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.