On first sight, How Jamaica Conquered The World did not sound particularly promising. No offence to Jamaica, but I’d never had any real interest in their history. It’s to podcaster Roifield Brown’s credit then that he has managed to make such a fascinating and unique podcast that it can win over skeptics like me.
What really stands out here is the style. Many other history podcasts out there follow a tried and tested format with the host delivering a lecture on the subject for thirty minutes in a series of episodes that run chronologically. HJCTW couldn’t be more different – Brown, as host, is noticeable by his absence: he delivers a brief introduction at the start of the episode but the rest is taken up with soundbites and excerpts from interviews pieced together over a musical background. This format isn’t completely new, but it is much closer to what you might find on a good BBC radio documentary or even the patchwork style of an Adam Curtis television documentary. The episodes are also relatively short at around ten minutes, and give more of a snapshot to inspire interest in the listener than an in depth discussion, but that works for a topic like this which may be generally new to many.
The episodes themselves are varied, ranging from politics and social history to music and sport. The music is obviously great – Hip Hop, Ska, Reggae, Dub etc all having their origins there, and having an influence that has spread into other areas. Since going independent in 1962, the Jamaican diaspora has spread around the world, and Brown has episodes focusing on London, Birmingham, Toronto, New York and even Japan! The impact of Jamaica on language and slang in these regions is also represented in an episode of its own. The interviewees range from family members to high profile musicians to the US general Colin Powell, and provide a huge variety of perspectives and views. The show is so wide ranging that I’m struggling to sum it up here!
In his first episode Roifield Brown states that he was inspired by Mike Duncan’s History of Rome and Neil MacGregor’s World In 100 Objects and hoped that listeners would find his show interesting, even if it wasn’t up to their high standards. For me, Brown has made something that definitely sits among that high standard, with an extra dose of originality thrown in. To be honest, I’m not sure what the current status of the show is, there are still sporadic episodes and Brown is active in the History Podcasters Network but the bulk of the series was recorded and released in 2012. That’s not to discourage anyway from checking this out, the episodes that exist are still informative, well made and very entertaining.