Presented by: Afifa Nzinga Badiliko Aza PhD
A paper presented at the International Reggae Studies Conference at the University of the West Indies, Mona Feb 12 -13 2015
“When Gavin Hutchinson better known as Dutty Bookman suggested the term ‘Reggae Revival’ in November 2011, he gave a burgeoning movement it’s universal identity. Like the legacy of his name, originally belonging to a revolutionary Hatian slave, Hutchinson’s initial intent to inspire local discussion spiraled into world wide recognition of a paradigm shift towards Jamaica’s creative industries.” Tanaka Tiki Roberts JamaicansMusic.com
The Reggae Revival is a good idea. It has all the right elements. A conceptualizer/conceiver, young reggae artist all making a name in the last 3 or 4 years ( who are shown as the face of the Reggae Revival) a connection to Rastafari and a connection to Jamaica, a logo and a presence on the world wide web.
It is a good idea for a product that positions Rastafari and Reggae as youthful, interesting and relevant.
Reggae Revival. The name conjures memories of the return of something very positive and very significant. A nostalgic feeling about the return of a past in the present. A past that will shape the future in all the ways desirable to Rastafari and Rastafari youth artist.
It is difficult for me to make this presentation. It is difficult because I want to be serious but careful about sharing my notes on the Reggae Revival. I want to present what I feel are some real challenges that we have encountered by embracing the idea of a reggae revival here, and in other spaces. I do not want to erase the contribution of individuals around the Reggae Revival, but I want to politicize and problematise the “revival”.
I want to ask us to look more closely and more objectively at what is on offer, what is shaping up and for who? I want us to be honest about what we want and what the Reggae Revival is giving and can give and to who?
“The Reggae Revival” Erasing and writing History
In its birth the Reggae Revival tells the story of the decaying and decadent Jamaican musical landscape and a set of youths who are now saving Reggae, saving Jamaica and restoring Rastafari and righteousness to Jamaica.
On March 5, 2013 a letter to the editor written by Lloyd Standbury was published in the Jamaica Observer with the title; Changing of the guard — the Jamaican music industry. The letter reads;
Yet another Reggae Month has come to an end, and as is customary, I try to reflect on what we have achieved, and where we are headed from a Jamaican perspective.
For me, the highlight of Reggae Month 2013 in Jamaica has been the clear indication, and acceptance by many, that there is indeed a “movement” taking place that is led by a group of energetic and bright young people with deep spiritual and cultural convictions.
I refer to recording and performing artists like Protoje, Jah 9, Chronixx, Kabaka Pyramid, Raging Fyah, Pentateuch, Sky Grass, Di Blueprint, as well as their colleagues mostly from the ManifestoJA Youth Organisation, who provide behind-the-scenes admin and other professional support. At the risk of being criticised for leaving names out, I will still go ahead and mention persons such as Kareece Lawrence, Lesley Ann Welsh, Duane McDonald, Taj Francis, and Dutty Boukman. Together this group of young musical, visual, and literary artists and administrators have engineered and directed the path of what many are now calling the “Reggae Revival”.
The “Reggae Revival” would not be possible without the input of a few “elders” of the local music fraternity. I would mention among these Ibo Cooper, for his tremendous contribution as music teacher at the Edna Manley College, Billy “Mystic” Wilmot, for providing the live performance space at Jamnesia when there were almost no other opportunities, and Tony Rebel, as a festival promoter, for sticking to it for 20 years with Rebel Salute exposing positive Reggae music at all times.
The “Reggae Revival” is happening for sure, but not without its challenges, as is customary when change takes place. For example, there is evidence of a disconnection between the new youth movement and some from the older generation of reggae music standard-bearers. This disconnect manifests in the form of the inability of some youth to directly relate to some of those who paved the way for them. On the other hand, there are several music industry “elders” who seem unwilling to let go and allow the younger generation to lead while they provide guidance and support. Some people just seem to get carried away by their self-created “Gate Keeper” status. Who the cap fits, let them wear it.
It’s time for a changing of the guard, time to join the “Reggae Revival Wagon”. This is one occasion where I will welcome all “wagonists”.
