Jamaica Prime Minister Bruce Golding designated February as Reggae Month to be celebrated every year. The official inaugural ceremony was held at Kings House officiated by the Governor General Sir Kenneth Hall. This recognition was a long time in coming and way past due. There was a month long wide range of activities staged to celebrate February as Reggae Month. February, which is also Black History month and when the Grammy award for ‘Best Reggae s Album is given, was chosen, partly because it coincides with the birth of Bob Marley, the King of Reggae music and Dennis Brown, the Crown Prince of Reggae music. Prime Minister Golding promised that next year, the 50th anniversary of the birth of reggae will be a grand year.
Bob Marley @ Essex House NYC Photo Anthony Mills
First observation of the month-long celebration began on February 1 with a broadcast from the Bob Marley Museum by Irie FM, the official radio station. There was several music award shows including; Gleaner-sponsored Youth View Awards, hosted by American actress Essence Atkins, is designed to highlight positive role models, Radio Jock Ritchie B’ Excellence in Music and Entertainment Awards on Feb 7th 2008. The EME is based industry charts and public response, the Irie FM Awards, a live in-Studio event was held on Feb 13. Irie awards are voted by Irie FM its sister station staff. The first Recording Industry Association of Jamaica Limited (RIA Jam) music award, the Reggae Academy Awards was held on Feb 24. This a peer review process where the creative excellence of top reggae artists is honored, not record sale, by the music professionals of the Reggae Academy. Several events were staged to highlight the 63rd birthday of reggae legend Bob Marley.
Smile Jamaica/ Africa Unite Concert
The Bob Marley/Rita Marley Foundation the global initiative, Africa Unite concert series after successful showings in Ethiopia in 2006 where 300, 000 attended, and South Africa in 2005, was renamed Smile Jamaica/ Africa Unite and brought to James Bond Beach on Feb 23rd 2008 in Jamaica for the first time. The Smile Jamaica concept is a reprise of Bob Marley’s 1978 historical significant unity concert at the National Heroes Park the day after he was shot in an assassination attempt on his life.
John Legend@ Smile Jamaica/Africa Unite
Smile Jamaica/ Africa Unite had a strong line-up featuring the Marley boys, Stephen, fresh from his 2008 Grammy Award for his debut CD Mind Control, Kymani, who just completed a six month world tour with Rock legends Van Helen, Julian, Ziggy in the middle of his 20007 Grammy “Love is My Religion” tour and Jr. Gong. Also included on the line up were R&B John Legend, Bunny Wailer, Black Uhuru, Queen Ifrica, Tarrus Riley, Sizzla, Capleton, Spragga Benz, Lutan Fyah, Richie Spice, Elephant Man, Javaughn, 2 Face Idibia and pop princess Rihanna.
Rihanna Smile@ Jamaica/ Africa Unite concert in Jamaica
The Caribbean debut of AFRICA UNITE, the documentary feature of the musical celebration of 60th birthday of Bob Marley in 2005 in Ethiopia by award winning filmmaker Stephanie Black (Life & Debt) showcased and international artistes Rita Marley, Danny Glover, Angelique Kidjo, Lauryn Hill, Bob Andy and the Marley children.
AFRICA UNITE also premiered in Brooklyn in NYC at Marcus Garvey Holistic Center and Club Zanzibar in Washington DC. Other events included the Bob Marley photo exhibit, the Africa Unite-Smile Jamaica Youth Symposium titled “Education for Liberation” at Liberty Hall the home of the Marcus Garvey Museum. There were also lectures at University of the West Indies by Dr Donna Hope’ titled “The Full Has Never Been Told: Exploring Dance hall’s Moral Conscience”, with the launch of Vivien Goldman’s Book of Exodus: The Making and Meaning of Bob Marley and the Wailers’ Album of the Century. In California there were also tribute concerts to Bob Marley; the Annual Ragga Muffins Festival, held at the Long Beach Arena and the Annual Tribute to the Reggae Legends held at the San Diego Sports Arena.
