African consciousness in reggae reflects in the name

By Basil Walters Observer staff reporter

Friday, January 08, 2010    

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Vintage roots reggae was the main ingredient of what was the soundtrack of Linton Kwesi Johnson's highly stimulating talk on African Consciousness in Reggae Music at Villa Ronai on Sunday evening.

In his signature hat and glasses, the internationally acclaimed spoken word performer, in a different role, was no less commanding and spell-binding in his insightful interpretation and analysis of the African centred lyrical content of foundation reggae.

"Fire," declared the veteran dub poet, "is clearly still a potent metaphor of retribution in Rasta discourse. Like Marley's Slave Driver, songs like Peter Tosh's 400 Years, Burning Spear's Old Marcus Garvey, Bob Andy's I've Got to Go Back Home, are not just expressions of African Consciousness, they also critique post-colonel Jamaica."

Having treated the large audience at the Old Stony Hill Road venue to all of the above mentioned musical treasures plus a few others of the same calibre, with assistance from Mutabaruka at the control, the celebrated poet explained that the African-centerness in roots reggae is also reflected in the moniker by which some artistes are known.

"Sometimes expressions of African consciousness in reggae take the form of naming. For example, groups give themselves names like the Abbysinnians, the Ethiopians, Burning Spear, Queen Ifrica, Mutabaruka, Sizzla Kolonje," noted the Jamaican born entertainer based in Britain also known as LKJ.

"Some songs lament the loss of identity," he goes on. "In the song Give I Fi I Name, Pablo Moses demands of the coloniser the return of his original African name and he does so with humour."

There was a tremendous outburst of laughter when he quipped " A couple of lines I particularly like from that song state: 'When I reached Ethiopia I feel embarrassed after telling I idrens I name Morris."

Continuing his music lesson, LKJ went on to explain further; "Similarly during the ska era Lord Brynor in Congo War treated the theme of loss of name with irony. Africa becomes iconic and takes on a Utopian dimension in some reggae songs. The group Third World for example, mythologised Africa in their song Tribal War as a place where there was an absence of tribal conflict. The Abbysinnians in their song Sattamassagana described Africa as a place where there is no night only day. Bunny Wailer's Dreamland is perhaps the best example of African consciousness as Utopia in reggae."

The event, which also saw performances from one of the foundation dub poetess Jean Binta Breeze who also is now living in England, Joan Andrea Hutchinson who read from her latest book Kin Teet Kibba Heart Bun, Robert Graham and a cameo appearance from Ras Tukura, marked the launch of the Global Reggae Studies Centre.

The centre is an initiative of Dr Carolyn Cooper who has done pioneering work to establish reggae studies as an academic enterprise in Jamaica and internationally.

In 2008, Dr Cooper chaired the organising committee of the unprecedented Global Reggae Conference which she conceived. Hosted by the University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona where Dr Cooper is professor of literary and cultural studies, the international conference documented the impact of reggae on every continent. Streamed live on the internet, thanks to FLOW, the conference is archived on the UWI-TV website.

"We are going to do more of this kind of public lecture for this training programme that I want to do for the industry. Things like event planning. And I have another course that I'm going to be doing called English for Entertainers. A lot of them entertainers need to learn English. I am going to do things like legal issues, immigration issues. A whole series of seminars that people can help to professionalism themselves in the industry," Dr Cooper told Splash.




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