These dazzling records, which came out between 1978 and 1983, blended classic reggae textures and dub influences with playful synthesizers & drum machines.
In the 1970s, disco arrived, futuristic and cyclical. It disrupted, forcing a reimagining of the pop song, whose shape until then had been linear and direct, and whose function had been to transit the listener from one hook to the next, even bigger hook. Instead, disco reimagined the pop song as a wheel that turned and turned, building gradually and subtly. It was a spiritual technology, remaking a pop song into something that, though still anthemic, also made room for the ecstatic.
Disco contained process itself. These were songs with absolutely nowhere else to be, pushing runtimes of six, seven, eight minutes, available to feelings that couldn't be expressed on a three-minute track. That the songs were meant for the dance floors of New York meant that they could also be, secretly, diaristic and interior. The genre traveled like a current across the diaspora, unlocking the imaginations of people like Jorge Ben, Ebo Taylor and William Onyeabor, who spilled his psychedelic confessionals over his tracks. "I want you to realize," Onyeabor implored, "the way I feel in me." "I'm gonna explode," he cried, and you could contend with the implications of that, or you could just keep dancing.
This process, this unending transit, continued even after the songs' runtimes expired. In Kingston, many of the same musicians that had reimagined R&B into reggae began the process of reimagining reggae into the music of the future. Jamaican musicians embodied disco's transformational spirit, for a few years. The period of reggae and disco's crossover was brief, but emerged from the same alchemy that would later create dancehall, Jamaica's new pop music. You can hear the diaspora exciting and inspiring each other in real time.
These four records developed in the time after reggae had truly gone global. Just before them, 'lovers rock,' from Jamaicans in Britain, had become the first reggae sub-genre born entirely outside of Jamaica and had transformed reggae into more tender. You can hear lovers rock's values in these songs, as well as you can hear the irreverent spirit of dancehall being born. In the middle of this transformative period in Jamaican music are these chimeric, dazzling records, mostly covers of funk and disco hits that blended classic reggae textures and dub influence with playful synthesizers and drum-machines.