An article appearing in the Japan times on August 26, 2014 by AILEEN TORRES-BENNETT declares: Reggae revival in Jamaica recalls golden era of 1970s
“The main event at fight night in Kingston, a popular boxing showcase, was hours away, but the crowd at the National Stadium’s indoor arena, from the young and hip to the elderly, was already pumped.
When reggae artist Tarrus Riley entered the stage, the screams of the full house were deafening, and the fervor persisted throughout his performance.
A musical and social roots movement called “Reggae Revival” is on the rise in Jamaica, where the raunchier dancehall genre has been king for the last two decades. The revival evokes music from reggae’s golden era of the 1970s, dominated by the late, laid-back legend, Bob Marley, who put reggae on the global map with his catchy tunes and spiritual and socially conscious lyrics.
On June 2013 an article appearing on MTV IGGY begins as follows;
Take a cab ride through Kingston or a mini-bus across the Blue Mountains and you will still hear CD-R mixes of dancehall and American hip-hop from storied Jamaican soundsystems like Stone Love blasting from the speakers. Meanwhile uptown spots of the island’s capital in neighborhoods like Liguanea and New Kingston continue to play Top 40, soul and indie rock with the occasional Bob Marley or Beres Hammond jam thrown in for good measure. But via the support of the radio station IRIE FM and a strong online presence, the reggae revivalists are gaining followers looking for an alternative to the often materialistic themes and digital sound of dancehall. It’s already gained a considerable following across Europe and in the United States, but its popularity within Jamaica remains in question. Though it hasn’t broken through on a mainstream level in Jamaica, it seems poised to grow in popularity.
It is important to write our history, but it is more important to write an honest history, erasure is dishonesty.
I started University in 1997. Two years before Sizzla Kalongi released his first album Burning Up and the same year he released his second album “Praise yeh Jah” which featured tracks like “Black woman and child”. I remember the first time I heard that track I was in Spanish Town waiting at the dressmaker and the song “Black woman and child” was playing loudly from the Barber Shop up the road over and over again. I also remember going to the Gambia and hearing for the first time of this Jamaican Reggae artist Sizzla, I heard him often as I travelled in public transportation and many persons I spoke to knew of him. I remember How Knife and Allan on the University campus and how they would talk about Sizzla Rastafari and ghetto youths as if to suggest the importance of his emergence. I remember Jah cure, Fantom Mojah Iwayne, Ritchie Stephens, Mr. Perfect, Junior X, Warrior King, Natty King, Junior Kelly, Natural Black, Gyptian, Pressure, Norris Man, Turbulence, Etana, Rootz Underground
I remember Words and Rythms the first place I saw Kumar Bennet now lead singer of Raging Fyah perform, I remember Seh Sumpin weekly show at Weekends organized by Clement Hamilton and Howard James, the show regularly featured upcoming and established reggae artist and poets. I remember Jamaica Vibes organized by Jessie Golding, a place for emerging and established Reggae Hip Hop and alternative artist. I remember Tuesday Night live
I remember Elise Kelly and Ron Muschette introducing us daily to new positive reggae artists from all over Jamaica.
In 1994 writing about Reggae in his book the Intellectual Roots of Jah Rastafari Dr.Iman Blakk noted;
Reggae ( Rebel) Music is the Heart beat of the Jamaican people. Through this medium, the philosophy of Rastafari has spread worldwide penetrating the cultural ways of other nations…..Marley and the Wailers Represented the “Voices in the Wilderness, crying out for equal rights and justice for all oppressed people. Chanting get up, stand up, stand up for your rights. This chant of the Rastafarian continues up to the present through modern day reggae acts such as third world, culture mighty diamonds etc …..the positive influence of Rastafari on Jamaican music is now permanent. There appears however to be a new generation of Rastafarian prophets, messengers, musicians, artist etc such as Junior Reid, Garnet Silk, Capelton, and the like who are preparing to advance the message ( music) to even greater heights.
Perhaps what we are witnessing is the problem with Rastafari and the problem with Reggae, the need to orchestrate the continuation of this great tradition and spreading of this essential message rather than planting seeds for organic growth and development in real terms. We become fixated on frontline artist, their age (youth) and their allegiance to Haile Selassie.
We uncritically continue, or neglect to talk about Patriarchy in Reggae, the dominance of males in the music and the unequal positioning of females. We instead create a praise narrative around the lifecycles of the music.
