Garvey's Ghost

Burning Spear

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Garvey's Ghost Review

by Jo-Ann Greene

By the mid 1970s, many new albums in Jamaica were accompanied by a dub companion, but obviously this was not the case in the U.K. However, relations were so strained between Winston Rodney and Mango, over the remixed version of Marcus Garvey they'd released internationally, that the artist had launched his own label Spear to prevent this ever happening again. Thus Mango decided to mix up a dub album, Garvey's Ghost, in an attempt to mollify Rodney. Apparently this rather obvious ploy did the trick, and the tensions between the label and artist now eased. However, listening to the record, one wonders why, for, if anything, Ghost merely added insult to injury. Rodney was aggrieved at the reggae light remix of his dread masterpiece, and if Garvey was light, Ghost was positively ashen. Even in its remixed form, which seriously lightened Jack Ruby's deeply dread production, the rhythms laid down by Robbie Shakespeare, Aston "Family Man" Barrett and Leroy "Horse" Wallace on Garvey remained as fat as a Thanksgiving turkey. But just as Mango didn't believe the world was ready for real reggae, true dub was just as dangerous, so instead the listener is presented with this apology. At their least offensive, the engineers did no more than strip off the vocal track, creating not a dub, but an instrumental version of the original track, and sadly this makes up a frighteningly high proportion of the resulting record. "Marcus Garvey" suffers an even worse fate, as the engineers focus on the song's lightest elements, turning a roots classic into pop pap, at which point old Marcus Garvey was desperately wishing nobody had remembered him. Only the rare track escapes from these Scylla and Charbydis remixes. "I and I Survive," the dub of "Slavery Days," is the best track on the album, all pounding beats with the instrumentation actually accenting the song's depth, while "Black Wa-Da-Da," the dub of "The Invasion," is reduced to bare beats, sinuous bass, and bits of emotive vocals. But these are the exceptions to a rather dismal record. It's evident that Garvey's ghost was not haunting the Hammersmith, London studio when this was record was mixed down, but it's very likely Garvey himself was turning in his grave.

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