February is Reggae Month in Jamaica – But Does the Government Really Care About the Music?

2 Feb

At the beginning of the year, Jamaican PM Bruce Golding declared February Reggae Month throughout the country in perpetuity. A number of reggae-related events had already been planned, including UWI’s Global Reggae Conference from February 18-24, and the Africa Unite/Smile Jamaica series of events, culminating in a big concert on the 23rd.

Ironically, Golding’s declaration came at the heels of embarrassing news of the Jamaican government’s own neglect of the country’s cultural history. Someone wandering into the archives of the defunct Jamaica Broadcasting Corporation discovered something strange: the shelves were empty! Authorities learned that over the course of several years, thieves lifted 80% of the archives, which were under the watch of the National Archives, off the shelves. The JBC, launched in 1959, was the country’s first state-owned station, and the first to promote Jamaican music and culture. The missing contents of the archive — hundreds of vinyl records and thousands of recorded material from the nascent age of reggae music — is a huge loss for the history of Jamaica and Jamaican culture. The best the Minister of Culture could do was ask people around the world to call her offices if they come across a historic reggae record that might have been stolen.

This thoughtful essay by former PM Edward Seaga not only condemns what he perceives as the government’s — and entire nation’s — lack of reverence for history, but also includes a tirade, then brief history, on dancehall music, and the elder statesman’s own frustration in attempting to keep records of his political career in a country that doesn’t seem to care much about its past.

Perhaps participants of the Global Reggae Conference later this month can use the occasion to make sure Golding’s apparent interest in reggae music goes beyond the declaration of heritage months, and that the government will do more to preserve Jamaican culture in the future than it has in the past.

8 Responses to “February is Reggae Month in Jamaica – But Does the Government Really Care About the Music?”

  1. dbqueen February 6, 2008 at 12:40 am #

    Hey, interesting article! In honor of reggae for the world, I’m going to play my fave reggae inspired music – Manu Chao! Not Jamaican, but more of a citizen of the world than anything else. He would def be interested in this. check out http://www.myspace.com/manuchao

  2. Nadine McNeil February 6, 2008 at 7:11 am #

    Reggae Large – at home and abroad

    “When you hear the music, you feel no pain. So hit me with music, hit me with music…Trenchtown Rock, ah seh don’t watch dat, Trenchtown Rock whether yuh ah big fish or sprat” (Bob Marley’s ‘Trenchtown Rock’)

    As ‘Trenchtown Rock’ denotes, reggae music knows no boundaries – whether you’re a big fish or a small [sprat] one.

    February, the earth month of Reggae Extraordinaire Robert Nesta Marley has been named Reggae Month by the Government of Jamaica. The timing is perfect, given that it is also Black History Month – when the Diaspora is invited to reflect upon its past, present and future, of which reggae’s massive contribution to our liberation remains undisputed.

    A ‘born Jamaican,’ it never ceases to amaze me that wherever I travel throughout the world – from Africa to New Zealand – once I announce my nationality, reference is immediately made to my music; Reggae. Awestruck, I wonder, how is it possible that a tiny country of 2.5 million people is able to have such a profound global impact? Simply put, reggae music by its very nature – its slow rhythmic beat, heavy on the base, decisive on the drums, edgy on the treble yet smooth on the harmony – reaches deep into our solar plexus and touches our hearts. No one hears reggae and remains unmoved. ‘So hit mi wid music, hit mi wid music now.’

    With few exceptions, many of our reggae success stories were born out of inner-city communities, plagued with their [un]fair share of social ills. Given the commonality of poverty – lack of food, shelter, clothing, access to education and proper healthcare – reggae is the universal music that binds all who suffer. ‘When one of us suffers, we all suffer.’ So strong is reggae’s unifying force.

    Present day realities demand that one lives from a place of consciousness which ultimately gives rise to community. How then does this translate within the reggae community?

    From the gendered standpoint, female artistes with an emphasis on dancehall – from Sister Nancy to Tanya Stephens, Queen Ifrika to the controversial Lady Saw – continue to have an impressive impact on a music that remains brutally masculine. These women dare to respond to their dancehall brethren on issues that many would shy away from. These female forces are demonstrating to the ‘fraternity’ as well as on the global stage that they too have a voice that needs to be heard, in a world where so many women are silenced for one reason or another.

    Given reggae’s universal sphere of influence, as we reflect upon Reggae Month, the question before us is simple: while we ‘edutain’ how do we effect change at home and abroad? Like rap [music] – essentially an off-shoot of reggae – it is often criticized for being brash, crude and in some instances downright vulgar. Perhaps more to the point is the fact that reggae music is incredibly confronting and in today’s fast paced world, few of us make time for self-inquiry.

