If you need proof that reggae’s spirit animal is the bumblebee, search no further than “Don’t Look Back,” Peter Tosh’s cover of the Temptations song, with Mick Jagger on backing vocals. The cross-pollination of reggae, rock ’n’ roll, and American soul yields a honeyed strain, but when heard with Jamaica’s history of political and social strife in mind, the singer’s plea to his lover to join hands and leave the past behind takes on a double meaning that transcends love and approaches the existential. There’s a smooth stickiness to life down in the islands that doesn’t exist in the same way anywhere else.
And that’s precisely why, though rockers and souls and punks have borrowed endlessly from (and done right by) reggae, it’s often much better the other way around. Jamaicans can sting if need be, but they also appreciate how one flower can help another. That’s something that won’t ever be taken away from them.
Nathan King is a Deputy Editor for AIR MAIL