Reggae's Tower of Babel
Let's Talk ReggaeSunday, May 16, 2021
WE have the benefit, and are proud to live on the beautiful island of Jamaica. We love Jamaica for all its good, as well as accept it for all of its not-so-good. Jamaica has many well-earned titles — from The Rock all the way across the spectrum to Jewel of the Caribbean, Jam Rock, Jam Down and, of course, the most well-renowned moniker, simply Yard.
We have gained such international acclaim that our common nickname has been adopted by all who have ever been here, and once visitors arrive and experience the 'yard vibes' they keep coming back again and again, adopting our yard as their yard.
The appeal is obvious.
Home of mystical powers of the Nyabinghi; the unique indigenous cuisine from ackee and saltfish to coconut water; unique healing herbs and natural medicinal spices and plants that still the modern mind, Jamaica has not fully become aware of its true, potent fruits and vegetables.
We also have further stamped our world influence by excelling in every field of expertise from medical science to politics, from the arts to athletics. Jamaica is also birthplace of international icons Marcus Garvey, Robert Nesta Marley, and, of course, most recently track superstar Usain Bolt has become a household name.
The biggest influence we have had globally is undoubtedly reggae music.
Reggae's popularity is based on the fact that it contains elements that represent and embody the voice of the working class and disenfranchised peoples of Jamaica and, by extension, the world. This voice has subsequently transcended race, geography, time, class, and creed.
Of all music genres, some can boast potency to effect change in the modern society, but none more so than reggae. Its collective voice has become and continues to represent freedom struggles all over the world. There is also the lighter side of the music, which is intended for humour, dancing and entertainment.
Over the past 50 years the genre of reggae has been evolving into distinctive sub-identities, and they all speak a particular language.
The world in 2021 is not what everyone would have predicted five years ago, but Rastafari predicted it all in music, and you can hear if you listen carefully. The power of conscious reggae is specifically designed to help people to overcome hard times such as these, and the singers and players of instruments have been sufficiently prepared to deliver as such.
However because of factors such as fame, vanity and greed, the voice itself, and thus the language, has become distorted, and we find music which borrows or directly copies the reggae musical styling, but then, “nonsense” lyrical content is combined with it and it is passed off as conscious reggae.
While Jamaica is its birthplace, it is undeniable that the genre has now become world music and every nation now has its own indigenous reggae musicians and even fraternity. However, they still look to the origin, the beacon, Yard!
Here, at the origin and source however, the ever-dangling carrot of fame, money and success, combined with economic pressure and the thrust to survive and stay relevant in the industry continue to have our artistes look outwardly for inspiration, as well as influence.
As a result, our own creation at its source is becoming diluted. The ratio of songs that have international appeal compared to the total production output is dwindling, and we find that our students — foreign reggae artistes — have been able to dominate the industry and win all the awards by simply emulating us and picking up what we are putting down.
The irony is they have been able to achieve greater business success with our art than we have ourselves — of course, there are a handful of exceptions. A major resultant factor behind that is: Quality is being compromised in order to usher in quick fame and the requisite monetary gain associated with such. The most impactful factor, however, one we can fix, is our own defeatist approach. We must be positive to overcome.
Now, more than ever, the world needs the power and message of reggae music to help the human race in its struggle for survival, but that voice has been distorted, assimilated and, in some cases, silenced.
The book of Genesis speaks about the people, filled with vain imagination, trying to be closer to God and to have his power by building a tower, “the tower of Babel” (Genesis 11: 1-9) which would rise all the way to heaven. They were confounded and stricken with the inability to communicate with each other, and therefore the tower was a failure.
Here in 2021 the analogy is all too clear. This pandemic is currently affecting us all and rather than us having one voice of positivity and survival, we have been confounded by information and misinformation, by fear tactics and ignorance, lack of preparation. As a result of this inability to communicate with one voice and mind, the negative effects of the pandemic have been able to grow strong and frequently affect us on a personal level. There is a serious deficiency in our ability to communicate with each other.
Conscious reggae music is the communication, the message and the medicine, but when the voice and the message are distorted because there is in-fighting in the fraternity due to of jealousy, competition, greed, and vanity, then the sickness will prevail. Not just the physical, but the mental and spiritual illness, which were precursors to the pandemic.
We must remain positive as this is also a time when everything that is borne out of wrong intention, or lacking in purpose, will fade away. The question we must ask ourselves is: Do we want to clutch to the crumbling ways of the old world, or do we want to step boldly into the positive new world of rebirth and renaissance that is currently taking place?
In order for us to do this we must become citizens of a new race with forward thinking and compassion. We must endeavour to eradicate sloth in ourselves and encourage accountability. This goes beyond music and addresses the vocation of all people, from our leaders to our infants.
We are not only on The Rock, we are also part of The Jewel and we want to focus our minds and energies on, not only what our global influence has been for the past 500 years, but also how we can improve upon that for the next 500 years.
by Stephen Newland
Is like when you watch a horror movie and your girl call out
Big up to all of my warriors who are going all out
Things and times, they get so tough that Mama bawl out
And to defend a little turf, mankind a brawl out.
For just a little dollars, some girls a sprawl out
And the shotters trigger happy! They say guns out!
Money Man, they change the plan and take their funds out
Accountant calculating even when it runs out.
Prime Minister contemplate to call the troops out
I'll take a line inside my rhyme to Hail the Dupes now
We don't want no ice cream sound
Don't get the scoops out
Just hear the teachings of the prophets out of one's mouth.
Young generals at the stop light
they got their hands out
they say free up Daddy Lightning
let the bands out
see the pirates want to scout us on our new route
too many living right now straight hand to mouth.
And so much talk in the house of Parliament
What dem a chat 'bout?!?
They think vernacular and catch phrase
can catch the youths now?
Scientists they're calculating the world countdown
Silly Con Man, Manipulating Silicon now.
Plot twists and turns
Call underground now
I man a renaissance
I even got the sauce
To make the world spin dance now!
They sent a remote control
They're gone to Mars now
I know the leaders of the world
they're gone too far now
I don't have to parade or model battle scars now
Finnancial benefits to even start a war now
And all DJs and Singers, them me a call out
Could a never over “Doney” you put the Roots down
Broad is the road my son that leadeth to destruction
Narrow is the road that bringeth your salvation
They will never play this on no radio station
Until DJ and all payola have a fallout
When quality over quantity come to question
Then all of my warriors
Time to go All Out!
Stephen Newland is a reggae musician and producer, entrepreneur and a farmer. Well known as the frontman for the internationally acclaimed roots reggae outfit Rootz Underground, Newland also is the CEO of Hopewell Farms International and owns and operates his 12-acre farm in St Mary, Jamaica. Off stage, Newland is an advocate of environmental protection and has initiated several national projects in this direction. Newland believes that a well-balanced and healthy lifestyle will yield a multiplicity of successes for individuals and, subsequently, the nation. Newland has been very active in the bands' international project dubbed Chant & Plant for over 15 years. Chant and Plant seeks to accentuate the obvious connection between music and art and agriculture.
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