The month of February holds cardiac and sentimental significance for many Jamaicans. It is the birth month of at least two of Jamaica’s legendary heroes, namely William Alexander Clarke and Robert Nesta Marley; more popularly known as ‘Busta’ and Bob Marley. The Jamaican Ministry of Health officially dedicates the entire month of February to heart health concerns, including cardiac health awareness.
The Jamaica Reggae Industry Association (JaRIA), the newly established legislative brain of Reggae Music, has declared February to be Reggae Month specifically in honour of, arguably Reggae Music’s greatest acts: the King and Crowned Prince of Reggae, Bob Marley and Dennis Emmanuel Brown. Although the world celebrates the birthplace and emerging talent of the revolutionary genre every summer and almost every day, Jamaicans have agreed to divert all their festive attention towards this aspect of their culture to the second month of the Caesarian calendar. Considering Reggae Music’s historic role in realising racial repatriation and liberation, merging Reggae Month into Black History Month is quite comprehensible from an ethnic standpoint. Whilst Black History Month is commemorated worldwide, it may be a while before Reggae Month mimics such global festivity. The pace at which that occurs is of no importance to myself, I am more concerned with an apparent ‘taking for granted’ of this vital sect of our heritage. The forementioned may manifest sooner than Jamaicans anticipate but the rate at and extent to which the average Jamaican values Reggae Music is rapidly decreasing with it, making them indirectly proportional, if one allows it.
There is no protest that can be mounted in asserting that music is a key catalyst in Black Liberation. If one were to refer to ‘the Female Moses’ who employed her skills of song and musicianship to convey messages to her fellow captives or the Maroons of the Caribbean, especially those dwelling and traversing the Cockpit Country or finally the plights of the Nelson Mandela led African National Congress (ANC) and its nationwide supporters who fought against Apartheid on the frontline; any statement contrary to that would be quickly brushed aside. On the plantation, at nights, at church meetings or even dances, our ancestors would gather around, singing and dancing their oppressive woes away from their thoughts for even that moment when all such transgressions would be cast aside. Music again here being the motivating factor behind the physical, spiritual and mental liberty our ancestors might have experienced, temporarily. Therefore, considering that Reggae Music has aided and at times driven our racial liberation for as far back as we dared record, Why is it that natives of the land hailed as its prime origin regard its existence as primary as we do breathing? Please do not misinterpret my prior comparison to mean that we should regard regular respiration as a simple necessity. Neither of the two deserve to be overlooked, especially the blessing of inspiration through coordinated sound by means of global outreach, which is why I reiterate that this gift we possess and maintain is still widely under appreciated, unfortunately by our own. Rather, some only choose to see the fortune and fame attributed to demonstrating the mastery of said gifts in varied art forms instead of the prerequisite divine due diligence.
In more recent days, several music festivals and stageshows have been organized during and surrounding the festive season of Reggae. Other musical outings of varying natures have been making rounds throughout the year featuring more intimate settings from which to deliver.
Emancipation Park is now firmly established as one such hub, being especially utilized during the Emancipation, Independence, Christmas and Reggae Month periods. Usain Bolt’s Tracks and Records at the Marketplace benefits from a packed house each time artistes headline the Behind the Screen Series that has left patrons savouring their experiences and drooling for much more memorable presentations. Several artistes have even debuted at Tracks and Records after being brought to the fore by a headliner and gone on to headline, themselves. Uprising Reggae Roots Band Raging Fyah have been promoting its own reggae stageshow for almost half a decade now called Wickie Wackie Live. Set on the shores of Wickie Wackie Beach in 9Mile Bull Bay, patrons are pampered with soothing symphonies of Reggae and certain Dancehall tracks right up into the morning with the waves adding a divine backdrop fit for a sensual encounter. Dancehall/Reggae Group T.O.K have also ventured into event promotion with the introduction of the very successful Blue Mountain Music Festival set on the optimally cool hills of Hollywell, in rural St. Andrew. Is it that we are to rely heavily on some of our greatest acts to platform their own talents? I think not. Tony Rebel, another musical legend of our time has established the benchmark event of Rebel Music, namely, Rebel Salute. It is the premier Reggae Music festival which annually generates massive worldwide reggae music pilgrimage to our island paradise. Still, I adamantly perceive that the frequency with which Reggae is hoisted to our local population through such festivals must increase. Not, to take away from the prestige of the cemented Reggae events or of the featured acts but instead to personify its significance to Jamaican and Global culture. Neither theory nor music will stand by themselves in pursuit of such realizations, rather a balance will usher our hearts and minds along the right path.
It is my dream that our population holds dear to us Reggae Music, as we do going to the beach or eating ice-cream on Sundays. In every male-dominant society, each industry of livelihood is male-dominant. The music industry is no exception. Reggae Music is one of the most telling examples of that. Women are hardly seen as influential leaders of the ever growing genre, though they have been very much involved before its inception. In an effort to highlight the feminine touch on Reggae Music, author Heather Augustyn has travelled to extract from some of those women still alive, firsthand insight into their contributions and hardships. Added to that, in her book; Songbirds: Pioneering Women in Jamaican Music, is the untold exploits, endeavours and excursions of Reggae Music’s unsung heroines and warriesses, if you may. That is, of course including the women behind the scenery, publishing and recordings. Apart from that, I am pleased to report that an under appreciation for our Reggae Queens is making a speedy ‘U-Turn’. Women like Queen Ifrica, Etana and Jah9 have reached for and safely brought the baton home from names like Marcia Griffiths, Judy Mowatt, Carlene Davis and Millie Small.
They have faced discrimination in morphing forms no doubt, nevertheless, I am also elated to inform my readers of a new phenomena called ADAHZEH. This is Jamaica’s newest all female band with one lead vocalist. Every other member marshalls an instrument to produce unmatched female harmony. These ‘revivalists’ are being hailed as Reggae’s third generation of musicians by our first generation of the I-Threes and Skatalites to name a few.
There might have been a generational gap between the pioneers and our current trailblazers but in my humble opinion, calling the new found eruption of interest in the genre in Jamaica a revival is a bit of a stretch. Reggae is very much alive in every hemisphere of the world. In the words of Protoje: “How unnu fi seh reggae dead, when a it wi carry on?” He cleverly played on the idea of a ‘Reggae Revival’ with impeccably timed puns in a collaborative effort featuring Romain Virgo. Like the Indiggnation Collective, I share the view that the genre has never suffered from a lack of life so to speak, rather the names and faces of the more responsible custodians have changed. The frontrunners have only, now, began to perform and complete victory laps over a much brighter-painted and faster track. The quality of the sound has never deteriorated or been sapped of vital messages. The Indiggnation Artiste himself, indignantly voiced several concerns he thought more prevalent than others on his Twitter page, where the under-commemoration of Reggae Music is concerned.
The fact that he himself as a reggae artist is publicly speaking out is merely coincidental, because I am almost certain, before artistry, as a fan he could recognize the neglect we have shown to our beloved Reggae Music. Negligence which has shackled the minds of the general population into believing it needed reviving. The same nonchalance is to blame for territories outside of Jamaica being declared Reggae capital of the world.
Photo Credit: REGGAEVILLE.com