Arts competitions have always been a part of Jamaica's history, dating back to the late 1800s, but they took on special meaning after 1962, the year that the island nation became independent. A sudden swell in national pride and Jamaican identity swept the country, an electricity that is captured on Baba Boom!
, a collection of festival songs from the contest's inception in 1966 until 1974, the latter date probably chosen more out of necessity due to the running time -- both discs are jam-packed with 27 cuts each! Baba Boom!
includes the winners from each year, with a handful of runner-ups as well. There are certified classics here, including the Maytals
with the 1962 winner, "Bam Bam," the Jamaicans with the 1967 title cut winner, "Baba Boom," and the 1971 champion, "Cherry Oh Baby," which is probably the ultimate festival song, from Eric Donaldson. Donaldson was a recording veteran with little success going into the competition; the vicious Kingston crowd reportedly chanted "Go home country man!" before he began and erupted into an ecstatic frenzy after hearing his song, making him a folk hero throughout the nation. Of the 54 cuts on Baba Boom!
, only eight are actual winners and the other 46 tracks are runner-up songs that are more revealing about the festival and Jamaica than their better-known counterparts. Reggae and rocksteady may have been the order of the day as dominant styles, but there are examples of calypso, mento, and even some nyahbinghi drums during some of the numbers, proving that Jamaicans and their musical tastes are far more complex than some outside the island would think. If there's any problem with these festival songs, it's that the songs were largely written exclusively for the festival and the constant stream of references to the festival, 25 in the titles alone, can be tiring. Still, there's a giddy energy to the proceedings, even in the most pedantic of the entries, that shines through in these recordings and makes for an enjoyable listen.