Let’s Talk Reggae
When the great Daddy U-Roy passed away last month I thought to myself, “How many youths in Jamaica know of this cornerstone of Jamaican music?”
After an honest reflection it occurred to me that it was much later in my life that I knew about him and his legacy. As someone born and raised in Jamaica this, to me, is a disgrace and should never happen.
In a small country that has impacted the globe with the most spiritually, socially, politically and vibrationally potent music of the modern era, it is saddening to know that an increasingly large number of our very own citizens take for granted, and in many cases are totally ignorant of, the history and impact of our own music and culture. Our music has literally inspired revolutions in Zimbabwe and South Africa and transformed the lives of millions worldwide through the teachings of Rastafari embedded within the music. Social justice, ganja advocacy, unity and one love are some of the themes that are a part of the identity of Jamaica from the international point of view. But how many of us in Jamaica feel that way within our own hearts and minds.
Every group has a soul, known to some as an egregor. This can be thought of as a collective identity that binds the group and is fed by the thoughts and actions of the group. In my opinion, the egregor of Jamaica is still largely colonial and Christian. In a perpetual attempt to please our slave masters we deny the fruit of our own culture and people the national status it so rightfully deserves. In Jamaica there is little room for the Rasta — usually ganja smoking — image in reggae and the “boogooyagga” of dancehall within the typical colonial, Christian mindset. When entertainment is needed these expressions are called upon, but when investment is needed for the development of the industry it falls on deaf ears. Tourism is aimed at north coast beaches and not the brilliant festivals we put on year to year. The Jamaica Reggae Industry Association (JARIA) has fought for years to establish Reggae Month with little budgetary support from the Government until recent times, while other sectors of government are flooded with funds which have little impact on or benefit to the inner city.
The mindset has to change towards our music — our national product. We have to see the value in it, because the rest of the world has already seen it and is capitalising. We have to see the creative industries as legitimate paths of employment and not side jobs or hustles. This theme was very import for me to stress in the video for my song Believe.
Too many children’s natural talents are stifled by the traditional colonial education system that places creative arts and sports in the back seat. We have to find fun and interactive ways to incorporate the history of our music into early childhood education and give our children a sense of pride in knowing that their ‘Jamaicanness’ is cherished worldwide, and show them examples of long-term success so that they don’t have to follow every trend just for the hype. Let them see that managers, photographers, creative directors, fashion designers, mixing engineers and producers have all been successful parts of the whole that make up the music industry, and they don’t all have to be the next Kartel or Sizzla or Bob Marley. At the secondary level our youth can be exposed to these different roles in more detail as music is incorporated into the vast sections of the school curriculum.
If we manage to do this over time, we will see a more professional approach to the music business that can be appealing to the private sector for investment and development. The responsibility, though, is on the Government to work with and provide funding for organisations to do the statistical analytical research to properly assess the current state of the industry with respect to the past in order to project long into the future. One of the greatest obstacles to this effort is the short-term focus that is an inevitable result of the political system in place. Parties are only focused on what can be done in the short term while they are in power, and then the rest of their effort is to retain that power. Who is focused on the long-term sustainable development of the country and in particular, our greatest asset, the creative industry? I personally feel we would be better off with one Government that can steer the country towards industrialisation, production, manufacturing and emphasise the development of the creative industries to provide opportunities for all its citizens so that they can have a respectable standard of living.