Thursday, February 14, 2019

Immortalizing Emperor Haile Selassie I

Ethiopian Airlines has on the cover of the January/February 2019 edition of its in-flight magazine Selamta the image here.

This I think this is significant. I recognize alongside the Emperor Haile Selassie I, Julius Nyerere, Jomo Kenyatta, and in another photo, Kwame Nkrumah. These are the elders.

This publication was timely as it was intended to coincide with the unveiling of the commemorative statue of Emperor Haile Selassie I, erected in the compound of the African Union Headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia 🇪🇹

The statue was in fact unveiled on February 10, 2019 quite coincidentally the very same day I landed in and departed from Addis Ababa in-transit. This note by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ethiopia is worthy of freezing for posterity and so I’ve chosen to preserve it in images below:

As the Emperor himself had proclaimed at the first meeting of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) in May 1963, “may this convention of union last 1,000 years,” I will add in support, long live the dream of a united Africa.

#travel #rastafari #panafrican #africa

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Saturday, December 8, 2018

Buju Banton Returns to Jamaica

As a Jamaican living outside of the island, I can say I fully appreciate what it feels like fi come a yuh yaad, and I thought about that joy as I saw the images of Buju Banton arriving at Norman Manley International Airport in Kingston last night. Nutten nuh better dan that at that moment. Suh welcome home breda Buju. Guh a beach. Enjoy it. Enjoy the love of your people who freely give it.

As I read some of the posts, I must admit that I get the complexity of the feelings. I too harbor some conflict when I think of the impact of drugs on our communities. But Buju didn't start this, the reality is that it is systemic, and he got pulled in.

In my own reflection, I've been thinking that folks like me who have a strong development agenda ought to be more aggressive about educating our creatives and others who have come into some money about better investment options. There is no guarantee that many will listen, but our failure is in not trying. Usain Bolt has ventured into the restaurant business and now real estate, for example. Outside of entertainment events, there are also options to invest in hotel and travel, agro-processing, transportation, light manufacturing, media, tech, and offering business financing/funding through the right partners. I can only list these few examples here, but the truth is that there are lots of options that can be pushed and our entertainers and other creatives must be courted by us to prevent devils on airplanes to take down some of our promise. Might we be failing some of our prodigies is not an unreasonable question? This could have been a very different story if Jamaicans could get out of our own way and past our boxed up prejudices, indeed the full has never been told.

Buju was a big part of the soundtrack of my growing up in Jamaica. At one point, it felt like he was releasing a new tune every week - and they were all good. Knowing what I now know about Jamaican music I can truly appreciate how lucky I am to have had that front seat from yaad.

At this point, I'll give Buju the benefit of any doubt I have because he has paid a price far greater than many of us will ever pay for our indiscretions. And who among us is without a few? Life is not an easy road.

I'm heartened by the demonstration of a kind of family love by some of my fellow Jamaicans, where members of the family know that a son might have done wrong, but yet they still reach into their hearts and welcome him home regardless, because ultimately a still yuh family and your humanity cannot bear to see them suffer. I eagerly await hearing and seeing the outcome of this experience from Buju himself in his music and his deeds.

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Sunday, December 2, 2018

Thoughts on Reggae's UNESCO Inscription

Perhaps it seems strange, but I'm in agreement with Dotun Adebayo of The Guardian who wrote the article "Reggae is Jamaica's rebel music - it doesn't need establishment approval". The headline says it all for me. 

Reggae is not some endangered cultural practice.  Reggae music (and other Jamaican music genres) is actually mainstream and not some endangered or regional practice as are the many other things that have received this recognition from UNESCO.  Unfortunately, I think the only people who think that our music in not mainstream might be some Jamaicans. Jamaica’s reggae has long been mainstream with an economy that is global and in many ways independent of the economy of Jamaica. What troubles me is that so many Jamaicans who have the power to help with the development of the industry locally still have this 'whoa is reggae' or this 'poor reggae' view.  I agree with Adebayo that reggae doesn’t need this and it may very well be a kiss of death for reggae’s anti-establishment perceptions.

