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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