By Sweet Sound of Sunrise
When I think of world music, I generally think of songs sung in different languages, often over melodies strange to inexperienced ears. But this isn’t the case this week. In fact, does this count as cheating?
This week’s pick comes from Jamaica, home to its own distinct musical genres and legends like Bob Marley. However, this isn’t about him, or even reggae, which is arguably the most popular Jamaican genre on an international level. This is about the highly influential, heavily sampled, and unfortunately underappreciated Alton Ellis.
Born in 1938, Alton Ellis grew up in Kingson’s infamous Trenchtown district and first planned on being a dancer. However, he was very successful as a singer in Jamaica when he teamed up with Eddy Perkins to make R&B music as Alton & Eddy. Ska was dominant in popular music, but the upbeat genre was making way for a slower rhythm called Rocksteady, which is where Ellis made his mark and which would in turn evolve into reggae. Rocksteady has also had a tremendous influence on dub and dancehall, and is sampled in countless songs. Ellis was active in music right up until his death in 2008 at the age of 70.
Mad Mad – Alton Ellis
In 1967, Ellis released the song “Mad Mad,” which features a riddim that has been used so often in Jamaican music since then that it continues to reemerge onto the scene decades later. Yellowman, famous for being one of the first Jamaican performers in the 1980s American hip hop scene, brought this riddim over to the United States. There, it reached a wider audience and caught the attention of a new group of artists that would sample it in turn, ranging from Tupac to Sublime.
There’s a reason they call Alton Ellis the Godfather of Rocksteady. Still unconvinced of his influence on music? Perhaps this sounds familiar. Like many North Americans my age, I first heard it in a Sean Paul song of the same name.