What is the reggae revival?
Let's Talk ReggaeSunday, December 05, 2021
with Dutty Bookman
To this day, I marvel at how I had once coined the name of an important energy that I saw rising out of Jamaica about a decade ago — the reggae revival.
My intention in 2011 was twofold. First, I thought it prudent to pre-empt foreign journalists who would try to name our beautiful underground music and arts movement, and therefore control the narrative themselves once it emerged in the mainstream. Second, I genuinely expected the term to inspire unity among the generation of conscious and creative people, not just in music but also in the visual, performing, culinary, literary and spiritual arts.
Although the mission was accomplished in many respects, the term also highlighted a lot of ego-driven disunity within the reggae music industry as a whole, particularly within the segment of it that intersects with the Rastafari movement. Observing it over the years, I have seen a repeated cycle of contention regarding the intentions and even worthiness of certain ones who are seen as leaders of the musical aspect of the movement.
After naming the reggae revival, I concerned myself with how it was being propagated, seeking constantly to advise the public that there was no “crew” or defined group of people within music operating under that name. I also took great pains to express that the reggae revival was a creative movement spanning much more than music. This can easily be confirmed by searching the internet for my interviews, especially in the earlier years of the decade. Practically no one heeded my words. Newspapers, radio, television — you name it — all became fixated on an idea that the reggae revival was some sort of new gang of Rastafari singers, songwriters and musicians taking over the industry. There was only so much that I could do. I reached out to different media houses to offer my voice to steer the narrative more productively, but those entities seemed interested only in persons who were mashing up stage shows. Being a writer and publisher, I might not have fit the bill.
While the reporting of mainstream media continued giving an impression that the reggae revival was some sort of musical mafia, it made all the associated artists very uncomfortable. I must take a lot of responsibility for that because, through my own efforts, many of them were identified as icons of the movement, breeding unforeseen tension and opposition toward them. Despite their discomfort, they somehow managed to remain poised and composed throughout the intense though shallow media interest. They endured countless questions about a movement they did not ask to be a part of, yet still respected the importance and potential of it, doing their best to navigate their careers with the reality of it, each in his or her own way. They also endured constant murmurs and outright attacks by their peers and elders, and undoubtedly felt a sense of alienation from some of their industry colleagues. Because of that alienation, I believe many of them felt like they had to maintain their distance from certain communities, especially overly dogmatic elements within Rastafari.
There has been another unfortunate side effect. Whenever a single one of these individuals experienced negative publicity, a segment of onlookers and commentators would feel the need to drag down the names of the others, even when they were just minding their own business. People have seriously developed their public and online persona around lay-waiting the occasional, inevitable missteps that artists (really, humans) make as they evolve. At that point, these people would emerge from relative obscurity to chastise the person in question, then pounce on the opportunity to discredit the whole reggae revival, which I have already said has been falsely perceived from the start.
This mentality was precisely the case when a wonderful young woman in music, Lila Ike, made a series of social media posts that raised concerns about her safety and health. In those same moments, her sexuality was also brought under the lens of public scrutiny, leading ones to point fingers at Protoje, one of the known reggae revival figures (and a great, long-standing friend and brother of mine), who runs the record label that plays a role in her musical career. Moreover, a particularly bitter individual, who acknowledged himself as “hurt,” decided that it was his duty to call out a list of names commonly associated with the reggae revival, making the case that these people — indeed, this entire misperceived movement — are responsible for ushering in behaviour that is misaligned with Rastafari livity. The fact is that reggae revival and Rastafari are two different things, even with their obvious connections. This has been the case since day one until the present time. Those who equate them totally with each other, and proceed to draw conclusions about various happenings from that basis, are doing a disservice to critical discussion on the matter.
Over the decade, I have always felt compassion in those moments when a person lashes out publicly against, essentially, my work. I also do not engage in public quarrels as a matter of principle. This case of the “hurt” individual who has implicated my name is no different. I have no negative reaction toward him. I only see someone who is working through his own issues with limited information about what he is talking about. He is entitled to make his voice heard but I strongly disagree with his approach.
For my part, I feel responsible to reveal more essential truths about the original intentions and realities of the reggae revival era. This is why I am ending my self-imposed silence on the topic in order to correct false narratives. If my knowledge and perspective can help to mend an industry that is in dire need of unified vision, or can heal our human family, which is my ultimate concern, then I am committed to sharing what I know. Ones can follow the Instagram account @reggaerevival for future updates and announcements.
Dutty Bookman is a Jamaican author, publisher and founder of Bookman Express. He is also a husband, a father of two, a son and a brother.