The irony of this kind of advocacy in Jamaica where some from the anti-establishment are always seeking establishment approval never ceases to amaze me. What ever happened to the Garveyite philosophies of doing for self (including doing as a community)? The discomfort I have with this kind of advocacy is it seems to be relying heavily upon the goodness and mercy of the same people and institutions that have systematically marginalized us. Powerful people never educate (or provide) powerless people with what they need to take the power away from them. So if we are seeking establishment approval then it should be an establishment of our own making, since those who have systematically marginalized you are not going to suddenly change course unless they see a benefit to them, or that you no longer pose a threat.  Adebayo cleverly brings this home in his quote, "turkeys endorsing Christmas come to mind, with the gobblers hatching a cunning plan to turn 25 December vegan." Whatever victories the community feels it’s won here will be outmaneuvered by those who know how to make money from our culture and lifestyle before you've even understood what’s happened.  Conscious Jamaicans cannot continue to cede control of Jamaica to those who don’t believe in a certain kind of far-reaching development of its people and expect that these folks will be doing their bidding.

I'm of the view that if the Jamaican political establishment wants to show their commitment to Jamaica and Jamaicans I think the effort would have been better placed in the creation of institutions for the greater development of the Jamaican language - Patwa. It’s been the vehicle of our collective expression, it’s what many in the world want to speak.  Dennis Howard in his Jamaica Gleaner article, "Jamaican Language Anchoring Cultural Exports" articulated similar sentiments as to why the focus on the Jamaican language is a worthwhile investment of time and resources. I think embracing it will set a foundation for exploring cultural enterprise and additional economic empowerment activities along that avenue.

Admittedly, this might be an important gesture to declare ownership, but this doesn’t solve the underlying problem of Jamaica not being able to claim greater economic benefits from its creations. I get that Jamaica wants to world to know that Jamaica is where the music originated and that’s not a bad thing, and that was achieved, so the question is what’s next? Will the marketing strategy of the Jamaica Tourist Board change to now ensure Jamaica has a presence at all the international Jamaican music festivals to get these potential visitors staying on the island? If there is no plan to explore this then it speaks volumes about the initiative in the first place.

Ultimately, those who advocated this really need to focus more on some self-development, where they find resources to build profitable radio stations, tv stations, controlling real estate, their own financial entities, agri-processing and export businesses, manufacturing enterprises, schools and other institutions that will stand behind them when they speak. I don’t believe pure moral suasion is going to get them any meaningful part of what non-Jamaican investors and others are reaping from our culture.

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Thursday, August 23, 2018

Intellectual Property Policing: Notes from Rototom Sunsplash

Our intellectual property is our gold. We should be taught to treat it as such.

There is a major challenge Jamaican creatives face, and that is the policing of our intellectual property.  Once you’re able to get beyond the excitement and the validation (the ‘smaddification’ experience) of seeing your culture on spectacular display at an event such as the Rototom Sunsplash reggae festival, then you realize that what is on show is Jamaican intellectual property over the years.

For this I’m grateful that many artists themselves are able to benefit by direct participation through performance or by the sale of merchandise in festival venues like these, but I’m also mindful that some Jamaican creatives are not so fortunate.

One question we pondered as we moved through the venue was how effective were the Jamaican artists at estate planning.  This was relevant to us because of the myriad appearances of artists merchandise particularly of those deceased.  

We could only assume that all the merchandise we saw were properly licensed by the estates of these artists, and that their family continued to benefit from the sale of the goods in events such as these.  

I have argued elsewhere that the sale of merchandise is not something that should be taken lightly by artists as in some instances it could become a significant part of their brand extension, sometimes taking on a life of its own, and therefore becoming a meaningful source of income.

There are sub-cultures such as surfing or skateboarding in which Jamaican music and iconography have found a place, but for which Jamaicas from home are not prepared to take full advantage. It is perhaps our being closed off to these types of experiences that have prevented us from innovating ingenious ways to begin to take advantage of these openings that our music and culture have made.


There is something in our thinking that has been allowed to kill aspects of our innovation. As a child, we developed indigenous skates using wood and raw bearings that we would ride downhill, we also made our own wooden skates at that are now sold back to us made of aluminum, and we ditched our pushcarts and pushcart derby.  All these could possibly have grown into something bigger, but it seems we're burdened with a philosophy that has convinced us that as an African diaspora people we have nothing of value coming from below. This in my view is Jamaica’s biggest development challenge because I am of the opinion that whatever the idea capital can be raised, and teams can be organized, providing you have sufficient faith in the value of your ideas. 

