Words by Jesse Serwer
The Wild West has been a major influence on reggae music since its beginnings in the late ’60s, when Spaghetti Westerns like The Good, The Bad and the Ugly were all the rage in Jamaica’s moviehouses. Initially this took the shape of reinterpreted theme music or one-off novelty tributes. By the late ’70s and early ’80s, dancehall artists were modeling themselves after gunslingers both real (John Wayne, Clint Eastwood) and fictional (Josey Wales, Lone Ranger). Many of today’s deejays have likely never seen a Western, but the influence still persists in the form of the badman, the antihero asserting himself against Babylon by any means necessary–the Jamaican answer to the gunslinger. For an illustration of this connection that’s more rooted in fact than many realize, look no further than Jamaica’s greatest movie, The Harder They Come. It is only after watching 1966’s Django in a rowdy theater that Jimmy Cliff’s aspiring reggae singer Ivanhoe goes from naive country boy to rogue cop-killer. In case the connection isn’t clear, the final scene where Ivan meets his demise in a police shootout is intercut with flashbacks to the crowd watching Django. Here’s a look at how shoot-em-up flicks inspired some of reggae/dancehall’s real-life anti-heroes.