Symbols In The Temple of I & I
Written by | DJ Zanj Rracc
How many times has an album’s cover art drawn you to listen to that album? Thievery Corporation’s most recent release, The Temple of I & I, caught my attention through the album’s cover art. I’ve listened to previous releases from the Washington-based duo, but on this occasion, I listened to the entire album solely because the album’s cover art was a mind boggling twist about Jamaica.
The Temple of I & I’s album cover is an explosive collage of confusion. It emits a variety of subtle messages and stories about Jamaican culture through its use of icons that have become (or once were) popular among Jamaica’s hoi polloi. The haphazard combination of the icons encapsulates reggae, dancehall, and sport (football in particular), three entrenched facets of Jamaican culture that are consumed heavily by the country’s impoverished classes and packaged as tourist products.
The Temple of I & I’s album art points to a variety of periods in Jamaica’s cultural history. The antiquated touristic appeal of the 50’s and 60’s can be seen in the old Air Jamaica airliner fixed against a backdrop of blue sky and blue sea, the basic components necessary for tourist attraction. Touristy Jamaica of the 50’s and 60’s is also seen in the image of two women in retroactive wear, dancing on the plane’s wing. Their image also contrasts the huge photo of a woman dancing in football boots (cleats).
The woman in cleats symbolizes dancehall culture and speaks to a unique time in Jamaica. Her posture is explicit in a covertly creative way — a lot is left to the imagination due to the image of the airliner blocking the area that would reveal her vagina. Her football boots are critical symbols. Running shoes are not on her feet for a reason. The period 1990–2000 signifies the golden era of dancehall production in Jamaica. During this period, dancehall consumption went together with the consumption of football, the most popular sport among Jamaicans at the time (Jamaica qualified for the 1998 FIFA World Cup). This woman represents a modern era within Jamaican cultural history, a period in which sport and music combined as one syncretic expression.
Reggae and The Title
The dancehall era alluded to on the album’s cover art is complemented by potent symbols that speak to the country’s golden era of reggae music. The colossal sound systems, along with the erratic selector with his record at the foreground of the picture, point to an era in Jamaica’s music when reggae reigned supreme.
Theivery Corporation’s respect for reggae can be seen in the album’s title, The Temple of I & I, and how this name is communicated on the album’s cover. The title is written upside down (in a barely visible manner) on a record (vinyl) at the centre of the collage of images. In order for one to read the title of the album right side up, the art would have to be flipped in a manner which would render the entire combination of images upside down.
Reggae music is Thievery Corporation’s “Temple”, a sacred space worthy of divine musical recognition. However, this temple has been flipped: Reggae is no longer regarded as sacred in the physical space, Jamaica, or in the creative space, music, where it was born. Both spaces are now upside down.
Here’s the playlist for the entire album. Check it out: