Many of the problems we face in Jamaica today stem from the maintenance of segregated ideals perpetuated towards each other through misunderstanding and misjudgment across our various ‘Jamaicas’ — whether uptown, downtown, mid-town, around town, or rural town.
This misjudgment has always bothered me, and creating avenues for dialogue and engagement is essential. It's the first step toward purposeful social acceptance, social justice, and social understanding of who we all are as one people. Saying we are "Out of Many, One People" has never existed in the Jamaica in which I was born and raised. From my growing up, I had first-hand knowledge of Jamaican class segregation after my Lebanese father from Kingston chose to marry my African Chinese mother from St Catherine. But that story is for another time. Suffice it to say it was our reggae and dancehall music that helped me through periods of outright rejection from a few unenlightened members from my father’s side of the family.
So when I was six, I started my love affair with reggae and early dancehall music. I forced my mother to take me downtown to buy my first 45 single records of A Wha Duh Dem by Eek-a-Mouse and Zunguzung by the great Yellow Man. By the time I was a teenager, my reggae and dancehall collection was meaningful, ranging from Bob Marley, Third World, Steel Pulse, Black Uhuru, Jose Wales, Michigan and Smiley, Dennis Brown, and the list goes on.
As a child, I could not resist our music, its syncopated rhythms, and the way the drum and the bass lines pierced all of my nerve endings. I found it hypnotic, moving me courageously in directions at every stage of my development. The lyrics constantly reminded me that I could become a revolutionary of my generation driven by a universal purpose grounded in understanding and love for all people, especially Jamaican people.
In my late teens, I would convince my parents to let me go to 'Front Line', on Red Hills road, 'Super D', out by Harbour View, 'Rae Town', and STING. What's more, if Stone Love and Bodyguard were playing, I would find a way to the dance (my poor mother). But it was where I felt most comfortable. People were sincere, protective, and open with their expressions of our culture in their dance and fashion. Everyone was out to feel the music and enjoy themselves.
The truth is, I cannot live without Jamaican music. It blares in my car, AirPods, home, and life as a metronome keeping me steady and balanced.
Today, I still go to Weddy Weddy Wednesdays to capture the juggling of Stone Love and to rub shoulders with the peanut, weed, and "crown and anchor" men.
Love and Hate Can Never Be Friends
As a soca lover, I decided many years ago to abstain from Carnival Sunday in Jamaica. Apart from the fact that I don't drink alcohol and don't relish hours in the hot sun, there was something — I wanted parity and a more egalitarian approach towards entertainment and culture in Jamaica.
In 2012, when I introduced the park and shuttle ride from King’s House to the Stadium for our Jamaica 50 Independence celebrations, I did so not only to facilitate the ease of traffic but because I wanted the child from Jungle to sit beside and converse with the child from Cherry Garden and Denham Town.
As a result, I also instructed the staff at the Ministry of Culture that there were to be no segregating sections for Very Very Important People (VVIPs) or Very Important People (VIPs). I just wanted All Jamaican People (JP), no matter their status, address, or bank account, to experience each other mingling, loving, and celebrating our culture together for six consecutive days enjoying themselves — all incident free,.
By all objective evaluations, we managed to execute successful Independence celebrations in 2012 as one Jamaican family, which is one of the moments I am most proud of when I was the minister of culture.
Why? Because until we truly understand each other, our different struggles, transportation methods lifestyles, lingua, and value systems, the resentment across classes will continue to foster humiliation and division among us, virtually , proceeding with our eyes wide shut toward the crucial development of our country our people so urgently need.
For example, how can we be comfortable seeing the beauty and organisation of Manor Park Plaza, yet on the opposite side of the road our people have no shelter to protect themselves from the harsh elements of the rain and sun as they wait on public transport to get to school, work, or home? It is how normless, brutish, and mindless we are to the lives of ordinary working-class Jamaicans. And it is not right and must stop, @nwaja.
Our Music is the Answer
Our journey has been blessed through this strength of purpose that we are the fighters for our destiny. Our music has been a constant source of inspiration. The period of reggae consolidation in the 1970s was replete with some of the most radical social legislation the country had ever seen. On the back of Bob Marley's activism, and through his lyrics, our leaders received haunting declarations of the poor and disenfranchised: "No chains around my feet, but I am not free"; "Cold ground was my bed last night, and rock was my pillow."
Their lyrical activism for the poor and disenfranchised inspired the need to reclaim the dignity of the ordinary man and woman through the centre of political and social dialogue. Moreover, their music helped create momentum that drove political leaders to focus on the reality of the working conditions of people and how they were living.
This generation of reggae musicians is the vanguard of our destiny. Highlighting the harsh realities through songs like Blood money, Trample Dem (Come Mek Wi Trample Dem Again …Dem Paedophile I wonder how dem get such prevalent), I Can, among so many other liberating narratives — screaming at us all to do the right thing to uplift our people without fear, tribal boundaries or one up man ship.
Our reggae music is mobilising with assertive and unapologetic resolve — defiant in the face of overpowering opposition that no one should ever bludgeon our hopes into acquiescence. It is time we start listening again and acting.
If we don't, the majority of our people will remain segregated from equal opportunities and peace of mind with a pervasive hopelessness recently espoused by Sean Paul and Damian Marley:
"And that is why me stay so, huh
'Cah we escape from a place
Where it seems like poverty embrace yuh
You a try win inna di race when yuh look
Is a police a chase yuh
And a bare gunshot dem ah spread
Don't think dem ah mase yuh
Nah court case yuh
Dem waste yuh,
These are just the facts of life
But each man tries to maximise
And meanwhile some will fantasise
Of who they can be, they patronised".
Lisa Hanna is Member of Parliament for St Ann South Eastern, People’s National Party spokesperson on foreign affairs and foreign trade, and a former Cabinet member.
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