By Eric Blowtorch Special to Published Jun 07, 2007 at 1:39 PM

The Jamaica of "Cool Runnings" and airline advertisements is a far, expensive stretch from the Jamaica of "Life and Debt" and shotters lyrics.  Rich in resources and resourceful people, the island of under four million people exerts a mighty cultural influence worldwide, but has been forced by the World Trade Organization, International Monetary Fund, Central Intelligence Agency and other nefarious bodies into a dependent state of few prosperous industries.

The music, literature and art of Jamaica are strange and resolutely original. Despite a Jamaican, Clive Campbell, a/k/a Kool Herc, having invented hip-hop music based heavily on the Jamaican sound system, most Jamaican musicians maintain their strange, often wildly syncopated sound.

On the occasion when Milwaukee radio would play a Jamaican song, the rhythmic and atmospheric change was noticeable and pleasant.  Not until Linton Kwesi Johnson’s "Forces of Victory" album in 1979 did I comprehend the musical and lyrical similarities between Jamaican reggae and the punk rock that first grabbed me by the throat a few years before.  In terms of pure molecular motion, roots reggae -- defined by repeated countermelodies played on electric bass -- surely rules the world of sound.  Stand close to the speaker cabinets at Chalice in the Palace some Wednesday night at Stonefly, and you’ll feel it.

Growing up and working with Jamaican musicians continually begged the question as to when I would finally set foot on the land that gave rise to Louise Bennett, Claude McKay and Big Youth.  Having taught school and currently working as a librarian, I thought Alpha Boys’ School, famous for its music program, might need some help.  Dr. Richard Foran, one of the school administrators, took my call and invited me to come down to help organize the school’s music library.  And so I am off to Kingston tomorrow morning, with lyrics about peace, love, snipers in the streets, and bloodshed echoing in my brain.

Eric Blowtorch Special to
Eric Blowtorch is a veteran Milwaukee musician and DJ who currently leads Eric Blowtorch & The Welders.