In the world that Jamaica made
To attend the Rototom Sunsplash Reggae festival in Benicassim, Spain, is to be granted a privilege to witness the result of Europeans, Asians, Africans, and a few other native people who have willingly subscribed to a lifestyle shaped and packaged through our music culture and Rastafari 'livity'.
In this world, God is Jah, and the figures of Emperor Hailie Selassie, Marcus Garvey, and Bob Marley loom large gods and saints with global recognition. This is the world that Jamaica made.
Jamaican culture has managed to do for almost nothing what other nations and culture spend billions to accomplish which is cultural export and lifestyle adoption. This is a big deal.
I recently returned from Spain, where I attended the 25th staging of the Rototom Sunsplash European Reggae Festival, this year being the ninth year held in Spain, after being held in Italy for 16 years prior. This year, the festival ran from August 16-22. This seven-day festival has welcomed more than 2,740,000 thousand festivalgoers from more than 130 countries around the world.
The display of Jamaican culture on show was nothing short of mind-blowing if you're Jamaican because it is nothing like what you expect if you were born and raised in Jamaica. Not even in your wildest imagination are you able to fathom the total reproduction of a lifestyle you've lived all your life in a place that is so foreign. And this experience is replicated around the globe wherever you find these Jamaica music festivals.
What struck me while there was what an incredible celebration of Jamaica this festival experience is and without a majority of Jamaicans or Jamaican institutions having any administrative input. There was no Jamaican central government involvement, or Jamaican agencies present, that incidentally, are missing a superb opportunity for promoting the island in my view. There was no Jamaica Tourist Board or consuls in sight, while approximately 210,000 Jamaican music fans gathered for seven days in ritual and almost religious celebration of the world Jamaica made. This is simply incredible!
This for me raises a philosophical question about the role of government versus the role of private capital in development because it appears that to date, central government has been quite ineffective in taking advantage of several opportunities that present themselves. I don't propose to have the answer here, but how effective could serious investors be with the right alliances or partnerships versus a dependence upon government or the state to lead on certain development initiatives? Rototom as it stands now is reportedly 96 per cent self-funded. This is worth noting as we seek to determine appropriate responses.
I don't think for a minute that Jamaica's position within the scheme of things is one that is condemned to irrelevance as we move forward, even if in effect we are incidental to the world of reggae festivals outside of the island. But in the very same breath, I'm mindful that if significant steps are not taken to be more dynamic participants in this ever-evolving world of music and culture that was birthed on the island, irrelevance is a foreseeable possibility after a few generations.
Whether we choose to describe the current state of affairs as cultural appropriation or not, the reality of what we have before us is the full-blown Jamaicanisation of whole swathes of people who have willingly submitted themselves to viewing the world through the lens and experiences that Jamaica has provided. The question in my view now is, how, in the scheme of things, do Jamaicans not become incidental to the future of this global development of its many forms of music (ska, dub, reggae, dancehall, and the others it has influenced)? Jamaicans ought to begin to benefit economically from the global celebration of their Jamaican identity that has been shaped through bitter struggle.
I think the time is calling for more sensible business partnerships to realise greater economic benefits for all.
- Kam-Au Amen is an entrepreneur and a former UWI lecturer who developed the BA in Entertainment and Cultural Enterprise Management. You can see more of his writings at www.kamauamen.com.