Gastronomically speaking, unfortunately for us we found only one Jamaican food vendor at the festival, so presumably there are more opportunities that await enterprising Jamaican food vendors; because everyone likes Jamaican food, right, whether its of the spicy variety, vegan or ital.  Maybe a group of entrepreneurs should get together to explore how we could place more Jamaican food vendors in these venues.  It does seem to be a viable business opportunity.

Jamaica's intellectual property is its gold and we would do well learning how to mine it and investing in the systems that will help Jamaicans to police it.

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Tuesday, August 21, 2018

We Are the Lucky Ones: Reflections from Rototom

In the shopping area of the Rototom Reggae Festival I had the following discussion with a vendor:
Vendor: Where are you from?
Me: Jamaica
Vendor: You’re so lucky!

It’s something to think about. There are a whole set of people, quite likely more than the population of Jamaica, who really think Jamaicans are the lucky ones. This may be hard to believe if you’re Jamaican given our daily life challenges, but there are many people on the face of the earth who think otherwise. 

At the very least this should translate into a boost of confidence at the fact that we have some things right.  This is a boost that’s needed to push us to another level of economic performance.

This Rototom reggae festival is one that keeps on giving and one additional observation I’ve made is the centrality of African-ness to the aesthetic. In essence, the unwritten code is that to be a recognized part of the gathering one must in effect show your African - your red, your green, your gold, or your black. Anything with a hint of Rastafari, Jamaica or Africa works. I’m amazed at the European embrace of the pan-African message ‘Africa Unite’ that I’ve seen on so many tees worn by ordinary Europeans. 

In effect, this really is a full embrace of the Rastafari philosophy made world famous through music. For better or worse our music is embraced globally for themes of peace, love and African unity, rebellion against establishment values, and on another level simply being irie.

There should be no illusions as to the implications of what this means politically for impacting the Jamaican identity from the outside in, and I suspect therein lies a major challenge for the rapid growth of this sector in Jamaica. 

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In the World that Jamaica Made: More Reflections from Rototom

In 2015 Baz Dreisinger wrote an article in Forbes Magazine titled, “Seven Reasons Why Rototom Sunsplash is the World’s Best Reggae Festival”.  Among the reasons she gave were, the music, the grounds, the location, the consciousness, the beach, the food, and the people.  I endorse her comments wholly, because all those observations ring true to what would make a world class music and cultural immersion experience.

As a Jamaican who is concerned about the development and well-being of this globally admired island that is home, I worry that despite the years of effort we have not been able to organize and build systems that enable better returns to the people on the island from our cultural heritage.  If the Rototom Sunsplash team over the years has successfully created to use Dreisinger's words, a ‘veritable Reggae Disneyland’ in Europe then why have Jamaicans not been able to have created a similar experience on the island, where the music forms that are the core of this truly global reggae festival were born? 

Legendary producer Gussie Clarke made an interesting observation on the “Dub Talks” panel here on Sunday, when he said, technology has never really given Jamaicans an advantage, rather our advantage has always been our ability to innovate.  No doubt, a part of the solution we seek will be in the direction of innovation.  I believe that any meaningful answer to the question in the context of Jamaica lies outside of a reliance on central government.  I’ve worked in central government in Jamaica, and I believe that at the moment this institution is not the most effective vehicle to lead this process. Far from it. This may change in the future, but the systems that currently exist are antithetical to innovation of the type Jamaica needs to transform itself into a veritable cultural mecca of the type the 2003 cultural policy titled, Towards Jamaica the Cultural Superstate envisioned.

Consider that according to the officially released Rototom festival information, the festival is 96 percent self-funded with 4 percent public and private contributions. This eight-day festival is in its 25th staging and has welcomed over 2 million 740 thousand festival goers from over 130 different countries around the world. The audience breakdown for 2017 specifically saw 220,000 attendees from 98 difference countries; 13,000 minors under 13; 11,200 adults over 65; and, 7,600 people with disabilities.  I don’t know to what extent these numbers intersect with the markets that the Jamaican government and current tourism interests in Jamaica seek to target.  But one thing that is sure so far in our six days of the festival is that none of the individuals I’ve spoken to have encountered any official who is seeking to market visiting Jamaica to any of us in attendance.  This suggests that this is an opportunity if it is not currently being taken advantage of.

