Contradictory Victory: Bigging Up Joe Higgs’ Reggae Classic “Life Of Contradiction”
by Peter Relic
Posted Apr 3, 2008 on the Arthur blog at Yahoo
The first thing that grabs you is the title: Life Of Contradiction. In the roots reggae world where Rastafarianism ruled, righteousness and preachy absolutism—and even Rasta’s red-gold-green primary color scheme—all seem to insist that there is one true way to do things, one true way that things should be. Thematic subtlety, and the admission of the validity of alternate viewpoints, are pretty thin on the ground (though to be fair, such single-mindedness is one of reggae’s greatest sources of strength).
Simply put, contradiction doesn’t spring to mind when listing the music’s top topics. As a result, Joe Higgs’ 1975 album Life Of Contradiction, newly and impeccably reissued by the ever-attentive Pressure Sounds label, is an LP whose nuanced vision makes it stand out within the pantheon of reggae classics.
Higgs was a music biz veteran by the time he recorded Life Of Contradiction for Chris Blackwell’s Island Records label in 1972 (its release was delayed a further three years until rights reverted to Higgs, who issued himself it in Jamaica and the U.K). As a youth in the early 1960s, Higgs and Roy Wilson formed the r&b duo Higgs & Wilson, voicing numerous hits for Edward Seaga’s WIRL label, including the shining gospel number “The Robe.” The duo went on to record Higgs’ superlative compositions for the likes of Coxsone Dodd and Duke Reid, including “There’s A Reward,” a track Higgs would re-record a decade later for Life Of Contradiction. But in the time-lapse between those two renditions, Higgs made a crucial contribution to Jamaican music, one that sealed his status as a primary architect of the island’s best-loved act.
“The Wailers weren’t singers until I taught them,” Higgs is quoted as saying in Reggae: The Rough Guide, referring to his time mentoring the then-green group in the kitchen of his Trench Town home.
“It took me years to teach Bob Marley what sound consciousness was about, it took me years to teach the Wailers.” The claim could be considered self-aggrandizing were it not for the fact that Higgs alone was qualified to take the place of Bunny Livingston when Bunny preferred chilling in Jamaica to joining the Wailers on a 1972 U.S. tour. And, of course, the splendid evidence of this album.Continue reading