King Alpha’s Song in a Strange Land
362 pages, 6 x 9
28 b&w photos
Release Date:14 Feb 2020
Release Date:14 Feb 2020
Release Date:14 Feb 2020
Release Date:14 Feb 2020

King Alpha’s Song in a Strange Land

The Roots and Routes of Canadian Reggae

UBC Press

When Jackie Mittoo and Leroy Sibbles migrated from Jamaica to Toronto in the early 1970s, the musicians brought reggae with them, sparking the flames of one of Canada’s most vibrant music scenes.

In King Alpha’s Song in a Strange Land, professional reggae musician and scholar Jason Wilson draws on interviews and personal experience to tell the story of how the organic, transnational nature of reggae brought black and white youth together, opening up a cultural dialogue between Jamaican migrants and Canadians along the city’s ethnic frontlines. For Jamaicans, reggae gave them an advantage in the acculturation process by bringing them into contact with like-minded white Torontonians. For music-loving non-Jamaicans, reggae offered an entry point into a people and a culture that would have remained closed to them otherwise. When the two came together, they set the stage for bands such as Messenjah and the Sattalites to become household names for a brief but important time.

By looking at Canada’s golden age of reggae from the perspective of both Jamaican migrants and white Torontonians, Wilson reveals the power of music to break through the bonds of race and ease the hardships associated with transnational migration.

This book will appeal to anyone interested in Toronto’s reggae scene, Canadian music and culture, or multiculturalism and transnational migration.


  • 2021, Winner - Joseph Brant Award, Ontario Historical Society
...maybe the most comprehensive focus on reggae and Jamaican culture in Canada's most populous city. Howard Campbell, Jamaica Observer
King Alpha's Song in a Strange Land  is a vital contribution to scholarship on reggae and Canadian music and culture... Wilson disrupts many notions asasociated with reggae, leaving readers with a deeper appreciation for the music in Canada and all over the world. Ty Hall, Carleton University, CAML Review
Jason Wilson has gifted his readers with a nuanced yet deeply visceral account of Jamaican music as a medium for cross-cultural communication. This is an excellent contribution to the literature on Jamaican music. Michael E. Veal, professor, Department of Music, Yale University, and author of Dub: Soundscapes and Shattered Songs in Jamaican Reggae
King Alpha’s Song in a Strange Land fills a lacuna in the scholarship on reggae. Carolyn Cooper, professor emerita, The University of the West Indies, Mona, Jamaica and editor of Global Reggae
What an incredible read! Jason Wilson takes us on a global historical and musical journey, encapsulating the entire routes and roots of Canadian reggae in one authoritative book. This is recommended reading for everyone. Leo Cripps, founder and producer of the Calgary Reggae Festival and host of Journeys world music program, CKUA Radio Network
In King Alpha’s Song in a Strange Land Jason Wilson’s career in reggae, his relationship with Jamaicans, his intellect, and his Scottish heritage powerfully combine to nourish a fascinating exploration of how the music cultures of Jamaica, Britain, and Canada intersect and collide. Klive Walker, author of Dubwise: Reasoning from the Reggae Underground
Jason Wilson is a bestselling author, two-time Juno Award nominee, and winner of a Canadian Reggae Music Award. He is the author of The Toronto Maple Leaf Hockey Club: Official Centennial Publication, 1917–2017 and Soldiers of Song: The Dumbells and Other Canadian Concert Parties of the First World War. The latter was turned into a play that toured across Canada. Wilson’s life story has been featured in documentaries on CBC’s The National and BBC Radio. He is an adjunct professor at the University of Guelph.

Preface and Acknowledgments

Introduction: King Alpha’s Song

1 Hybridity and Jamaican Music

2 Music of the Black Atlantic

3 Jamaica to Toronto

4 Place and Meaning in Toronto’s Reggae Text

5 The Bridge Builders

6 Blackness and Whiteness

7 In Search of the Canadian Sound

8 A Strange Land

Notes; Bibliography; Index

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