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Cedric Im Brooks & the Light of Saba

It's unfortunate that the term world beat has become synonymous with middle-aged yoga bodies, orange chi pants, and bad b.o. It's worse still that some of the world's most innovative artists are forced to share space in the same record bin as Mickey Hart. While it's true that a pair of bongo drums in the wrong hands is a recipe for some very irritating music, the hippie backlash isn't the only culprit in the suppression of good world-beat tunes. During its first tour of Europe, cultural snobbery worked against afro-beat master Fela Kuti's Africa 70 band, which was booed by German audiences who wanted "authentic" African music and were unwilling to accept Fela's versions of Nigerian rhythms fused with American funk. And until recently in England, reggae that did not emanate from Jamaica was dismissed out of hand.

So it's easy to see why Jamaican saxophonist Cedric Im Brooks has never gotten the wider recognition he deserves. At the height of reggae's golden age in the '70s, Brooks, who played with the seminal Jamaican outfit the Skatelites, moved to Philadelphia and took up with jazz experimentalist Sun Ra. Inspired by Ra's brave explorations of different musical genres and the more open song structures allowed by jazz, Brooks returned to Jamaica and formed an orchestra that he named the Light of Saba. His subsequent musical efforts were a radical break from the Jamaican status quo, reimagining reggae as a mixture of free jazz, nyabinghi drumming, calypso, rumba, spoken word, and funk while consciously mimicking Fela's energetic showmanship. The best of these long-out-of-print recordings has been compiled and reissued as Cedric Im Brooks & the Light of Saba.

The music has a distinctly Jamaican flavor, free of reggae's suffrah gravitas but with a much looser feel. Songs like "Outcry" are full of looping African-style chants and dub-style studio effects woven together by Brooks' phenomenal freeform sax. His broad use of different genres demonstrates a musical dexterity that was unusual at the time, even in Jamaica. Twenty-five years later, as the world's cultures draw closer and our awareness of the Third World's struggles is more acute, Brooks' global message of black pride and intellectual freedom has become more relevant than ever.

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Matt Fisher

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