Marley won his first Grammy Award as he was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame at the Grammy Awards in LA. It was reported that Oscar winning director Martin Scorcese, is set direct a documentary on Bob Marley’s life story. The documentary is schedule to be released on February 6, 2010 to coincide with Marley‘s 65th birthday. Adidas brand Sport Wear Company launched their first global campaign promoting its originals lifestyle range. The campaign will feature reggae music and Bob Marley. It will include Adidas’ Marley Jacket and the Pro Model Tuff Gong Adidas Shoes,’ and the Kingston Zip Jacket.
Crown Prince of Reggae, Dennis Brown
Though the Government or organizers didn’t scheduled any specific event or issued any press release honoring either Brown’s Birthday or his contribution to reggae (glaring omission given his obvious importance) the preservation of the legacy of the Dennis Brown, Crown Prince of Reggae was also a theme during Reggae month. Notable events took place both in Jamaica and abroad to honor Brown’s memory and legacy. In New York City The Dennis Brown Memorial Organization in NYC at their annual dinner honored Veteran Radio man Ken William, Sound guru Winston ‘Merritone’ Blake and Tony Ryan. The DBMO also gave away itd annual scholarship to a college student. In Jamaica the Jamaica Association of Vintage Artistes and Affiliates (JAVAA) honored Dennis Brown with a tribute concert in the Gardens of the Pegasus Hotel. The four-hour celebration concert featured a number of performers including Dwight Pinkney who performed ‘How Could I Live (a song he wrote) on guitar. Pinkney described How Could I Live as “a simple song,” but noted that when Dennis Brown sang it, “he made it into a legendary classic.” Veteran Sugar Minot, turned in stellar and unforgettable performance, as did Boris Garner, George Nooks and Derrick Harriot. Others paid tribute in steel pan, poetry and shared personal insight into his life. The Twelve Tribes of Israel, the arm of the Rastafari faith to which Brown and Marley belonged hosted a tribute for Reggae Month to Brown and Marley at Skill Craft.
Another project with long term potential for immortalizing Browns legacy and possibly getting him a national honor was announced by radio personality Patrick Lafayette. It is a 24-hour Internet radio station devoted exclusively for the music of Dennis Brown.
According to a press release from DBTribute.org a “Tribute to Dennis Brown” DVD/CD honoring Dennis Brown’s 50th birthday is in the works. The artists on the 24 track CD include Ed Robinson, Sugar Minott, Everton Blender, Richie Stevens and Natty King are from Jamaica, Brazil, Canada, Trinidad, Nigeria, The U.K., and Los Angeles, San Francisco, Florida, New York, and Oregon. The song covers from Roots and Culture to Lovers’ Rock, R & B and Dance Tunes. The DBTribute.org release future states that schools and education will be their charity goals with “scholarships from our events, retail sales from our website, etc. Proceeds from www.DBTribute.org Retail Store will benefit our first recipient school in Jamaica, Central Branch School in Kingston, Jamaica where Dennis attended school. The school will receive soccer uniforms and supplies, computers, a copier, printers, and musical instruments.” For further information contact DBTribute.org & MySpace.com/DB50thTribute
The Reggae Studies Unit of University of the West Indies through Dr. Carolyn Cooper staged was another important event Global Reggae Conference, (Feb 18- 24) . It attracted researchers, writers and speakers from Australia, Africa, North America, Latin America, Europe, Japan, the Pacific and the United Kingdom the local community. Topics discussed Global Reggae Conference included:
• Role and importance of collective rights management societies and trade associations
• Reggae music business in the digital, Internet and mobile communication world
• Back to basics – product development challenges (lyrics, work ethics, quality standards and contractual relationships)
• Investing in Reggae/Jamaican music – A case for private and public funding
• Jamaican music – catalyst for cultural industries development
RIA-Jam organized nation wide activities that included a road tour, in the form of public information sessions packaged with entertainment and featuring music industry celebrities and business executives, to several locations around the island. The tour was used to promote public interest in the voting for the two popular award categories, ‘Most Popular Artiste’ and ‘Most Popular Song’
The inaugural Reggae Film Festival, (Feb 20- 22) opened with three films at Emancipation Park in Kingston. The event focused on film as an aspect of Jamaican music culture and screened approximately 30 films, documentaries and music videos celebrating Jamaica’s musical idiom. The concept behind Reggae Film Festival is to create a foundation for the Jamaica Film Academy. The Reggae Film Academy will archive films for research, screening and education. There was a documentary on one of Jamaica’s legendary trombonist; titled “The Legacy of Rico Rodriquez,” from director Jep Jorba of Spain, the Ed Herzog directed German feature film “Almost Heaven,” featured a number of Jamaican actors, including Carl Bradshaw and Oliver Samuels and the Wayne ‘Native’ Jobson-produced docu-bio on reggae icon Peter Tosh “Stepping Razor” Red X. Jobson noted that Tosh had one of the most brilliant mind and intellect of any artist in popular music. Boxer Lennox Lewis, who starred in the UK thriller Johnny Was, reportedly attended the festival.
