Claim Reggae For Prosperity

The sea and sky were a brilliant blue in Belmont. As we made our regular stop for fish, we could hear the sounds of nature that its famous son Peter Tosh had captured in his haunting interpretation of the 27th Psalm: “Jah is my Keeper”. I struck up a conversation with the vendors, delighted to discover they were relatives of the late great musician. We dreamed together. Tosh’s birthplace could be converted into a major attraction. His statue would mark the entrance to a museum. Craft shops, seafood restaurants or a studio would bring busloads of tourists and prosperity to this picturesque village. Despite the efforts of Tosh’s son, Dave and his cousins, Maurice and Neville Powell, little progress has been made.

Instead, violence has been visited on the area. In July of this year two young men were killed there, in the wake of the discovery of a large cache of ganja. It is difficult to reconcile that pleasant afternoon with this brutal bloodletting. The handsome residents of Belmont are not surly, hard-faced individuals. Their eyes lit up as we spoke about the hope for transformation of their district but their legitimate leaders have not been as nimble as the illegal dealers.

Every parish, indeed every constituency, can boast of a hero in this star-studded country called Jamaica. That includes the convulsed Mountain View area, home of the popular Ashe Performers. This was a great neighbourhood – Peter Hamilton reminds me that such notables as Earl ‘Wire’ Lindo of the Wailers, Courtney Walsh, Derrick Harriot and Pam Hall attended Excelsior.

Dennis Brown’s birthplace sits forlorn at the corner of North and Orange Streets. It is a ‘big yard’ – we can imagine it converted to an attraction where the elder residents could rap with visitors about the young Dennis and the young folks could be trained to make and sell Dennis Brown souvenirs.

Jamaica’s music is the toast of the world. A friend in the UK reports that about half of the commercials have a reggae beat. Our dancehall stars get constant rotation on BET and the Marleys, Jimmy Cliff, Luciano, Beres Hammond and Freddie McGregor are crowd pullers from New York to Tokyo. Sly and Robbie get regular calls from Hollywood and music celebrities in search of reggae tracks to enhance their productions.

Therefore we are disappointed with Jamaica’s decision not to participate in MIDEM, the biggest music industry Expo in the world. Participating in this event could open so many doors for our music and our tourism industry. New York based Jamaican, Francine Chin is a PR consultant to MIDEM; she has put the machinery in place for a Caricom/Cariforum Village at MIDEM to house Caribbean participants.

We understand that JAMPRO is ending their five-year association with the event because of lack of accountability of the Jamaican participants. However, at a time when reggae and dancehall are riding high, with Sean Paul projected to sell 4 million copies of his latest CD, a way should be found for Jamaica to be in Cannes next January for MIDEM. Our music fraternity should not miss out on the tremendous opportunities offered by a show that hosts some 12,000 individuals, 4,000 companies and 800 members of the international press from 94 countries.

We welcome the recent announcement by Wayne Chen, Michael Lee-Chin and celebrity US attorney Johnny Cochran, of plans to erect a Reggae Hall of Fame. This is an important step towards claiming reggae and using it for wealth creation. We should have mini studios throughout the country to capture our people’s talent and be part of unique tour packages. Visitors would enjoy doing karaoke-type recordings and starring in their own souvenir reggae CD or music video.

The teaching of Jamaican music should be on the curriculum of more educational institutions. A check with the Jamaica School of Music reveals that they have no such course. Were it not for Alpha Boys School, a great deal of our musical talent would have never been discovered. It is regrettable that a television newscast showed footage of the Alpha Boys School for last week’s report on the poor state of Jamaica’s children’s homes. Alpha certainly does not fall into that category: in a previous column, I mentioned that Skatalite member “Dizzy” Moore admitted that he ‘acted up’, just so he could be sent to Alpha Boys School to learn music.

The NAACP (the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) wants to have closer relations with the Caribbean and we should be quick off the mark to cement ties with this powerful US organization. No doubt, they would be interested in supporting the development of our musical heritage and we know that our beloved Harry Belafonte is always happy to speak on our behalf. For far too long we have under estimated the influence and economic strength of the African-American people.

Francine Chin continues to pound the pavement, trying to find sponsors for Jamaica, the originators and still the best exponents of reggae, to participate in the Caricom/Cariforum exhibit at MIDEM, even after Barbados has signed up. If accountability was a problem in previous years, why take the easy way out by dropping an event, instead of putting in the necessary checks and balances to ensure that we get our money’s worth?

The people of Belmont have planted a beautiful garden around Peter Tosh’s Mausoleum and they are still hoping that a tribute to their beloved son will bring some measure of prosperity to their once quiet district. Those who have the power to make their dream a reality, should remember the words of poet Langston Hughes:

What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
Like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore –
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat
Or crust and sugar over –
Like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
Like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

About the Writer

Jean Lowrie-Chin heads PRO Communications Ltd, an advertising and PR agency, in Kingston, Jamaica. She is a poet and columnist for the Jamaica Observer. She holds Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees in English from the University of the West Indies.