Reggae: Stand Up!


For the past week, but also for the past few years, I have been deeply considering questions about the politics of reggae’s emergence, evolution, diffusion and, reception by various audiences, not least of which is the audience right here at home.

There are days when I wonder about the connection between reggae of old and that of new reggae, their agendas and the seeming disjuncture between what was created then and now, particularly in an age when moral compasses are thought to be badly needed. Of course a major issue in this contemporary millennial moment, is that many call Jamaica reggae’s home, but still others will tell you that the largest producers and consumers of reggae are in Europe.

While I have no anxiety over the moral questions of today, I do have concerns about the disjuncture that has loomed large in terms of the propensity for bubblegum music while we speed daily towards new icons and erosion of the basic elements of live instrumentation in the music produced at home in Jamaica.

What explains today’s reggae divide? What has changed? Why are today’s youth more interested in bubblegum music than the philosophically and spiritually potent reggae and its rhythms? These are serious questions being posed and analysed in various circles, in various ways. For example, an article in the Sunday Gleaner of October 7, 2012 cites veteran reggae / dancehall producer Gussie Clarke saying that ‘what was needed was more musicians, producers and great engineers, instead of just people building “riddims” (see full text of the article here)

Without full answers to such questions though, I found the voice of one anthropologist and how she sees reggae and its role as an instructive reminder. Linda Aïnouche’s article entitled Reggae, A Force for Dialogue turned up in my Facebook inbox at an opportune moment, and as I read it there were important resonances.

For now, I want to say to all that reggae may seem to be on the decline in a local Jamaican musical marketplace and in the sensibilities of the youth, but not so in the international sphere. What do we really know about reggae internationally? Who are the veterans emerging with little or no reference point to Jamaica as the home of reggae? Are the reggae producers at home making links with such artists? These and other questions are the impetus behind my forthcoming book The Politics of Pilgrimage.

I leave you with the following quotes from Linda Ainouche’s (2012) article:

“Reggae music blew up with a bang to the resistance movement against imperialism in the 1960s. It started in Kingston, Jamaica, and has conquered the world and acquired an emblematic Rastafarian character, but an understanding of its fundamental nature is still lacking.”

“Perhaps roots reggae is currently less palpable, but it remains a potent form of dialogue that challenges the hegemony of supremacy and racism. Inspired by Abraham Lincoln’s words, you need only listen carefully to Bob Marley and The Wailers:

“You can fool some people sometimes
But you can’t fool all the people all the time
So now we see the light,
We gonna stand up for our rights!””

See Linda’s full article here here