Celebrating the legendary studio musicians of Jamaican popular music through personal photographs and interviews
While singers, producers, and studio owners have become international icons, many of the musicians who were essential to shaping the sound of Jamaican music have remained anonymous. Words of Our Mouth, Meditations of Our Heart: Pioneering Musicians of Ska, Rocksteady, Reggae, and Dancehall, complete with 98 color photographs, is the first book devoted to the studio musicians who were central to Jamaica’s popular music explosion. Bilby delves into the full spectrum of Jamaican music, from traditional and folk genres, such as Mento, Poco, and Buru, to the popular urban styles of ska, rocksteady, and reggae. Photographic portraits and interview excerpts (with such musical pioneers as Prince Buster, Robbie Shakespeare, Sly Dunbar, Lee “Scratch” Perry, and many of Bob Marley’s early musical collaborators) provide new insights into the birth of Jamaican popular music in the recording studios of Kingston, Jamaica in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s. The book illustrates how players of “traditional” Jamaican music and lesser-known singers have made fundamental and wide-ranging contributions to the music. Appendices include a recommended listening list, a bibliography of interviews and field recordings, and a glossary of terms.
Kenneth Bilby is an ethnomusicologist, writer, and lifelong student of Jamaican music. He is the former director of research at the Center for Black Research at Columbia College Chicago and currently a research associate at the Smithsonian Institution. Author of True-Born Maroons and coauthor of Caribbean Currents: Caribbean Music from Rumba to Reggae, his collection of field recordings of Jamaican traditional music is one of the largest in the world.
“Bilby celebrates his roots in Jamaica in this magnificent book through beautiful photographs and interviews with musicians. Bilby unveils the backstory of Jamaican music, and his work will be cherished by all who love Jamaican music.”
—William Ferris, author of Give My Poor Heart Ease: Voices of the Mississippi Blues
“Bilby doesn’t just tell the story that’s never been told—delivering an homage to the heroes who helped shape Jamaican music—he lets these heroes tell the story in their own words, writing their own chapter in history.”
—Baz Dreisinger, producer and writer of Black & Blue: Legends of the Hip-Hop Cop and Rhyme & Punishment
“An essential work of Jamaican musical scholarship. The interviews are engrossing on multiple levels. Our understanding of the black musics of the New World would have fewer gaps in it if there were more of the kind of thorough oral history that Bilby does here. He proves himself to be not merely a good collector but a good listener.”
—John Jeremiah Sullivan, author of Pulphead
Enjoy some musical examples!
Drums of Defiance: Maroon Music from the Earliest Free Black Communities of
Jamaica. (CD) Smithsonian/Folkways. 1992. [1970s–1990s]
Example of Nyabinghi drumming
Mento version of Amy Winehouse’s “Rehab”, performed by The Jolly Boys
Alerth Bedasse & Chin’s Calypso Sextet perform “Industrial Fair”
Cedric “Im” Brooks and the Divine Light. From Mento to Reggae to Third World
Music. (CD) VP. 2008. 
Studio One Ska—The Skatalites “Beardsman Ska”
Rocksteady: The Roots of Reggae. (CD) Mollselekta. 2009. [2000s]
The Harder They Come (Deluxe Edition). (2-CD box set). Hip-O. 2003. [1960s and 1970s]
Publication date: May 10, 2016
256 pp., 7 x 10”
Paper, $29.95 x
eBook, $23.99 Y