Everybody will claim that Reggae is important including the government, If the most significant thing we can do in the name of Reggae and Bob Marley on Bob Marley’s birthday is to have a Reggae concert then ideas like the Reggae Revival are ripe for occupying the space that it does.
There are no schools, there are no financial institutions, no supermarkets no libraries being built in the name of Reggae in Jamaica, There are no scholarship funds, no home for children without parents built in the name of Reggae and Rastafari, but there is a Reggae Revival, Who is the Revival for?
Reggae only for Rastafari
Well its blazing up in my head
Keeps blazing while the music a spread
Am saying don’t you hear what I said
How reggae music fi dead
Well its blazing up in my head
Its blazing while the music a spread
Am saying don’t you hear what I said
How reggae music fi dead
How dem fi say reggae dead when a it we carry on
And I keep it with me like its my carry on
So mek me show you quickly how dat ting yah run
And I got my people with me professor Corleon
Different kind a energy
Listen we style and Melody
Check out the message listen how it so clear and steadily
Feel nice everytime when the bass a play so heavily
A reggae music all over dat a di remedy
Protoje and Romaine Virgo do an interesting track called the Reggae Revival. It is interesting because both are considered as Reggae artist, Protégé is a revivalist (in fact, dubbed the leading artist in the revival) and Romain Virgo is not. Romaine asks, how Reggae music fi dead? When it a blaze up innah him head? Protoje responds “don’t cry, this is not a funeral a just the reggae music we a carry on.
In this song we find an important conversation with a simple resolution; what you are saying about Reggae is not true. We don’t understand it as every being dead or not present to us and therefore if it was never dead it cannot be revived. We are not saying it was ever dead we are simply saying we are continuing the great work of reggae artist before us. Okay if that is what you are saying there is no need to uniquely position that simple fact.
I want to also point out the tendency for us to constrain the expression of a diversity of music from Jamaica in favour of Bob Marley’s Music-Reggae. I want to point out how the idea of the Reggae Revival and attempts to promote and establish it as important now and critical to a cultural and social revolution neglects the existence of other expressions of music from Jamaica or other expressions of Reggae music. What about developments in Jazz who knows about Avant garde music school and Seretse Small, Kat Chr and Soft Rock music from Jamaica?, Who wants to know about ZANJ RADIO? Who wants to know about the Free Willes, Dominique Brown and the great musical tradition of Red Bones?. What significant thing did Tony’s Bar give birth to? What about the Poetry society? What about Jamaicans Jamel Hall and Ze Noir? Does Tanya Stephens, Christopher Martin, or Cherine Anderson, sing Reggae?
It is even more dangerous to promote the idea that positivity in Jamaica, in Jamaican music is to only be found in Reggae, and that ideas that will bring positive change in Jamaica can only come from Rastafari.
Vbyz Kartel, Beenie Man, Bounty Killa, Ninja Man, Lady Saw, Spice, what have they said?
The simplicity of positive and negative lyrics or good and bad music or Reggae and Dancehall is not adequate to see the nuance, the complexity and the complexion of a form of expression that different types of people in different types of circumstances create. Jamaican music is not only Reggae. Reggae should not only be for Rasta.
For me when we start looking at things like this. We set things on a different trajectory. A trajectory that allows things to grow.
Who is the Reggae Revival? And can you join?
The Reggae Revival artist are said to be bringing back “the roots reggae sound” to reggae. Suggesting that these artist have a hardcore commitment to this style and sound of Reggae. It is definitely one of the arguments used to highlight the value that these artists bring.
This is an assertion we must question if we seek to truly understand the development of this movement but also to see how we can tell the stories of where these youths find inspiration in the Roots Reggae sound beyond an interest in Bob Marley and other artist of the day like him.
I will site three examples here which indicate a dubiousness of the argument about the artist of the Reggae Revival bringing back an original roots sound if anything the Roots Reggae sound is convenient for the market in which these artists operate, Europe. Why wouldn’t the world be excited to see what “next Jamaica brings in terms of sound. I think the world is interested, but markets are not.
Protoje emerged on the scene singing “Arguments” and “Dread” songs which I think you need to listen to again and tell me where you would describe that song as roots reggae.
