Borrowed from a Peter Tosh song title, Equal Rights: Reggae and Social Change is The Jamaica Music Museum's latest exhibition curated by music specialist Herbie Miller. Launched to mark the country's 50th anniversary of independence, the exhibition shows how the Jamaica's struggles after 1962 were mirrored in its burgeoning music forms of ska, reggae and later dub, and how imagery on album covers helped promote these sounds and their messages of protest at home and abroad.
Equal Rights: Reggae and Social Change is a landmark exhibition that will lay the foundation for future research. The exhibition consists of multiple framed covers laid out thematically and chronologically, occasionally interspersed with informative story boards or cases filled with memorabilia. Reggae music lovers have always known that the designs portrayed on their cardboard album sleeves were often as special as the vinyl recordings they protected. Many hoarded these 12 x 12 inch covers long after their musical recordings had been transferred to cassettes or later digitized. They recognised the potency of this poster format with nascent graphics that portrayed images of Marcus Garvey, Bob Marley, Haile Selassie, or their favourite musicians. The exploration of the album cover as a medium for social change has been long overdue but this exhibition finally makes the connection between music and visual history in a manner that is palpable. Viewing albums such as Jimmy Cliff's Struggling Man (shown here) or Count Ossie and The Mystic Revelation of Rastafari's Tales of Mozambique with Tosh's refrain playing in the background, the show is a reggae music lover's haven and a remarkable resource.
This rich exhibition tells the story of Jamaica's modern music in a way that is compelling, aesthetically pleasing and informative, but it shies from a visual analysis of the albums displayed. A critical, rather than historical or musical reading of these album covers might reveal other layers of meaning and struggles as yet untold.