Graded on a Curve:
The Mystic
Revelation of Rastafari,
Grounation

In the early 1970s, two kingpins of Jamaican music, namely Count Ossie and Cedric “Im” Brooks, merged their respective groups The Wareikas/the African Drums and The Mystics into one unit, and The Mystic Revelation of Rastafari was born. Their 3LP set Grounation was released in 1973, the first reggae triple album, and while obviously massive in scale, the music’s dive into sustained gloriousness transcends the norms of reggae by exemplifying the Art Ensemble of Chicago’s motto, “Great Black Music: Ancient to the Future.” Its reissue by Soul Jazz on vinyl and compact disc is cause for celebration.

What must be understood right away is that Grounation isn’t six vinyl sides loaded with commercial reggae jams circa 1973. Instead, this is the bedrock of what Coxsone Dodd and Bunny Lee were rapid fire cutting onto disco plates prior to and at the very time of Grounation’s release. To drive the point home, the sound of guitars are nowhere to be found here, as the title of the set references the Rastafari holy Grounation Day, which celebrates Ethiopian emperor Hailie Selassie’s visit to Jamaica in 1966.

Horns and vocals are an inextricable part of the record’s weave, and as Grounation plays one can soak up sounds rooted in New Orleans, Kansas City, Chicago, and New York City, along with roughly contemporaneous connections to the African continent via Afrobeat and highlife. But the music’s dominant component is rhythm, with even deeper ties to the African rhythmic root of it all. And yet, Grounation is thoroughly Jamaican, and a cornerstone record in the country’s musical history, if one perhaps undervalued in the global scheme of things.

The horns do kick in early on in opener “Bongo Man,” and there’s a brief gust of rough blowing in “Narration” that establishes an affinity for Fire Music and spiritual jazz in general. It’s a bond that reinforces The Mystic Revelation of Rastafari as far more than a gesture in pure throwing back, which really shouldn’t be surprising given that Selassie’s visit to the island occurred only six years before the record’s release.

That Grounation is invested in the now of 1973 is made irrefutable by the subject matter of “Narration,” a long track following “Bongo Man” that carries over to side two. The topic is the slave trade, with a jump-cut in the storytelling into the nature of the Rastafari religion, an approach that’s key to a full understanding of the record’s objectives, very much in line with the rise of Black Consciousness during this era. And combining past, present, and future is a version of “O Carolina,” written by John Folkes and first recorded by the Folkes Brothers in the late 1950s, backed by the Wareikas with Count Ossie.

One of the very earliest ska hits, “O Carolina” returned to the charts much later and in the dancehall style as recorded by Shaggy in 1993. The song’s presence on Grounation underscores how the album isn’t divorced from reggae’s commercial reality. If Ossie and his Rasta drummers played for Selassie’s airport arrival in ’66, he and Brooks were also vets of the Studio One scene.

The Mystic Revelation of Rastafari is a passionately encompassing experience. Hearing their debut release for the first time will almost certainly spark a yearning curiosity into more records in the mode of Grounation, but again, please understand, even as the group continued to record, when it comes to this inspired blend of tradition and contemporary flavors, there’s really just this one.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
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