Jamaican reggae music is on the Unesco World Heritage List. Inscribed on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, to great jubilation in 2018 after much campaigning and lobbying led by the Minister of Sports, Youth and Culture, Olivia ‘Babsy’ Grange.
Borne and forged in the ghettos of Western Kingston Jamaica, the new sound of the 1960s instantly captured the hearts of all Jamaicans bringing what was a marginalised people to the forefront of Jamaican music. It could be heard blasting from sound systems on street corners, on the radio and television. The voices of the people of the ghettos were heard nationwide.
Thanks to the producers and British sound systems, who were always eager to import (albeit often in a suitcase) new releases from Jamaica, the Caribbean diaspora in the UK would follow the sound systems just to hear the new and latest “tracks”.
Tantalisingly representative of the plight, of not only Black diasporas but, marginalised people worldwide, it was not long before reggae music became a global phenomenon.
UNESCO’s (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation) Intangible Cultural Heritage arm sums it up:
“Having originated within a cultural space that was home to marginalised groups, mainly in Western Kingston, the Reggae music of Jamaica is an amalgam of numerous musical influences, including earlier Jamaican forms as well as Caribbean, North American and Latin strains. In time, Neo-African styles, soul and rhythm and blues from North America were incorporated into the element, gradually transforming Ska into Rock Steady and then into Reggae. While in its embryonic state Reggae music was the voice of the marginalised, the music is now played and embraced by a wide cross-section of society, including various genders, ethnic and religious groups. Its contribution to international discourse on issues of injustice, resistance, love and humanity underscores the dynamics of the element as being at once cerebral, socio-political, sensual and spiritual. The basic social functions of the music – as a vehicle for social commentary, a cathartic practice, and a means of praising God – have not changed, and the music continues to act as a voice for all. Students are taught how to play the music in schools from early childhood to the tertiary level, and Reggae festivals and concerts such as Reggae Sumfest and Reggae Salute provide annual outlets, as well as an opportunity for understudy and transmission for upcoming artists, musicians and other practitioners.”
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