Entertainment

S Africa moving to reggae's drum

BY CECELIA CAMPBELL-LIVINGSTON Observer staff reporter livingstonc@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, March 30, 2014    

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This is the six of a 10-part series looking at the impact of dancehall/reggae culture around the world.

SINCE the dark days of apartheid, reggae has played a pivotal role in South Africa.

Jamaican music still thrives in that country, which has produced its own reggae titan in singer Lucky Dube, who was murdered in October 2007.

Gavin Paul Jolliffe, a white show promoter who lives in a village called Asburton on the outskirts of Pietermaritzburg in the province of Kwazulu Natal, says the reggae scene in that region is small compared to other major centres.

"During the rise of reggae music in the '70s and '80s, South Africa was in the middle of a war in Angola and an uprising, and access to international media was restricted by the then apartheid government. So we missed out on much of the positive music flowing at the time," he told the Sunday Observer by e-mail.

According to Jolliffe, it was the white population with control over media who were exposed to reggae. Black domestics who worked in their homes heard the music of Bob Marley and Peter Tosh and told friends about their powerful message.

The first black medium that exposed reggae in South Africa was an independent magazine called Drum.

"Then, surprisingly, Jimmy Cliff toured South Africa (in 1980) and reggae caught on in the black communities," Jolliffe recalled.

He added that during that period, Tosh generated a lot of excitement through his visit to Swaziland, another southern African country.

Today, there is a growing Rastafarian community in 'Kwazula' and an annual Bob Marley Earthday in the port city of Durban, hosted by The Meditators, a leading reggae band.

Jolliffe is presently working with a young band called Undivided Roots, a sibling group for whom he acts as "father, promoter, manager and driver".

In addition, he promotes the Rockstone Band out of Cape Town.

Jolliffe says reggae fans in Kwazulu have discriminating tastes.

"Dancehall is catching on fast, but the scope is even wider for reggae," he stated. There is support for roots-reggae and the more commercial tones of British band UB40.

Jolliffe says there are about 10 reggae bands in Kwazulu with the most popular being The Meditators who are from Durban.

One of the biggest challenges for reggae in the province is lack of airplay on mainstream radio stations. Smaller stations, however, are playing more of the music.

As far as shows are concerned, Jolliffe notes that not many overseas reggae acts perform in Durban.

"In fact, most promoters pass it by. But if a place in our country that has potential/environment to host reggae bands, it's Durban with its tropical climate and beaches," he said.

Jolliffe's passion for reggae music began after seeing a painting of Marley's Uprising album on a wall. He recalls music blasting from the yard "with the sweet smell of ganja in the air".

"It was like I had come home. Reggae/Rasta touched my soul and never left. Being white and an activist, disagreeing with the system was tough, but reggae gave me focus," he said.

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