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Preserving J'can music a priority - Reggae Open University begins at Edna Manley College

Published:Sunday | February 5, 2017 | 12:00 AMKimberley Small
Music producer Gussie Clarke.
David Brown (left) and Herbie Miller.
Jayudah Barrett
An audience member expresses his enthusiasm at Reggae Sumfest 2016.

The first panel discussion of the 2017 Reggae Open University series took place last Thursday evening at the Vera Moody Hall, Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts, Arthur Wint Drive, St Andrew. Moderated by Joan Webley, board member of the Jamaica Reggae Industry Association (JaRIA) and attorney at law, the panel consisted of Herbie Miller, curator of the Jamaica Music Museum; Jayudah Barrett, director of Organic HEART Group of Companies and attorney at law; David Brown of the African-Caribbean Institute of Jamaica; and Gussie Clarke, music publisher and managing director of Anchor Studios.

The panel's theme was 'Preserving the Music'. Brown told the audience that through the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), JARIA had signed the 2013 Convention for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage. Brown said songs dances, cuisine, hairstyles, beliefs and music establish cultural identity and the convention was a legal instrument designed to protect such practices.


The reggae music of Jamaica


"Now the plan is to put forward a nomination for a candidature file to UNESCO for reggae music. The title of the element being put forward is The Reggae Music of Jamaica," Brown said. This will be presented in March 2017, but will not be up for consideration until 2018, based on UNESCO's filing cycle.

The nomination states and identifies that reggae music was formed and created in Jamaica. In preparing the candidature file, one requirement was that reggae music had to be definitively and distinctly described. "There is a particular sound that reggae music is, and we've been able to encapsulate that by actually being able to describe and write it out and accompany it with sheet music. That's what we're going to submit," Brown said.

According to Brown, they have also included that reggae began in Kingston, Jamaica, in the late 1950s and early 1960s. This ties in with UNESCO's recent recognition of Kingston as a creative music city.

Herbie Miller suggested the development of 'repertory' or tribute bands which reproduce music specific to a composer or a band "for an audience who remembers that band from personal experience, have been exposed to that band, post the life of that band.".

Barrett identified groups of people she believes ought to give more attention to various areas within the music industry and should be involved in standards development, industry stabilisation and maintenance. As an attorney, Barrett told the audience that her interest lies particularly in the legislation that governs the music industry, positing that production and distribution methods have changed and that legislation should keep up. "The Government also needs to find a way to keep music alive in Jamaica. A lot of what we do is appreciated by those on the outside and not necessarily on the inside, and that is something we need to change," she said.

"They need to facilitate the ideas of all the players, at least some of the players in the music industry. They need to speak to the people who are part of this industry to get a feel of what is happening and how we see our industry going forward," Barrett continued.


Treat music as a subject


Barrett emphasised adjustment of the school curriculum in treating music more as a subject and less like an extracurricular activity. "We should be developing music programmes from as early as preschool. There needs to be an enhancement of music programmes that encourage competitiveness to let people feel like there's a purpose to teaching you all of these things. Let them compete; put them on a world stage," she said, pulling on the example of Di Blueprint Band's 2012 journey to London to compete with bands from other countries after winning the Jamaican leg of Battle of the Bands.

"There is this big disconnect between those that were and those that are now," Barrett continued. "We are the custodians." Speaking about the promoters, disc jockeys and the media, Barrett impressed upon their responsibility to promote Jamaica's music locally and internationally.

Gussie Clarke also spoke about the gap. "One of the things that is popular in our industry is [that] those who don't know [are learning] from people who don't know and teaching who need to know. So the disconnect immediately begins right there," Clarke said.

"To understand that something must be wrong with the way how we doing it now and this is the whole factor of why preservation is important. If 35 years after his death, Bob Marley still selling more records than everybody put together, it means there was something unique about what he made," Clarke said.