It was good to read the article on Bob Marley ('Roots Revolutionary', January SR). However, I thought the analysis of Jamaican music today was a bit unhopeful and perhaps also inaccurate in saying that 'in the quarter century since his death nobody has come close to matching Bob Marley.'
Popular opinion of Marley regards him as the king of reggae music, but there were many others then, such as Gregory Issacs (known as the Cool Ruler), Barrington Levy and others. These are wise Rastafarian preacher types who use music as a way of expressing real suffering and to give hope for a better future on earth. Their message of opposition to 'Babylon' is still loud, clear and popular. Bob Marley was so great partly because of the 'crossover' he and his band achieved into the mainstream.
Although Garnet Silk died at a tragically young age in 1994, his lyrics were comparable in greatness to Marley's. His music didn't achieve the crossover like Marley's, but the dancehall music at the time of Garnet Silk was militant in many ways, like hip-hop, and anti-establishment.
During a period in the 1990s, reggae music went through a period called 'bashment', which was very angry, shouting unmelodic rants, similar to thrash metal in the US. However, the 'conscious lyric' tradition of Rastafarianism did find its way back, with old acts producing new anti-war material such as Culture. A great tune on his album World Peace is called 'Babylon is Falling'.
Then there is the new Rastafarian band around the artist Morgan Heritage, who has produced a number of spiritual, uplifting and anti-war lyrics in his albums.
Capleton was a dynamic ragga dancehall act, became Niya Bingae Rastafarian, and has fused dancehall rhythm (and anger) with wise and conscious lyrics. He starts one of his songs from his album Reign of Fire with the lyrics 'Equal rights and justice for all/Rise and never fall', and another song, 'In Her Heart', is refreshingly respectful towards women.
I hope there will be more to come along these lines, although I can appreciate that the terrible poverty and conditions for the majority living in Jamaica makes it harder.