BY CHARLES H.E. CAMPBELL
SO far, Jamaica Reggae Industry Association (JaRIA) has staged four Reggae Wednesdays at Emancipation Park, New Kingston. And, the events have grown from strength to strength, both in terms of the performances and patronage.
The most fascinating feature of these events, especially the last one staged on Ash Wednesday, is the attendance of three generations of Jamaicans. Many of the younger generation are having the pleasure of witnessing our internationally known acts in full flight for the very first time in their lives. This is because of a number of factors. Firstly, the shows are being produced free of cost, and they take place in the early evening and usually end before midnight.
Secondly, they're being staged in a central location, with adequate security arrangements.
Thirdly, all the artistes are given adequate stage time to properly showcase their repertoire.
Finally, the conditions under which the artistes are asked to perform restrict the choice of their material to songs which are fit for all members of the family.
Another very satisfying feature is JaRIA's use of young musicians to back some of the pioneering artistes who were at the peak of their careers from the 1960s to the 1980s. The rehearsals for these events have been, in themselves, providing a vehicle for the young musician to learn the works of these masters, and get the opportunity to interface with them directly in a very professional but informal atmosphere. To a larger extent, these musicians are learning the songs and the rich stories of these artistes simultaneously, and this is having an impact on how they now regard the phenomenal international appeal of the reggae brand.
This has provided the kind of dynamic performances that we have seen from our artistes like Mutabaruka, Freddie McGregor, Big Youth, Leroy Gibbons and Tony Rebel during last Wednesday's highlight of singers and DJs. For instance, by the time Freddie McGregor hit the stage as the penultimate act, the entire audience was on its feet, singing and dancing like one big, happy family to his hits that have become virtual reggae anthems, and have done this nation proud for so many years. Then came Cherine Anderson, who closed the show, literally surrounded by children, teenagers, adult females and elder gentlemen who simply would not let her go. Even after Cherine was finished performing, and they knew the show was over, a large majority of the audience remained in the park, savouring every last minute of the patriotic feel that was permeating all present.
We can truly say, the Reggae Month brand has been firmly established and has found a new, permanent home in Emancipation Park. Now, what we need is for the private sector to put its financial and physical resources behind this annual, national celebration of Reggae Music. Without fear of a challenge, this could be the dawn of a Reggae Renaissance in Jamaica, making it the place to be every February.