Various Artists

Ragga Essentials: In a Dancehall Style

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This compilation collects 18 tracks, some from extremely difficult to find singles, which register highlights of the ragga sound as it has mutated from 1985 through 1997. Kicking off with Half Pint's "Greetings" whose chorus of "Greetings I bring from Jah, to all Raggamuffin" is generally accepted as giving the genre its name, the album skips around chronologically, with the sequencing following musical, not historical, guidelines. Americans will be most familiar with Apache Indian's funky, singalong "Boom Shack-A-Lak from 1990 or JC Lodge's hypnotically romantic, sweetly melodic "Telephone Love," one of the few tunes on this disc to have actually charted on Billboard. But as the detailed, scholarly liner notes explain, the popularity of this predominantly club music can't be effectively gauged by sales or radio play. Ragga music is also unusual in that the same backing rhythm track is often used for a variety of lead singers and toasting DJ's to add their vocals on top of. If this all sounds too confusing, suffice it to say the 14 page booklet does a wonderful job of placing the genre in perspective with a track by track explanation of the music, and detailed information on the origination of each song's basic rhythm and production. In addition to the aforementioned artists, Luciano, Buju Banton, Junior Reid and ex-Black Uhuru lead singer Mykal Rose will likely be familiar to reggae fans, but rarities from Tenor Saw, Anthony Red Rose, and Tenor Fly, none easily available on CD before now, make this anthology an indispensable first purchase for anyone interested in this fascinating and often obscure offshoot of reggae.

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