Reggae rises in Wall's ruin

By Kediesha Perry
Observer writer

Monday, November 11, 2019

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AS the world recognises the 30th anniversary of the demolition of the Berlin Wall in Germany, veteran music insider Copeland Forbes is marking a milestone, of sorts.

“I was the first person to take reggae music into East Germany after the wall came down. It came down in November '89 and January '91, I was there on tour with Marcia Griffiths, Freddie McGregor, Dennis Brown and Mutabaruka. We played about four or five shows over there, and it was just amazing. The people were so locked away from the rest of the world, that reggae was new and different to them,” he told the Jamaica Observer.

The 12-feet high, 87-mile long wall was built as the Cold War intensified in 1961 with Germany divided into two nations: Communist East and Democratic West.

While the wall was standing, Forbes said reggae was extremely popular in the west. However, there was tension in the east where reggae was prohibited.

“Reggae couldn't go there at all. To how the East Germans were so locked away from society, when we finally got to go there it was like they were still living in the 17th century. I remember before the wall came down and we had to drive through the east to get to the west, how much they would search us and search the vehicle thoroughly because escapees would try to leave in vehicles...so they would search under the seats and so on,” Forbes said.

Forbes has a memento of his ground-breaking tour of the former East Germany. He said he spent hours hammering a section of the remains of the Berlin Wall to get a piece of history.

“When we could finally bring our music into East Germany, I remember passing the wall and I just had to stop to get a piece. The driver was so annoyed because we spent a long time trying to break off a small piece, but because it was so thick it took a long while. Today, I have it as a reminder,” he said.

Today, reggae is massive in united Germany. The country hosts Summerjam, the largest reggae festival. It is held in Cologne.

“It's the biggest thing there now. Right now, the biggest festival is Summerjam. The people of Germany embrace reggae more than anything else and I am proud that I was able to introduce it to parts that never knew of it before,” stated 72-year-old Forbes, who started in the music industry during the late 1960s as a singer with various groups. He branched into management in the 1970s when Jamaican artistes began touring Europe and North America.

In more than 50 years, he has worked with reggae's elite artistes including Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, Jimmy Cliff, John Holt and Gregory Isaacs.

In 2017, Forbes was awarded the Order of Distinction by Jamaica's Government for his contribution to the development of the country's music.


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