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Various Artists Freedom Sounds Review

Compilation. Released 2012.  

BBC Review

A compelling, danceable history lesson across five celebratory CDs.

Daryl Easlea 2012

On 6 August 2012, Jamaica celebrated the 50th anniversary of its independence from Britain. Of the plethora of releases that have coincided with this poignant commemoration, Trojan’s Freedom Sounds is one of the very best.

This set’s five CDs highlight the leading performers, producers and studios that have helped shape Jamaica’s national sound. Across 108 recordings, from 60s ska to 00s dancehall, it showcases the musical diversity and breadth of subject matter that has emanated from the fabled isle.

Freedom Sounds steers you through a sometimes well-known, sometimes surprising selection of tracks. Its themed discs celebrate the independence, Jamaican hits, pioneers, innovators and rare material, adopting an intelligent yet populist approach to the subject.

It is this juxtaposition of the over-familiar with the rare that works so well on Freedom Sounds and creates, historical significance aside, the feeling of a really good night out. Even tracks such as Uptown Top Ranking by Althea and Donna (now receiving its 689th compilation appearance) and Desmond Dekker’s unparalleled Israelites sound different and striking in this context.

Its clear the homage that early Jamaican reggae paid to The ImpressionsCurtis Mayfield’s spirit frequently hovers over the recordings, either in covers of his work such as Cornell Campbell’s poignant reworking of This Is My Country, The Carib-Beats’ People Get Ready and Lloyd Charmers’ standout version of (We the People Who Are) Darker Than Blue. Elsewhere, Mayfield’s influence is evident on tracks such as Bob Marley’s superlative Rainbow Country.

There are many, many highlights: Third World’s beautiful Freedom Song, King Khouchi’s Scout Call and Carl Malcolm’s lovers-styled Natty Jestering are but three. With a huge amount of material available on CD for the first time, and some receiving their initial release outside of Jamaica (such as Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa by Toots & The Maytals and Brothers by The Heptones), Freedom Sounds all feels rather like being guided round a museum by a friendly and enthusiastic curator.

This is borne out by Record Collector editor and reggae authority Ian McCann’s notes in the accompanying booklet. He says that Freedom Sounds is "an incredible story told by incredible people." And it is.

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