Reggae artists Busy Signal, Sean Paul, Macka Diamond, D’Angel, Voicemail, Da’ville and Assassin embarked on the Education Is No Joke school tour. On February 19 these artist began visiting schools in Jamaica talking to students about the importance of a good education and on becoming positive role models.
Sean Paul addressing student at Wolmers High school
Another important development in February saw VP Records Ltd, the world largest distributor of reggae music, purchasing major European reggae distributor Greensleeves Records & Publishing from Zest Group plc for a reported £3.1 million.
Tarrus Riley sweeps Reggae Academy Awards
When I predicted in my 2007 year in review (Jamaicans.com) that Singer Tarrus Riley was the sure the favorite as male vocalist and breakout artist of 20007, I couldn’t have imagined that he would copped eight Awards and be responsible for two more at three different Music award show in Jamaica for the month of February. A grand total of ten awards attached to his name in one month. At the Excellence in Music and Entertainment Awards (EME) Tarrus Riley won Vocalist of the Year and Song of the Year (She’s Royal) and the IRIE FM Music Awards he won Male Singer for the Year, and Song of the Year (She’s Royal). However, it was at the inaugural Reggae Music Academy Awards on Feb 24, possibly most important award show in Jamaica that Riley was his crowning glory. He swept all of the four categories he was nominated in; Best Reggae Song (She’s Royal) Best Solo Male Vocal Performance, Best Reggae Recording, and Breakthrough Reggae Artist of the year. The depth of his ‘healing music’ as he refers to his compositions, seems to have captured the sensibilities of the reggae public. Given the comodification and objectification, the gal-ification if you will, of females in reggae dance hall, She’s Royal, a spiritual and psychologically uplifting song seems to have struck resonant chord in the hearts of so many, or as Marley once noted love song that can uplift a woman thinking (to) make her think right.” She’s Royal ‘become so popular that Brazilian singer Soraia, recorded a Portuguese version of the song. (See jahworks.org for my review of Tarrus’ CD ‘Parable’)
National hero Marley and National honor Brown
In 2000 as music editor of Caribbean Style Newspaper in NYC I raised the provocative question in my cover story Marley piece “Will Bob Marley Be made a National Hero” suggesting it was time to open the discussion on making the ‘Gong’ a national Hero.
Caribbean Style Newspaper circa March 2000
At Smile Jamaica/ Africa Unite 2008 concert Dub poet Mutabaruka made some telling points regarding the hypocrisy around this issue. My second front page rhetorical flush was “Where is Dennis Brown‘s National Honor? The latter question emerged from a conversation I had back stage at Rebel Salute with a government official who was introduced to me by Dennis Howard. I debated this official on the merits of the PNP government giving Brown a national award. The official argued that certain aspects of Brown’s lifestyle hindered him from meriting such an honor. With the passage of time I had hoped that position would have become more enlightened, to date it hasn’t. It was the JLP Government of Edward Seaga, that awarded Bob Marley the Order of Merit, a national honor in 1981; and now it is the JLP Government of Bruce Golding that has given Reggae music its proper recognition by officially designating February Reggae Month. (Marley must be smiling; reggae has now found friends in high society)It was Mr.Seaga’s protégé Olivia ‘Babsy’ Grange, now Jamaica’s Minister of Culture, whose involvement with Clifton “specialist” Dillon and Spec Shang Records artists Shabba Ranks, Patra and Mad Cobra in the 1990’s led to the first sustained penetration of reggae dance hall into the America music charts, will it be a the Golding-Grange government that finally accord Dennis Brown and Peter Tosh their national honor in 2008.