A large part of this festival has been the consumption of alcohol as well as the use of ganja (cannabis or marijuana), and I can’t avoid wondering how a severely class-conscious Jamaican state will negotiate the realities of the integral parts of this experience if we are to allow festivals of this type to attain their full potential on Jamaican soil.  Added to that, the patrons of this festival would hardly be interested in an all-inclusive experience, which means that the stage is set for power struggles if indeed Jamaica means business when it comes to better extracting value from its culture.

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Sunday, August 19, 2018

In the World that Jamaica Made: The Rototom Edition

To attend the Rototom European Reggae Festival is to be granted what is apparently an exclusive privilege to witness the result of Jamaica’s colonization-in-reverse of some Europeans, Asians, Africans and a few other native peoples who have willingly subscribed to a lifestyle shaped and packaged through our music culture and rastafari livity. In this world, God is Jah, and the figures of Emperor Hailie Selassie, Marcus Garvey and Bob Marley loom large - gods and saints with global recognition. This is the world that Jamaica made.

Jamaican culture has managed to do for almost nothing, what other nations and culture spend billions on accomplishing, which is cultural export and lifestyle adoption.  This is a big deal.  The problem is that not too many Jamaicans seem to appreciate this. 

I’ve now been in Spain for three days attending the 25th staging of the Rototom European Reggae Festival, this year being the 9th year in Spain after being held in Italy for 16 years prior.

The display of Jamaican culture on show here is nothing short of mind-blowing if you’re Jamaican, because it is nothing like what you expect if you were born and raised in Jamaica.  Not even in your wildest imagination are you able to fathom the total reproduction of a lifestyle you’ve lived all your life in a place that is so foreign - ironically in Spain, Jamaica’s first colonizer; and this experience is replicated around the globe wherever you find these Jamaica music festivals.

What strikes me as I attend is what an incredible celebration of Jamaica this festival experience is, and quite without a majority of Jamaicans or Jamaican institutions having any administrative input. There is no Jamaican central government involvement, nor Jamaican agencies present, who incidentally are missing a superb opportunity for promoting the island in my view. There is no Jamaica Tourist Board, nor consuls in sight, and so far I have counted less that 8 non-affiliated Jamaicans among us, while 220,000+ non-Jamaican music fans (ska, dub, reggae, and dancehall music fans) gather for seven days in ritual and almost religious celebration of the world Jamaica made. This is simply incredible.  

This for me raises a philosophical question of the role of government versus the role of private capital in development. Because it appears that to date central government has been quite ineffective in taking advantage of several opportunities that present themselves. I don’t propose to have the answer here, but how effective could serious investors be with the right alliances/partnerships versus a dependence upon government or the state to lead on certain development initiatives?  Rototom as it stands now is reportedly 96 percent self-funded, this is worth noting as we seek to determine appropriate responses.

I don’t think for a minute that Jamaica’s position within the scheme of things is one that’s condemned to irrelevance as we move forward, even if in effect we are incidental to the world of reggae festivals outside of the island; but in the very same breath I’m mindful that if significant steps are not taken to be more dynamic participants in this ever evolving world of music and culture that was birthed on the island irrelevance is a foreseeable possibility after a few generations. 

Jimmy Cliff performs at Rototom Sunsplash

Whether we choose to describe the current state of affairs as cultural appropriation or not, the reality of what we have before us is the full-blown Jamaicanization of whole swaths of people who have willingly submitted themselves to viewing the world through the lens and experiences that Jamaica has provided. The question in my view now is how in the scheme of things do Jamaicans not become incidental to the future of this global development of its many forms of music (ska, dub, reggae, and dancehall)? Jamaicans ought to begin to benefit economically from the global celebration of their Jamaican identity that has been shaped through bitter struggle.

I think the time is calling for more sensible business partnerships to realize greater economic benefits for all.