In August, it will be 50 years since Jamaica gained Independence from Britain. Today, the Jamaica Observer’s Entertainment section reflects on the influence Jamaican pop culture has had on that country in REGGAE BRITANNIA, a weekly feature leading up to the Golden Jubilee.
WHEN singer Desmond Dekker’s song Israelites rose to the top of the British national chart in 1968, a particular demographic was responsible for its runaway success. They were called Skinheads.
These rebellious white youth from working-class backgrounds had embraced Jamaican music which hitherto had been played in small West Indian venues throughout London.
Dekker first made the British chart in 1967 with 007 (Shanty Town). The following year, his Poor Me Israelites was released in England and became popular in the West Indian underground scene.
In 1969, it was picked up by the Pyramid label owned by Australian Graeme Goodall, who had worked for years as an engineer at Federal Records in Jamaica. Re-released as Israelites, the Leslie Kong-produced song went to number two on the national chart, thanks to the Skinheads.
Authors Michael de Koningh and Laurence Cane-Honeysett revisited the
impact Jamaican pop culture had on the Skinheads in their book, Young, Gifted and Black: The Story of Trojan Records.
“The Skinheads’ passion for reggae music was invaluable in pushing the music out of the smoky clubs and independent record shops and into the mainstream of popular music,” they wrote. “It was the massive buying power of the boots-and-braces brigade at the tail-end of the decade (1960s) that moved reggae units and elevated unknown Jamaican artistes to transient stardom.”
At first glance, the Skinheads could be intimidating. As tribute to their working-class roots, they wore steel-tipped Doc Martens boots, Levi jeans and sported close-cropped hairstyles.
Read the rest of this story on the Jamaica Observer