Book Review: David Rodigan, My Life in Reggae

I am not a sound clash expert, but I am a true lover of reggae music. I love music in general, from soca to hip hop, R&B to pop/dance, but it is reggae music that speaks to my soul the most. Naturally. The lyrics, the riddims, the culture, the history, the origin, the personal/family nostalgia, and the originality are like no other genre. And for as long as I have known about reggae music...I have known about David Rodigan.

I've only heard him play live Oshawa, Ontario (of all places) probably over a decade ago. I knew about the legacy of the man, and truth be told...on the surface, it was more of an entertainment factor. An older white, British gentleman who could select and chat with the best of them. On the surface, my appreciation for him was almost novelty-based...with all due respect.

News of his book's release was good news; I didn't even hesitate before ordering a copy. I love a biography. Coupled with a love for the music, I was more than happy to read my way through this book (slowly but surely) over the past couple of months.

Should it have taken me months to read? Nope. But it did. The book started off a lot slower than I anticipated, as David Rodigan carefully described his youth, his family, and upbringing. Without rehashing the fine was average. Nothing stood out to me, and it took me a few attempts to really get into the heart and soul of his story. Not because it wasn't a great foundation...but because it wasn't the heart of the music and travelling that I was looking forward to.

As the young David became a teen, and developed a passion for reggae music, for radio broadcasting, for acting, and began to excel in his craft, I started to understanding the making of the man, and it provided a greater context for his place in reggae history. The backstory became relevant again.

He is a legend, to say the least. Not because he's a "white man" speaking patois, occasionally. And not because he's a British gentleman hanging out in Kingston and clashing the biggest, and baddest of sounds in Jamaican history. I believe David Rodigan is a legend because he is SO passionate about reggae music, and culture, and development, that he can't help but be a part of the history itself.

Aside from being able to boast about interviewing Bob Marley, attending his funeral, and having unique stories about the creation of very special dub plates from a great number of reggae greats, he can also reflect on the growth of reggae music itself. From a reggae lover's perspective. From an international perspective. From the perspective of a radio professional, and also as a fan.

He was there (albeit, across the "pond") as reggae became an international phenomenon. He witnessed the great success stories of recording artists, DJs, radio personalities, and the changing musical landscape that adjusted and grew to embrace the music.

The most endearing part about this book is the passion that Rodigan has for the music. He lived, breathed, and performed reggae music to the fullest from the beginning of his career...and continues to do so now. He advocated for reggae music on the air, he developed long lasting relationships with artists, producers, DJs, and the architects of the genre. He inspired generations of reggae lovers around the world with his own passion.

I think this is a book that every reggae lover should read. It's a great collection of stories, and it's interesting to hear the tale behind the tune. Much like his live performances, where Rodigan is known for explaining the origins of his dubs, and recapping stories and anecdotes about his interactions with specific artists, the book compiles all of these great reflections into one unit.

Even if you already know some of the stories, by default from hearing him play over the years, it is still interesting to read about how particular dub plates were created, and how certain relationships were established. From Lee Scratch Perry, to Barry Gordon, there are great flashbacks of young relationships turned into deeply respected bonds and collaborations.

The book is well written. The language flows nicely, and you gain a sense of how Rodigan thinks as well as how he speaks. Descriptions of the Bogle Dance "...a bodily contortion during which waves of energy appear to pass through the torso..." or recaps of how particular riddims sound, the stories of how he gained specific dub plates in his collection, and the soundclash recaps. The clash recaps are the greatest! He literally recounts each record played, the talks before he drops them, the counteractions from his musical opponents, and crowd responses. Towards the end of the book, it is the details of the music and experience that bring the Rodigan story to life!

Too many small incidents to recap, but I highly recommend that music lovers and reggae fans in particular give this book a read. I love that his story is far from finished. I love that this particular "chapter" of his life ended with a conversation between him and Damian Marley, who had made a suggestion that he record these incidents. The full circle moment was beautiful. From a young fan hoping to catch a word with Bob a respected colleague, talking about how to document and celebrate the culture that he helped to build. Few people are in the unique position to tell this story in it's entirety.

Rodigan: My Life in Reggae is a history lesson, a musical record, and a reggae fairy tale all in one.

Written by Stacey Marie Robinson for Kya Publishing's "Urban Toronto Tales" blog.


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