guy’s helmet and finishes his set wearing it.

What Bafaloukos never mentions is residuals. He ended up retiring to a villa on the Aegean. it would be interesting to know how much Horsemouth, his co-star “Dirty Harry” Hall, the Montego Bay mystic named Higher, or the Reverend Roach and his A.M.E choir, to name a few of the cast members, came away with.

August 19, 2020 Posted by | Film, Literature, Music, music, concert, reggae music, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Jahmings Maccow – Man Redemption

Anguila expat Jahmings Maccow, formerly of New York roots legends Catch-A-Fire and the Enforcers, writes catchy, Bob Marley-influenced roots reggae songs that would have been right at home on Jamaican radio back in the late 70s. Fans of golden-era reggae singers like Gregory Isaacs, Johnny Clarke, Sugar Minott or Jacob Miller will love this album: if Rockers TV was still in syndication, you would no doubt see “The Rootsman”  interviewing Maccow with much enthusiasm. The production here is far more oldschool than most anything coming out of Jamaica right now, a fat riddim with real keyboards and layers of guitar. Maccow is not only a good songwriter, he’s also a good guitarist, spicing his songs with an incisive yet tersely soulful, pensive edge. The Marley inspiration extends especially to the vocals, Maccow reaching up to the high registers with the same kind of inspired half-yelp. The tunes mix slow anthems in with the upbeat, hitworthy stuff. In keeping with the classic roots vibe, the lyrics address both spiritual and contemporary issues, hence the album title, Man Redemption – a bunch of uplifting tunes that frequently address some pretty heavy issues.

The big, slow, soulful title track – a prayer of sorts – contrasts with the upbeat, obviously Marley-inspired Let Them Grow, like something off the Kaya album with tasteful acoustic guitar accents and a clever, distorted electric guitar solo low in the mix. Set Me Free is more upbeat, late period Marley-style songwriting with a nice, long, thoughtfully doubletracked guitar passage.

How Ya Gwaan Crucify is predictably a lot darker, with a Rastaman Vibration edge. The album’s fifth track, Free the Pain has a playful phased guitar solo – the tune reminds a bit of the late great Lucky Dube. After that, Put You Down/I Didn’t Come has more of a vintage 70s Manhattans/Stylistics style smooth R&B feel. The rest of the album includes the rather apprehensive Dread; Didn’t You Hear, which manages to be both pro-peace and a cautionary tale; the Israel Vibration-inflected See Them Fighting/Ghetto Walls; the gloriously bouncy Jah Jah Say, and the vivid yet understated Cry for Tomorrow. If you’re a fan of classic roots reggae, this is a welcome throwback to a time when artists basically had to at least pay lip service to spirituality and be conscious of the world around them even if they didn’t embrace it. It’s obvious that Maccow is sincere about what he has to say.

July 28, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment