Deep Roots Music 3: Money In My Pocket/Ghetto Riddims:
Presenting the final two installments of this six part series on reggae music - produced in the early eighties - the Deep Roots Music DVD opens Part 5 with a montage of images; Jamaican ghettos, Rasta-man caricatures and the like, before Mikey Dread brings the narration. First up is low quality (fuzzy, colorless) archival footage of an historic Bob Marley concert in which Marley brings together bitter political rivals during the violent 1981 political campaign. Marley's power as a performer is undeniable, pointing up the power of reggae as a force for change, and its connection to politics and commerce, the theme of Money In My Pocket.
Next up is a surprising interview with the then newly-elected Jamaican Prime Minister, a staid white man who speaks carefully about healing Jamaica's wounds before mentioning that in the past he had worked closely with Jimmy Cliff, Dennis Brown and other reggae greats, while opining knowledgably about the ghetto being the birthplace of new Jamaican riddims. How come we can't have politicos like that in America? Further footage includes the likes of Sheila Hylton and Dennis Brown in studio, a Colgate sponsored radio-show (in which one particularly tall and talented teen calling himself Rapper Robert knocks out a rockin' live tune in [if I'm not mistaken] a rub-a-dub stylee) and Charlie Ace's Swing-A-Ling music van driving around selling records and playing music in the ghetto.
Part 6, delving deeper into the Ghetto Riddims of the title, spends considerable time filming producer Jack 'L. Lindo' Ruby's street-corner audition sessions. Ruby sets up a chair by the side of the road in the ghetto, a small crowd of men stands by, some tipping back beers, others smoking ganja, and unknown performer after performer steps up. Beautiful three-part harmonies sometimes, and always the skank riddim on the guitar - words are topical and emulate American blues sometimes or express the need to rise up to a challenge. It's like an open-air version of American Idol, only all of the performers are talented and the effect hypnotic. Other performances from the Skatalites and The Mighty Diamonds lively up the mix.
Mikey Dread, at the controls, composes a documentary like the music itself. Dropping knowledge in an unpretentious way, stepping aside for many almost full-length song performances (performers performing the music forms the backbone and the bulk of the effort) and letting cameras roll on interviews to make a relaxed, entertaining but decidedly unhurried look at historical and eighties-contemporary reggae, and the roots it has in all aspects of Jamaican life. Without fail, all the performances featured are amazing, also making up the majority of run-time, so if you are a real fan, you will be entranced. Some of the wisdom is esoteric, or really specific and the accents as thick as ganja smoke during an indoor session, so casual fans might find this tough going as an intro to reggae history, but the music saves it every time. This is truly an unique history and time-capsule that souljahs should embrace, musical scholars could use as a reference, and frat-boy reggae fans with Bob Marley posters in their dorm rooms will enjoy as a rental.
As with previous volumes, Deep Roots Music's roots are showing, but not too badly. Presented in a fullscreen 1.33:1 ratio, the footage is decent but betrays its age and rarity. Of course film grain is well evident and obviously increases as the age of the footage does, and there are some incidences of film damage, but this will all fade in your mind as the music takes center stage. Colors are good, considering, and digital compression is well serviceable.
Digital Audio also wears its age on its sleeve. The Bob Marley footage is quite soft, but not scratchy and is easy to get into. The I Threes footage (Money In My Pocket) has better color and sound quality, highlighting some hard rhythmic intensity. Interviews are a little tough sometimes to hear, as microphones weren't able to get close enough to soft-voices, and in the case especially of Jack Ruby (and even Dread's narration) the accents are so thick that only those steeped in the patois will be able to easily understand, no? Eventually you sort of get into the rhythm, but subtitles would actually be quite nice.
No extras of which to speak except descriptions of the other volumes of Deep Roots Music.
Deep Roots Music 3: Money In My Pocket/Ghetto Riddims takes superb footage, the relaxed reggae attitude and killer performances to loosely weave together part of the story of reggae. Both historically minded, and totally of-its-time, the docu will make Jamaican music fans want to learn more, while imparting much knowledge your garden variety roots rocker probably won't know. Money In My Pocket sports plenty stellar pro and amateur grooves, while Ghetto Riddims puts many, many eggs in the street-corner basket (luckily it's sturdy), but both parts instill large knowledge and insight about the Jamaican music experience. For hardcore reggae fans this bare-bones time capsule is recommended. Music history buffs and others might Rent It, if they want to know about the real roots music.
- Kurt Dahlke
~ More of Dahlke's DVD Talk reviews here at DVD Talk I'm not just a writer, I paint colorful, modern abstracts, too! Check them out here KurtDahlke.com