Tue | Jul 17, 2018

Music as intellectual property in a plantation society

Published:Thursday | February 2, 2017 | 12:00 AM
Persons dance in the morning at a Passa Passa event in 2007 along Spanish Town Road.
Elephant Man performing at East Fest 2004 at the Goodyear Oval, St Thomas.

The 2017 celebrations of Reggae Month went into high gear with the first Reggae Wednesdays concert of the month in Mandela Park, Half-Way Tree, yesterday. It celebrated the music of Dennis Brown, who was born on February 1, 1957.

With its origins as a Spanish and then English colony, after the annihilation of the Tainos, Jamaica was a place for agriculture - sugar cane and bananas the major crops, with nutmeg, tobacco and various tubers such as yam and dasheen in the mix. So wealth and power depended on having large swathes of land.

When the bauxite industry came along, the 'red dirt' business was also based on land ownership. So is tourism, the grumblings over access to beaches for Jamaicans a direct result of that.

The beautiful thing about music is that its production does not depend on the use of large patches of land. It is property of the mind, that creative force which is so much more difficult to bind and beat into submission than the body. And it is also intellectual property created by the social class descended from those who were at the lowest rungs of plantation society.

Music's occupancy of physical property tends to be temporary, and while that means having to do the same set-up and tear-down over and over again, it also means that physical manifestation of intellectual property is very hard to pin down and control.

So while we dance and sing along to our music during the month, I celebrate the power of intellectual property in plantation society. Of course, much more could be done with it, but I find a certain grim satisfaction in its unstructured nature, for it means those who appropriate physical property as their natural right cannot pin down and possess Jamaican popular music.