I met Kabaka Pyramid as a versatile rapper and lyricist with strong African and Kemetic presentations with a reggae style infused
Jah 9 has always been a proponent of a new sound called Dub on Jazz
Can we listen again and talk about how there reflects this? Why construct stories about Roots Reggae?
Who is the Reggae Revival for?
Social Class Social Networks and where the ground is swelling
I cannot recall the exact reference for the video Interview Protoje did while in Europe, so I haven’t transcribe it here. Protoje is asked by the interviewer to tell him who new can he expect from the Reggae Revival? Which new artist can he expect to hear? With much hesitation Protoje mentions Runkus and Sevanna.
This is not surprising considering how these artist are connected. You have to understand how circles and social class are connected how they give you access to people and financial resources. I was hoping that Protoje might mention Jah Anigh or Unorthodox artist from Allman town with lots of talent, I was hoping he could say Sistah Quana a Rasta daughta from Clarendon.
If I were a Music journalist from Europe or Japan, if I was a Promoter or a Radio Show host I wouldn’t have any need to understand or even question social class and social networks, but as someone living and working in Jamaica where we can see directly how lack of access affects your life and the opportunities to create the kind of life you want then we have to notice this and ask questions about this, because it is important.
Africa Social Leadership and Community
A few years ago maybe in 2008 and 2009 there was an emerging movement called Manifesto Jamaica with Dutty Bookman Lesly Welsh and Kareece Lawrence leading the movement. The conversation at the time was that arts and culture education and exposure was critical for the youths and the Manifesto team set out to spread this vision across Jamaica. Manifesto Jamaica was a popular movement attempting to bring more arts and culture education to Jamaica. Since there first main festival of Artical Exposure at the Edna Manley College in 2009, they have been less visible in this work.
What is clear is that there is a search for some solutions and there is a vision for Jamaica and a commitment to the principles of Rastafari. But who is the Reggae Revival for?
According to Dutty Bookman in a post on his website;
Reggae Revival is like a sugar-coated pill. One purpose of branding it, as people might say, was to make it easy to swallow in today’s marketing-driven world where brand identity can hold people’s attention. Yet I know that it is really medicine that many people in this world need. For people who don’t swallow it fast, it can become a bitter experience when the sweet part is done. Are you picking up?
I find his honesty appealing and interesting because it provides us with the opportunity to ask the questions that are fundamentally important to ask. The question that generations to come will reflect on. Does providing sugar coated- pills make for good foundations for movements and revolutions? What kinds of revolution are we building? In movement building is it necessary to reference a number of Elders from a number of places, time periods and genders? Is it important to carefully but consistently navigate capitalist models of telling our stories, sharing our work. It is important that we provide alternative models for the development of community or building movements. It is important that we always stay aware of our access, power responsibility and how we can continue to perpetuate the same systems of inequality which we name as Babylon.
Selena Edmonds was 8yrs old when she was sexually assaulted and her throat cut. Vanessa Kirkland was 16 yrs old when she was murdered by police in Greenwich Town. Dwayne Jones a teenage gay youth was chopped to death by a mob in St.James. four women including an 8 yr old girl was raped in St.James. A disabled man in a wheelchair was run over by a JUTC bus. The Minister of Education announced that Religious Education must be mandatory in schools. A youth was shot and killed in Tivoli last week. Little boys are physically abusing little girls. Little African girls want to be beautiful like Kaci Fennell and Tessane Chin because black is still not beautiful. Who is the Reggae Revival for?
It is important that we see the importance of creating ideas and spreading values that make real fundamental shifts. We need schools, we need love, we need justice, we need to talk together, we need good food, we need to take care of our elders and ancestors, We need to learn to understand ourselves.
I will end with a reflection from a Banto Kongo proverb. Kongo or Kikongo, is the Bantu language spoken by the Bakongo and Bandundu people living in the tropical forests of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Republic of the Congo and Angola.
Kala n’longi a kanda mbo wazaya mayenda mu kanda
Be a community teacher/ Leader in order to know what goes on within the community. The real wisdom of a society and its very basic needs are only known by those who mingle within the reality of people’s daily lives in society.
Who is the Reggae Revival for?