Sun | Dec 11, 2016

Someone owes Queen Ifrica an apology

Published:Saturday | October 18, 2014 | 12:00 AM
The cover of Peter Tosh's album, 'Legalize It'.
Queen Ifrica-File
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Music and More with Mel begins today

Today we begin a new column in the Saturday Gleaner, Music and More with Mel. Written by Melville Cooke, as the name suggests, it will focus mostly on music - Jamaican popular music, to be specific - but will not be restricted to it. One thing is sure, though, that each installment will be on a topic related to the arts and entertainment, many times making a connection with aspects of the wider society. It will be informative, analytical, engaging, and just maybe, a little controversial. In other words, just like the music which is at the core of the column, actually. Enjoy.

And before I leave tonight, National Stadium are you feeling irie?... Take it down low, take it down low. And before I go I just want to say this directly to the mother Prime Minister tonight. We live in a world where we look and see that everywhere else around the world is legalising and lifting the ban on marijuana. So we saying tonight, we need to legalise marijuana for economical benefits from Jamaica. Right now. And make we country grow, cause everybody else a dweet. (Words indistinct, as microphone muffled). Look into it and think about it (microphone gradually turned off).

- Queen Ifrica, Grand Gala 2013, National Stadium

Someone - as in the person who decided to turn off the microphone Queen Ifrica was using last August 6 at the National Stadium - needs to call her up and quietly say, "I am sorry. I knew not what I did." Then they should put out something on social media, without saying who it is from, publicising that the apology has been made, which Ifrica could then confirm.

Maybe the first has happened. If it has, the second sure as hell has not.

The basis of the need for an apology is that within about a month of Ifrica's attempt to make a request to Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller, St Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister, Dr Ralph Gonsalves had written to chairman of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister Kamla Persad Bissessar, about exactly that matter. Gonsalves' request was widely reported in the Jamaican press.

Early last month, this newspaper reported that "Researchers with a Caribbean trade bloc have found that decriminalising marijuana and exploring its use for medicinal purposes, could help boost the region's sluggish economy."

I suspect that many a Jamaican had personally done that research many years ago and came up with the same results, some of those, with enquiring minds and lungs, ending up huffing and puffing in a cell. Even before that, though, there was the launch of MediCanja, touted as Jamaica's first medical marijuana company, in early December last year. Again, that was widely reported in the Jamaican press.

And speaking of research, there is the Jamaica Cannabis Institute in the works, a joint (pun intended) effort between the University of the West Indies and the University of Technology, Jamaica. That announcement was made in the same month that the microphone was turned off on Queen Ifrica.

What a difference a few weeks make

The microphone was turned off on Queen Ifrica because she was ahead - just slightly, but still ahead - of the signs of changing times in our region (no doubt prompted by adjustments in the US) that the fainthearted among us wait on to leap on a bandwagon. However, there is still ample time to tell her sorry for broaching the issue of marijuana's economic benefits without waiting on an indication from the US, that times were a changing. It may be rarer in these times of bad mind and bad-man songs, but the role of the artiste in speaking to national issues, deeply entrenched in Jamaican popular music, is not dead.

Of course, the opinions Queen Ifrica expressed are not uncommon in the Jamaican entertainment sector, where comments on matters of national import are as commonplace and as expected as new dance and bad mind songs. Neither is she the first to speak to a sitting Prime Minister at the National Stadium about accessing economic benefits from marijuana.

There are still many people alive who attended the One Love Peace Concert at the Stadium on April 22, 1978. I am not one of them, but have listened repeatedly to the 2000 album put out by JAD, Peter Tosh - Live at the One Love Peace Concert.

That performance is as famous (probably more so) for the speech Tosh made, as the one that was played. In that speech, made before then Prime Minister Michael Manley and Leader of the Opposition Edward Seaga, Tosh spoke extensively to the potential economic benefits of marijuana cultivation to Jamaica. In part, he said:

"Well right now, Mr Manley, me going talk to you personally, cause me can talk you, cause me and you is friend, so you say... Well right now, as a man of power and a ruler of this little country here, not you alone, Mr Seaga, too. A woah, cause is so it go. We would like the members of Parliament to come together, if oonu dealing with the people and the suffering class, cause police still out deh a brutalise poor people fi wah? A likkle draw a herb. Every time me go to country me haffi a fret til me reach back a my yard, fi buy a likkle draw a herb...

So right now, if de Government just come together and say right now, if we waan buil' this country and build the people dem, cause right now you can't build the country and don't build the people, people suffering from malnutrition and all them thing there going round, we can't afford fi have them thing there. We have whole heap a land out there to plant herb, sell to them, sell to the pirate them, cause if them did have the herb inna fi dem country, we coulden did get none... Well I an I blessed with this resource here..."

A few months later, Tosh was severely battered by the police in Half-way Tree on the night of September 11. (In one of those curious twists of fate, Tosh was murdered on September 11, 1987.) The book Steppin' Razor: The Life of Peter Tosh (John Masouri) relates the entire incident in Tosh's words, including being beaten in the police station for about an hour. Tosh said the beating happened "because there was a Peace Concert in Jamaica and I made certain speeches to government leaders and the Prime Minister and they did not like it." Keyboard player Robbie Lyn opined, "I think it was a vendetta they had because of what Peter said at the Peace Concert."

TOSH'S ORDER OF MERIT

With all of that, plus more, I consider the Order of Merit (OM) bestowed posthumously on Tosh in 2012 to be an apology for the supposedly controversial stances he took and maintained, including on marijuana. (Of course, it did not hurt that he is safely dead and unable to further jibe the authorities.)

At Rebel Salute 2014 in January, Ifrica repeated her position on marijuana, doing Coconut Shell. This time it was not a government thing. It was Rasta own things, so there was a marijuana leaf on the digital backdrop when she was doing the song. Even though the Jamaica Tourist Board was a major sponsor, their tacit approval (by not making it an issue) is not enough.

We took a very long time to tell Tosh sorry. Someone needs to call Queen Ifrica and, very quietly and sincerely, just say 'I am sorry'. Quickly.