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Rhythm and Rage

THE FIRST TIME I SAW Sister Carol perform, it was at a place on 125th Street in New York called the Celebrity Club. The show was part of a series billed as “Reggae Comes to Harlem”—a concept that seemed to hold a great deal of promise, suggesting the essential and underlying unity of two great musical traditions, split unnaturally by the barbarism of slavery. Although the producers’ intentions were noble, the outcome looked dire: the enormous ballroom, which once blazed with Lindy hoppers and jitterbug queens, now held tables and chairs that looked as though they’d been salvaged from the street, and about 25 people. An air of diminished grandeur hung heavily.

Reggae shows are known for late starts, and this one was no exception. Finally, around 1:30 in the morning, after a lukewarm opening act and an appropriately frenzied build-up from the emcee, the band kicked into a rock-solid groove.

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