Thu | Jan 18, 2018

A peace concert is a suggestion, not a solution

Published:Thursday | November 24, 2016 | 12:00 AMMel Cooke
Bob Marley (centre) urges then Prime Minister Michael Manley (left) and then Opposition Leader Edward Seaga to shake hands at the One Love Peace Concert at the National Stadium on April 22, 1978.

A few days ahead of the Entertainers Against Crime and Violence concert in Montego Bay on December 4 and the 40th anniversary celebration of the Smile Jamaica concert - both of them free events - I am reminded of a misconception about efforts at using music to combat mayhem.

Twenty years ago, I took my first and only official tour of the Bob Marley Museum at 56 Hope Road, St Andrew (although, naturally, I have been back to the premises the numerous times for entertainment-related matters). It started in the courtyard with the guide explaining paintings on the wall, her back to Hope Road and us tourists facing her.

One of the paintings was from the One Love Peace Concert of 1978, when Bob Marley united then Prime Minister Michael Manley and Opposition Leader Edward Seaga's hands above his head. Twanging to approximate a stereotypical American accent, the tour guide said that after that moment, "hall political war in Jamaica cease!"

I looked out the gateway to where a blue and white 'quarter million' bus (remember those? I think they were an Isuzu make, which came in during the 1980s and got the nickname because they were reputed to cost a whopping $250,000 each) had pulled up and, remembering the 1980 election, said loudly, firmly and clearly one word.


The young lady gave me a sharp look as I continued gazing at the road and the bus nonchalantly. We did the tour, including taking the stairs in three steps, then when we returned to the ground level and the official visit was wrapped up, the guide came to me. "Yu a Jamaican, no true?" she said quietly, the faux English and accent gone. I said "yeah man". We smiled in mutual understanding, and that was that.


 Enduring lessons


However, although that guide was selling what she thought was a believable embellishment of the Marley myth to a bunch of gullible tourists, there are enduring lessons for our utilisation of music in attempting to foster social cohesion. The One Love Peace Concert, did not lessen the political violence in Jamaica, neither did the Smile Jamaica concert two years earlier (just ahead of which Bob and Rita Marley, Don Taylor and Griffiths were shot at 56 Hope Road).

I am not old enough to remember if there was a lull in the post-concert euphoria of those 1970s events, but if there was, the body count certainly makes it clear that was temporary, as the People's National Party (PNP) and Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) kept trading bullets, blades and Molotovs.

There may be a lull in the violence in Montego Bay in particular, St James as a whole and the western Jamaica generally after Entertainers Against Crime and Violence, but if there is, it is a guarantee that it will not last. Chances are, sections of the media will note the breaching of the hope for peace, much as acts of violence against children are especially striking during Child's Month each May. However, the inevitable murders will not indicate the event's failure, just as "hall political war" did not cease in Jamaica after the Smile Jamaica and One Love Peace concerts.

I do not think of these artiste-led initiatives as solutions to violence, whether it is motivated by politics or scamming, but as suggestions of an alternative to the underlying conditions to the situations which caused the social disruption in the first place. So the Montego Bay event early next month will not change the conditions which have led to scamming flourishing in that side of the island, just as Smile Jamaica and One Love could not have an impact on Jamaica being a microcosm of the global tussle between the USA and then USSR.

In a previous column, I wrote about Queen Ifrica's Welcome to Montego Bay and what it says about the St James capital's generally dilapidated infrastructure for the residents, although there is a thriving tourism business centered around the all-exclusives. Of course, she will do that song on December 4, but it is highly unlikely that those who can channel the funds will do anything.

The concerts are also a strong suggestion of harmony among different elements (which is much of what music is about) in society. But without an underlying change in the social conditions, they will not have the positive, long-lasting effect that the performers hope for. (I am not so sure that those who have control over the society do want a change, so they will smile and dance and sing along, but that is as far as it goes).

And still, that will not cause "hall political han scammin' war in Jamaica to cease".

So think of peace and unity concerts as largely performer-driven suggestions for social harmony and an indication of what the society can be, with the requisite support through focused social programmes, efficient unbiased policing, reduced corruption, and caring beyond socio-economic class. Song and dance cannot do that, but it can - and does - indicate possibilities.