As part of the press blurb that accompanies Made In Jamaica, there’s a quote from Buena Vista Social Club director Wim Wenders. He describes the film as; “A true masterpiece...The ultimate reference about reggae. A pure gem”. It’s apparent that Jerome Laperrousaz, the film’s writer and director, is trying to emulate the work of Wenders, showing how a small country can make itself heard on the world stage through the medium of music.
Beginning with the murder of one of Jamaica’s leading dancing stars, ‘Bogle’, Made In Jamaica really hits hard from the start and promises to enlighten its audience on, not just the birth of Reggae music but also its reflection on the social and economic problems that are rife in its birth land. However, there is a meandering lack of direction and as the film progresses, it tales of into one long music clip. There’s no outside view to contextualize the stories of these Reggae stars. Instead we’re left hearing the same contradicting view points of peace and violence from the angry, disconcerted voices of these artists, who are justified in their position but ultimately lack conviction due to the documentary’s focus on the music and not the messages the artists are trying to convey. However, it’s with these music scenes that the film comes alive. Depicted with cleverly choreographed dancers and superbly recorded live songs, what the film lacks in delivering its message it truly makes up for by capturing the raw emotion that runs through the music. The interviews that interlace these scenes are very comprehensive too, with each artist given more than their fair share of camera time. The interviewees come across as honest and true, and, more importantly, very passionate about what they stand for.
Made In Jamaica certainly hasn’t made me rush out to buy the complete Third World back catalogue but what it has done is open my eyes and ears to a genre of music I had never previously known much about. I’ve spent many years of my life working for record stores and writing for music blogs and would consider myself to have a wide knowledge of music styles, however, Reggae was always a genre that I could never quite get into. Perhaps being a white middle class boy growing up in the Midlands hindered my appreciation for the genre. Now, after watching Made In Jamaica I’m glad to have a better understanding of this particular branch of music. With any new style of music it can always take a while for your ears to truly tune into it. After watching this documentary I do finally feel like I’ve found that elusive frequency.
If you like Reggae music you’ll love Made In Jamaica. It covers a mixture of old and new styles of Reggae and fans of the genre will undoubtedly be inspired by the words and music of both the young and old stars. However, if like me you’re new to this world then Made In Jamaica, at two hours long, may seem a little too narrow sighted. The inception of Reggae is a wonderful story but it feels like its surface is barely being skimmed. There are many important issues being ignored, leaving you frustrated and disappointed at the lack of historical context to back up the passionate tales of these voices of a deprived yet optimistic people.
Director: Jerome Laperrousaz
Starring: Gregory Isaacs, Toots Frederick, Bunny Wailer, Elephant Man
Runtime: 120 Minutes
Release Date: 26th October 2009