Sometimes, a song gets stuck in your head, an earworm, and you hum it all day, perhaps listen to it on repeat. But what if it burrows a little deeper, taking over your heart? Director and artist Chris Flanagan can tell you it’s no easy task to rid yourself of a song that, for him, “got under his skin.” Which is why Flanagan did what any music obsessed fan would do, he wrote and directed a documentary about the song’s origins and the vocalist behind it.
Flanagan, “pasty guy from Australia”, is a Toronto-based record collector and reggae fanatic who, on one of his thrift shop jaunts, found a bootleg record of a song called “Jamaican Fruit of African Root” sung by a Shella Record. Taken by this emotionally powerful song about slavery and black pride, and wanting to know more about its singer, he embarks on a fact-finding mission that becomes an odyssey as he travels from Toronto to Jamaica to New York and L.A.
On this journey, he takes us to some of the legendary birthplaces of reggae meets with legendary names like Bunny “Striker” Lee, the late King Tubby and Earl “Chinna” Smith to name a few. He asks musicians, their friends and family, and anyone who will lend him an ear, if they have ever heard of Shella Record, only to find out that her real name is Sheila Rickards. Furthermore, she was a well-liked jazz singer with a voice often compared to jazz great Shirley Bassey. With this information, he continues to track her possible whereabouts, terrified that he may be on a wild goose chase, or even worse, find out she has passed away.
Flanagan incorporates his miniature diorama art and his genuine love for the music to tell his story and keep audiences engaged in this mystery. The documentary, peppered with footage and the music of Sheila, King Tubby and other reggae greats, is filmed in a nice, crisp style. The pacing is excellent, especially since he falls down a rabbit hole following one lead after another. Flanagan isn’t pandering to anyone here either, he’s simply open to a culture rich with musical history and talent that is often mined and taken for granted.
Monday, Apr 29 9:15 PM TIFF Bell Lightbox 2
Wednesday, May 1 12:45 PM Scotiabank Theatre 4
Friday, May 3 3:15 PM Scotiabank Theatre 3