    Reggae has come a long way in gaining recognition as a distinct genre of music. Undeniably we are an influential player on the world stage. For this, there is cause to celebrate. Even more so is the solid endorsement given by UNESCO – the leading world body on sustaining culture – in congratulating Jamaica for [finally] giving its music [over]due reward.

    With this level of support, there is solid justification for us to step forward and use reggae instrumentally as a tool within the humanitarian world to address and ultimately end many of the plights that the vast majority of the world continues to struggle with – AIDS, poverty, domestic violence, child abuse, malnutrition, lack of education and ‘dis-ease.’ To achieve this, like every other viable industry, it will require committed support backed by appropriate funding.

    ‘Open your eyes and look within. Are you satisfied with the life [world] we’re living in?’ (Bob Marley’s ‘Exodus’)

  3. Kathy Owen February 6, 2008 at 10:55 am #

    Yet again it was a great pleasure to read your entry. This one in particular resonated with me, not only because of my involvement in the industry (past and present), but also because of how much I depend on music to sustain my energy or alter my mood. It is an integral part of my daily existence and something I have yet found a way to do without. Regardless of what genre is your choice, music brings with it not only emotional satisfaction but also message. Reggae for me has an even more special standing not only for the obvious reasons, but for the fact that it has proven to be the utmost unifier in bringing people (of so many different cultures) together.

    I too find myself beaming whenever people the word over make positive references to our island because of reggae the moment they learn I am Jamaican.

    With this in mind we should all therefore remember just how effective a tool this medium can be to encourage change (at home and abroad) … and thus use it wisely. Reggae stalwarts have long used the form as their instrument to voice social concerns and it is along this line that those who currently hold the attention of the youth should [as well] use it to uplift and inspire.

    Thanks again for your insight and reminder. Reggae music has been one of the greatest vehicles that have placed Jamaica prominently on the map and it is indeed about time that we gave it the appreciation and acceptance it deserves.

    Please keep up the wonderful sharing.

    Kathy Owen.

  4. Ricky February 6, 2008 at 9:34 pm #

    I think that this is a sad development in the preservation of Jamaica’s cultural memory. While I like to believe that physical items can be replaced while human lives cannot, it is sad to me that these items were stolen and the crime evidently is not being pursued. Thank you for highlighting issues like this!

  5. L. Moyston February 7, 2008 at 12:50 pm #

    The recognition of Reggae music is a good idea. However this music springs from and is rooted in a Creole culture, so if you recognise the fruit then you must recognise the root!

  6. Michael February 7, 2008 at 6:48 pm #

    Hey Nadine:
    Boom Boom Boom!
    loving it.
    Keep on writing – I will send people to this wonderful blog.
    Michael Holgate

  7. Adrianna February 12, 2008 at 3:05 pm #

    It both astonishes me & it doesn’t – that reggae is so world reknown. It’s fundamental. Its 4 x 4 time with the ‘i-check’ on the bass is the same as our heart beat. It is also the same time/beat as all march music & therefore entrenched in our psyches on a historical level. But on a much more universally unconscious level, Jamaica seems to have permeated street culture profoundly. I have a female prisoner client of Turkish nationality, born & bred in the east end of London, lived on the streets thru her teenage years & she has that ‘street’ accent that is almost entirely Jamaican, with all the words & all the inflections & gestures. Her boyfriend is Bangladeshi & he does too. Another one is Columbian, the same. Another one half Pakistani & half Afghan. All born & bred here, but if I shut my eyes, I might as well be standing at Half Way Tree. Now that’s deeply impressive. At the cinema the other day a youth came in (Somalian) with his locks in his tam & he greeted the youth (Greek) selling ice creams, whose locks were down. I never thought I’d live to see the day.

  8. Anton Shim February 3, 2009 at 4:36 pm #

    Until Jamaica learns to embrace its African heritage it will never respect its history. We hate our language. We fought the rastas. We taught our children reggae music was ‘bugguyagga’, ‘streggae’ music – and for what reason? Because we still are struggling to run from our sordid history. Jamaican people know so little about their past that it’s a disgrace. A Ghanan woman told me that they are taught over there that the culture of Jamaica comes from Ghana. How many Jamaicans know this? How many Jamaican children know that the reason Jamaicans bleach is because under slavery, a certain percentage of white mixture brought freedom? I had a Jamaican lady argue with me that this was not so, when it is in the history books on the very own book shelves of Jamaica. Jamaicans have confused their own history with the programs shown on cable during American Black History Month! So much so, we have reggae videos showing Jamaican slaves jumping over brooms… I am a Jamaican, and I love Jamaica. And as such I know that as Jamaicans, deep down inside, we still hate ourselves.

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