Thu | Dec 13, 2018

A More Relevant Reggae Grammy

Published:Thursday | February 18, 2016 | 12:00 AMMel Cooke
Morgan Heritage

Now that Morgan Heritage has won the 2016 Grammy Award in the Reggae category for Strictly Roots, it is as good a time as any to reflect on the implications of their award and consider, yet again, if the award has any real significance for Jamaica.

This is in the context of protestations that reggae belongs to Jamaica, the place it originated from, yet the premier standard by which the best of the genre is designated continues to come from outside.

Isn?t it ironic, we trumpet that reggae is Jamaican, yet we have no credible, sustained mechanism to identify what we consider our best full-length output in any given year and put it on a pedestal for the rest of the world to be amazed at its excellence or astounded by its mundanity?

One thing is sure, Morgan Heritage copping the award makes a very good story. Family band goes to the zenith of reggae, breaks for members to pursue individual projects (which, truth be told, were inferior to their collective efforts), then come back together and their first full-length project takes the top award in its musical genre. As a winning Grammy story, since 2000, it is by far the best reggae Grammy story, along with Buju?s pre-incarceration win with Before the Dawn, in 2011.


If Jah Cure had won with The Cure, then that would have been a story of transgression, incarceration (despite maintaining innocence), redemption and triumph. Maybe another time.

Strictly Roots, might be the most relevant reggae Grammy win to the Jamaican society in a long, long time.

Earlier, I used 2000 as a marker because that was the year of my favourite Reggae Grammy win since we partied our way out of 1999. Burning Spear won with Calling Rastafari, which, from the autobiographical opening, As It Is, to the closing dirge, Holy Man, is an album which touches my soul. Coming in behind that is Toots and the Maytals? True Love, which won in 2005. The track with Willie Nelson, Still Is Still Moving to Me, deserves a Grammy all for itself.

Of course, the 2006 winner, Damian Marley?s Welcome to Jamrock, cannot be left out and, along with Art and Life (Beenie Man, 2002) and Dutty Rock (Sean Paul, 2004) would probably be the only Grammy winners since 2000 - including my beloved Calling Rastafari which would have also been chosen by a popular vote among music lovers in Jamaica.

Which brings me back to Strictly Roots. Far too often, Reggae Grammy winners are distant from the general populace.

Whether Strictly Roots gets substantial airplay in Jamaica or not, they are familiar faces on the live-performance Jamaican scene. As recently as two Sundays ago, they played the Redemption Live concert for Bob Marley?s 71st birthday at Sabina Park, paying homage to Buju Banton as much as they did to Bob Marley.The band may not turn up everywhere ?pan a knock?, but they have a longstanding history of successfully engaging Jamaican audiences going back two decades. In this month, where we erroneously single out and honour a man, Bob Marley, from the band which he would have been very much less without, it is something to remember. Do not forget that Morgan Heritage?s vocalists tried on their own, but as a unit, they have proven stronger than the sum of their parts.