Michael Robins A.K.A RedRobin is a Wellington selectah and documentary-maker. He grew up in the Paramount and Embassy Cinemas in New Zealand’s capital city, and worked for a few years in the national film industry before setting about traveling in 2008.
Originally part of the mammoth cycle journey Naram undertook from Australia to Glasgow, he pulled out after a year, and took with him a musical tutelage from the Original Iron Horseman. Fast-forward to the European sound system scene, and RedRobin has been documenting and reporting on this for the last two years.
Being so close to the music, it was inevitable he would end up selecting, and he has played at various sound system festivals in Spain and Portugal, where he and his house-truck were based.
This year he began a mission to capture live footage and interview as many artists as possible in the reggae industry, for a planned International sound system documentary. Watch this space.
Michael Robins Photography
Big up to RedRobin for his Top Ten Reggae on Film Picks for September 2013.
One of, if not the best, reggae films. This is the story of Kingstonian drummer, Leroy Horsemouth Wallace, who while selling records and attending dances has his motorbike pinched, and goes on a mammoth mission to reclaim it.
The film has an iconic opening scene, real-life film sets which would be impossible to replicate nowadays, and features many of the country’s top artists of the time. It is often set in studios, featuring artists recording songs live, such as the scene with Kiddus I and ‘Graduation in Zion’. A must see.
2. Dub Echoes
A recent and extremely thorough dub documentary which travels the globe interviewing the most prominent living dub artists and producers. It also features a large list of musicians influenced by the dub genre, from hip hop, techo and dubstep. Being a Brazilian-produced film, it is fitting that the soundtrack is made by Rio’s own DigitalDubs.
3. Heartland Reggae
This is the first reggae documentary I ever bought and it was also on my ‘all-time, top-ten movies’ list when I attended film school. It follows a well-documented time in Jamaican history, in 1978 around the One Love Peace Concert. It also features some amazing footage of Jacob Miller just before he died, and a beautiful vocal performance by Judy Mowatt.
The film gives a real feel for this tense, yet culturally rich time in Jamaica.
4. Fire in Babylon
A cricket documentary which follows the golden era of West Indian cricket, accompanied by a reggae sound-track. It features a long list of the fast bowling line-up that rocked the world, and inspired the Caribbean team to become the world’s premier and most feared cricket side. It also has some quite funny appearances from an entertaining Bunny Wailer.
This is a London sound system film released in 1980, that is still a cult film today. It includes a cast of real sound system operators, such as the great Jah Shaka, and members of Aswad, and has a bit of a docu-drama feel to it. Thematically it covers all the issues of the day, surrounding being young and black in South London.
6. Deep Roots BBC Television Series
Correct me if I am wrong, but this has to be the most complete (up until its release in 1983) series made on reggae. Slow-paced and broken into a six-hour-length TV series, it is made by the BBC and voiced by Mikey Dread.
Apparently after the death of Bob Marley, the BBC sent a crew to Jamaica to document as much as possible the musical history of the Island to date. Each ‘episode’ contains extended interviews and clips. It starts with the history of Jamaica, and moves into the ska days, with amazing black and white footage from the 60s of Toots, and The Skatalites. It follows on to original toasters Count Matchuki, and footage of U-Roy.
The series then documents the legendary producer Bunny Lee, before going into installment four for Lee Perry’s Black Ark story. The final two parts are Money in my Pocket and Ghetto Riddim.
The richness in content of this doco is incredible. At one stage there is a sort of pass the mic, Q&A session in Jammy’s studio with Bunny Lee and both his parents, Delroy Wilson, Johnny Clarke, Prince Jazzbo, and Jackie Edwards, which goes on with only a few cuts, for fifty minutes.
7. Rocksteady: The Roots of Reggae
A classic feel good, high production, informing doco made a few years back, narrated by Stranger Cole. It follows the reunion of a group of rocksteady artists who come together to perform an All Stars concert, forty years after the famous genre came out of Jamaica.
Features snippets of stories, interviews and contemporary studio footage of artists such as Dawn Penn, Hopetown Lewis, Leroy Sibbles, Ken Boothe and Judy Mowatt, to name a few.
8. Reggae Britania
Another BBC produced, slick doco, which thoroughly covers what its title suggests, a history of reggae in the UK. This chapter in reggae’s varied history, is for me very interesting, to see how the industry took off in another continent. Footage includes wicked pieces on Big Youth.
9. Marley (2012)
Of all the dozens of Bob Marley films made, this one for me is the most serious. Probably because of the footage and interviews used, this piece on the much-documented superstar’s life gets very close to the source. It features unseen footage, provided by I’m guessing his very own Tuff Gong Pictures (who are also the producers). I would also say that due to their involvement, the end piece was very much controlled by the Marley dynasty.
Along with the normal plethora of Marley music, the film gets in close with wife Rita Marley, who depicts what it was like to live with the charismatic man. She also possibly dispels a lot of the various stories around his womanising, and death.
10. Musically Mad
A documentary about UK sound system culture. Featuring a long list of crucial interviews for such a subject, this 2007 doco is probably the most cinematically inspiring of my list. A couple of young Sweedish filmmakers with a passion for sound system put this together seemingly on their own, over various visits to England.