Reggae at 50
OLD time people used to say: "Cow don't know di use a him tail till him loose it."
Outside of formal sessions, I have been having a series of discussions with delegates attending the University of the West Indies' Sir Arthur Lewis Institute of Social and Economic Studies (SALISES) 50/50 conference. The most popular issue that these delegates have raised with me time and again is the current raging debate about whether Jamaica is the headquarters of reggae.
Using any objective measuring stick, be it size, and frequency of festivals and shows, volume of music products sold, or successful artists/musicians, sadly we are no longer in pole position.
Those readers that follow my columns already know that as painful as it is for me, personally, to admit, on the issue of whether Jamaica is still the headquarters of reggae, I stand squarely with Lloyd Stanbury. While a lot of revisionists have been attempting to distort the accurate genesis and history of reggae music, and we have not taken decisive steps to protect our musical legacy, it is beyond dispute that Jamaica is the birthplace of reggae. For me, to find it necessary to even state that fact, is a symptom of our dismal failure, as a country and an industry, to ensure that Jamaica is given due recognition for the creation of this internationally popular musical genre.
The more profound issue at the moment however, is whether or not Jamaica is entirely missing the boat, in terms of not exploiting the true potential to make substantial foreign exchange earnings from marketing this unique national resource. European countries like Germany and France, which I accept are larger economies than ours, are generating more annual revenue from the production and distribution of reggae related products as well as the staging of live shows. For example, between those two countries alone, there are more than 500 ska bands, yet Jamaica struggles to sustain only two. YARD Beat was formed in 1995 and released their first album 'Strait from Yard', in North America, over 10 years ago. Currently, they are in studio putting the final touches to an impending release called Ska Magic. This group includes a roster of stellar musicians such as Barry Bailey - trombone, Everton Gayle - sax, Vivian Scott - trumpet, Keith Francis - bass, Patrick Anderson - drums, Joy Fairclough and Anthony Johnson on keyboard and Portland White on guitar.
The second aggregation, appropriately called Ska Rebirth, is lead by the legendary Sparrow Martin, master drummer and director of the Alpha Boys School music programme. The group essentially consists of past students from that institution. They have made the Skatalites' foundation catalogue a major part of their repertoire. Ska Rebirth did a scintillating performance at the Jubilee village during our recent independence celebrations which achieved worldwide media coverage. One German media house in particular, in reporting stated: "Sparrow Martin, Ska Rebirth... Ska God... terrible among men."
The reality is that because of our failure to sustain ska's popularity locally, Jamaica has never had more than two locally based active ska bands at any point in our history. While a lot of artistes and musicians include ska songs and or tunes, as a part of their repertoire, we have had very few successful Jamaican bands devoted exclusively to the genre.
This is just the tip of the iceberg... more anon.