Washington DC's inaugural World Reggae Festival delivers
Last weekend, the curtain came down on an almost monthlong celebration of Jamaican's 56th anniversary in Washington, DC, Syracuse, Atlanta, Philadelphia, and Baltimore.
The activities kicked off at the Jamaican Association of Maryland on August 4, and culminated with family day picnics and festivals in Baltimore, Maryland, and Philadelphia. These events, endorsed by the Jamaican embassy in Washington, DC, under the leadership of Ambassador Audrey Marks, attracted a wide audience from the diaspora and supporters of Jamaican culture.
One of the highlights of the Independence celebrations was the inaugural DC World Reggae Festival, which featured recording artistes Toots Hibbert, Chronixx and Shabba Ranks, among other Caribbean and America-based reggae/dancehall artistes. According to Marks, "Total attendance indicated that it was the biggest reggae festival in Washington, DC, in recent years, and from a branding standpoint, the festival exceeded expectations."
Held on August 19 at the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium, she told The Gleaner that the showcase of well-produced reggae music was family-friendly and pleasing to the soul.
"Shabba is still an amazing performer. I had not seen him for about 10 years. Toots is the evergreen father of reggae, and Chronixx controlled the crowd very well. He gave a solid 90-minute performance that felt like nine minutes," she said.
The DC World Reggae Festival is actually one of the few reggae festivals worldwide that is owned and produced by Jamaicans.
"I was very excited to see this initiative by a small team of four young Jamaicans forming a self-funded group, and wanted it to be a success to encourage more of this type of cultural entrepreneurship in addition to providing support for big ideas in the diaspora community to monetise Brand Jamaica," she added.
Marks sees Washington, DC's, intense interest in Jamaican popular music as an opportunity that has not been fully explored; so much so that the embassy has committed to continue its partnership with the festival for future stagings.
"The DC World Reggae Festival demonstrated at a micro level the power of Brand Jamaica. The show was designed to promote Jamaican music - reggae music, Jamaica's culture, and the influence that reggae music has on other cultures," she said. "Events like DC World Reggae Festival can only help to propel future interests in travelling to Jamaica for the true authentic flavour of its music, food, arts, culture and interaction with our people."
She added: "We have one of the most recognisable brands in the world because of what has been done on the world stage by our musicians, athletes, tourism pioneers, so I would like to see more Jamaicans benefiting from monetising our brand." Marks said that the festival "provided a platform for Jamaican brands to market their products, have patrons taste their products and develop a loyalty to the brand because of its support in promoting our culture abroad".
She added: "I am encouraging Jamaican companies that are looking to market themselves overseas to partner with promoters of these types of high-level events because it's a win-win partnership."
The Jamaican embassy has also committed its support to help build awareness of a number of other events that are raising funding for schools and clinics across Jamaica by assisting with the solicitation of sponsorship support and providing access to the various databases of the diaspora community, to promote successful events particularly linked to local tourism, music, food, fashion, dance, book launches and exposure of investment opportunities in Jamaican products and services.