Jamaica’s foremost National Hero, the Right Honourable Marcus Mosiah Garvey said: A People without a knowledge of its history is like a tree without roots.
The recent imbroglio involving the claim by Ghanaian reggae artiste Stonebwoy that reggae music is of African origin has been making the rounds on social media. It is truly amazing that some Jamaicans would take issue with his claim.
While Jamaica’s motto is Out of many, One People. The fact is that the majority of Jamaicans are of African origin. Our culture is mainly derived from our retention of African culture, mannerisms and our music clearly demonstrates this. Reggae is an African retention and Stonebwoy is right.
Some Jamaicans hate their African roots so much that they would do anything to deny that they are truly Africans in the Diaspora. Most blacks in the western hemisphere are the descendants of slaves, who were brought here through the system of chattel slavery
The first musical instrument invented by man is the drum and the drum was invented in Africa. The drum is also very integral in reggae. It is this instrument which dictates the pace of the rhythm. Reggae has no roots in classical music, pop, or rock and roll although the early ska singers covered many North American songs in the 1960’s due to the foresight of Studio One pioneer, Clement Dodd, who while on farm work duties in the United States bought records and started the now hallowed Studio One Sound System, which was the forerunner of reggae.
However, reggae found a fertile breeding ground in the slums of Jamaica and was seen by the country’s upper crust as the music of the poorer class. It was frowned upon in certain social circles and described as ‘brebeh’ music. In its infancy, the main proponents of this art form were Rastafarians, who found solace in rejecting European values and embarked on a mental repatriation to their Afrocentric origins. The drum was their main tool, backed by a riveting bass line, rhythm guitars, succinct keyboard riffs and a vibrant horn section.
The music found favour with those who were rejecting Eurocentric values and those who were oppressed by the evil systems of colonialism and apartheid. The African culture that the slave master and colonialists tried so hard to whip out of the Africans they had forcibly brought to the west had never died and was released to the world in the form of reggae.
The music built an underground following but only gained acceptance in Jamaica after white Europeans and Americans started recognising the infectious nature of the music.
We have always hated our African roots and some who are old enough to remember, will attest to the fact that Bob Marley and all the other practitioners of reggae were frowned upon. They were seen as fringe elements, resigned to live in old cars and shanty dwellings in the jungle. Their call has always been back to Africa. They had found their roots and the music they played and sung was inspired by Africa.
Stonebwoy is right.
Reggae is African in origin. There can be no argument. Black people in the west are the children of Africa. It is not hard to comprehend.
There are Jamaicans at home and in the Diaspora who staunchly resist any attempt to pay homage to the motherland. To them Africa is bad news.
Is it any surprise that despite the greatness of Garvey and the fact that Jamaicans of African ancestry occupy most of the important positions in the education sector, that his philosophies and opinions are not taught in our schools?
To whom credit is due, it must be given and the credit for the emergence of reggae as a driving social force around the world must be handed to Africa even though it manifested in our beloved Jamaica. It was the ‘Africaness’ in us that gave rise to the inspiration for the music and we must admit.
As freedom fight Malcolm asked:
Who taught you to hate yourself?
Karyl Walker is a veteran journalist who served as the Jamaica Observer's Crime/Court and Online News Editor. He now resides in Florida, USA.