Rockers is, arguably, the finest reggae movie ever made.

The 1978 film tells the story of a financially struggling drummer, Leroy “Horsemouth” Wallace (portraying himself), who buys a motorbike with the intention of making extra money by distributing producers’ records to shops across the island. When the bike is stolen by an upper-class organized crime ring, Horsemouth and his friends set out to retrieve it and take back most of the criminals’ ill-gotten goods and distribute them to Kingston’s ghetto dwellers.

The skeletal plot is best summarized as a Jamaican reinterpretation of the legend of Robin Hood meets Italian director Vittorio De Sica’s Bicycle Thieves, yet Rockers mesmerizes as a kaleidoscopic view of late ’70s reggae, one of the most fascinating eras in Jamaican music’s trajectory, and in its respectful, almost mystical presentation of Rastafarian culture, a relatively unknown way of life at the time of the film’s international debut.

Made on a budget of $250,000 and directed by Theodoros “Ted” Bafaloukos, Rockers caused a near riot at the Cannes Film Festival in 1979 when crowds clamoring for tickets to the four scheduled sold-out screenings jammed the streets surrounding the theater and refused to leave. A review in the French daily Le Monde enthused, “Rockers is not a film, it is a work of art. So good it is difficult to believe, yet it is real.”

Rockers secured U.S. distribution in 1980; 40 years later, the film continues to be widely screened, critically lauded, and now, meticulously documented in a spectacular 320-page coffee table book, published by Gingko Press. Rockers: The Making of Reggae’s Most Iconic Film, was initially written by Bafaloukos in 2005 (he died in 2016 at age 70, due to complications from non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma). Featuring many previously unseen, stunning black and white and color photos taken in New York City and throughout his travels to Jamaica in the mid to late ’70s, the Rockers book chronicles Bafaloukos’ personal narrative as vividly and insightfully as it does the landmark film bearing its name.

Carayol, a French reggae historian and the book’s curator and editor, brought the project to Gingko’s David Lopes. “We pretty much left what Ted wrote in extenso; I was blown away by his writing style, very funny yet informative and it went beyond the film; it’s not just for reggae fans, it speaks to everybody,” Carayol told the Daily Beast. “The chaotic behind-the-scenes story was entertaining enough, but Ted’s memoir tells his tale from being born to a family of Greek sailors to landing in NYC. It’s almost like a Jamaica/New York version of Mean Streets, illustrated with photographs. This book could have come out ten years ago or twenty years from now, it doesn’t really matter. It is a great testimony at any point in time.” 

A Greek immigrant living in lower Manhattan in 1975, Bafaloukos took the first step in his journey to making Rockers in Brooklyn, the largest outpost of Jamaicans living off the island. Bafaloukos accompanied New York magazine writer Mark Jacobson to Brooklyn for a party at the Paradise Cove nightclub/catering hall to shoot photos for Jacobson’s story about Jamaican culture in New York City and the island’s emergent reggae music scene.

Bafaloukos was so captivated by the headlining performer, Jamaican melodica master Augustus Pablo, whose trademark “far east” sound is characterized by minor chords played over cavernous dub rhythms, that he stopped taking photos. “What could a picture do for anyone who wasn’t there to hear?” Bafaloukos writes in Rockers. “How could anyone describe that sound? Every note was transformed as if by magic into a breathtakingly complex melody that kept taking unexpected turns, keeping you in a state of suspense. Everybody was in a trance floating inside that young man’s dreamscape.”

Bafaloukos would unexpectedly hear reggae again shortly thereafter while visiting a friend in Chicago. They ventured downtown to the city’s hippest club and joined the line for entry, unaware of the band that was playing until they saw the name stamped on the ticket: Bob Marley and The Wailers.

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