Music: Singing Them a Message

Adjusting the levers on his four-track console, Jamaican Record Producer Lee Perry does absent-minded dance steps on a patchwork carpet composed of Ethiopia's national colors. On the studio side of the control booth's soundproof window, a singer implores "Jah," the black god who many Jamaicans believe was Haile Selassie, to deliver him from Babylon. Seated on the floor are half a dozen musicians whose hair is plaited into myriad ominous, serpentine "dreadlocks." Each man reverently smokes a large, cone-shaped "splif" filled with marijuana, and all nod agreeably whenever the singer alludes to Africa,...

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