Reggae Sun SkaSunday, August 14, 2011
By Charles HE Campbell
At first glance, the title of this article would give anyone the impression that this is about a new event to take place in Jamaica. That of course, could not be further from the truth and although totally understandable given the symbiotic relationship between Jamaica with the sun, ska and reggae, would therefore be a bad misconception.
It however reintroduces the rhetorical question of who owns reggae; meaning pragmatically, how best can we preserve and protect this great musical idiom created by our musical pioneers only fifty years ago, and even more importantly, in what fashion, could Jamaica begin on a path to reclaiming its musical legacy, retain its special pole position from a marketing standpoint while benefitting the Jamaican economy as a whole. These are issues which I'll attempt to address in an upcoming series of articles.
So, what is reggae sun ska? You may be asking. And why has it provoked these thoughts of mine. You may even be thinking, here goes Charles again, leading us down the garden path, flogging a dead horse. Be that as it may, I dare to tread where angels fear.
To put my opening comments in context, and properly introduce my subject, let me start at the beginning of this episode. At one of JaRia's weekly Wednesday events, Reggae Nights, held at the Edna Manley College, during Reggae Month this year, I was introduced to Fred Lachaize and Arnaud Bengochea, who are principals of this fifteen year old annual French Reggae Festival called Reggae Sun Ska, by Sam Clayton Jr.
Sam has spent the last ten years of his life working in the French reggae industry, as a producer, artiste/tour co-coordinator, production manager. He, along with these businessmen had come to Jamaica to attend JaRia's concerts, as well as take the opportunity to do some recordings with Jamaican musicians, for African Reggae act Takana Zion, co-produced by Sam and Stephen Stewart, and film a video of a single of his called Rasta Government. Incidentally, this song is currently a big hit in the French market. They were impressed with the format of our programme, the wide array of acts presented, and the orchestration of our music at the awards show.
Our deliberations explored practical ways in which we could forge a closer working relationship between the Jamaican and French music industries, leading to improved self-regulation on both sides, and hence, a better working environment for all.
During these talks, they extended an invitation to be their special guests at the three-day festival which was staged from August 5-7 in a relatively small French town located in the Medoc region, named Pauillac.
I attended the festival, along with fellow JaRIA Directors Joan Webley and Stephen Stewart, two people whom I have come to regard highly, because they will not drop the soap in the shower, and I have come away with the following observations.
The festival garnered a total audience of approximately fifty thousand people, spanning three generations. Twenty-four acts, of which thirteen were from Jamaica, were presented over three days, at a rate of eight acts per night, each being given an hour of on- stage time. Luciano's mainly Caucasian, European backing band was so tight, if one closed his/her eyes you might believe they were Jamaican. I was honestly surprised at the audience's response to the Heptones and Toots. Word for word, they sang along in unison to every single tune. When I made this comment to Arnaud after, he responded that with widespread disillusionment among the 18-30 year olds, of Europe, they had gone back to the message music of ska and Roots Reggae.
He bemoaned the lack of conscious lyrics even from young roots reggae artistes, and suggested that, given the music's glorious tradition of promoting progressive world causes. It was bewildering to him that Jamaican artistes were not addressing global contemporary issues such as preserving the Environment, and liberating Palestine from Zionist dictate.
The dancehall genre was represented by only two acts, none of which were Jamaican. Again, Arnaud rationalised this absence by explaining that that the dancehall market had shrunken, and its target audience was now mainly the 30-35 age group. Except for the Sunday which started at 4:30pm and ended at 12:30am, each night the live concert began at 6:00 and ended at about 3:00 am. Patrons drove from all over Europe, mainly Germany it seems, to attend, and camped out in parking lots, vineyards, on verges and in green spaces all over town. The camping grounds located on the festival site itself were a hub of activities 24/7.
Finally, I was impressed with how the festival used imaginative, creative ways to promote good environmental practices, while reducing the human footprint on the venue. I will continue this analysis in my next commentary.
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