Mon | Jun 24, 2019

Julian 'Jingles' Reynolds | The true story of Reggae music [Part 2]

Published:Sunday | February 17, 2019 | 12:16 AM
Olivia 'Babsy' Grange

The beginning of the journey of reggae was extremely difficult for those making it. A major block was getting airplay on the two existing radio stations, RJR and JBC.

It took acts of force by the young ‘Turks’ producing and supporting the music, led by activists, namely, record producers Bunny ‘Striker’ Lee, Prince Buster, Allan ‘Skill’ Cole, Lloyd ‘One Foot Jimmy’ Radway, members of The Wailers, along with their supporters, threatening the managers and radio presenters with physical harm if their records were not given airplay. It was the sound systems throughout Jamaica that accepted and gave early exposure to reggae music.

Even within journalism and the music industry, I recall the exchanges in The Star I had with my colleague and friend the late musician and journalist Sonny Bradshaw about the importance of giving maximum exposure to the newly emerging Jamaican art form, reggae.

Sonny, in his column ‘Musicman’, saw it differently from me. My contention went into the business itself as my friends who operated arguably the most popular ‘disco’ then, Merritone Discotheque, were offended by me challenging them both in SWING and my columns in The Star and The Gleaner of playing too much foreign music, soul, and R&B, and not more local music, namely reggae, ska, and rocksteady.

Another hindrance to reggae then was the deeply entrenched racism and classism which to this day permeate the Jamaican society. Reggae came from the bowels of the Jamaican working class and peasants, fully identifiable with Rastafari, a movement born from the same societal levels.

‘BURRU-BURRU MUSIC’

I remember a conservatively bent member of my family, a police officer, expressing his pride in reading my articles on the music but dismissing “the black man wasting his time with this burru burru music”, and asking if I saw others like the “Chinese, Indians, and the white man wasting their time pursuing this as a way of making money”. This was in 1969.

It must have been a very emotional moment and a feeling of accomplishment experienced by Minister Olivia ‘Babsy’ Grange as she sat there at the United Nations Educational Scientific & Cultural Organization (UNESCO) meeting in Mauritius, off the coast of East Africa, witnessing the organisation voting for reggae music to be protected and added to its Cultural Heritage List, declaring it a global cultural treasure.

She was there as a teenager when the music was being created among the youth of Kingston.

A product of west Kingston, Babsy would gather with her contemporaries at Chocomo Lawn Youth Club and Dancehall on Wellington Street under the leadership of former Prime Minister Edward Seaga.

Chocomo was one of the Kingston node points for the emergence of Jamaican music, producing the likes of The Techniques and The Uniques.

Grange was coming full circle, now being the minister of culture, entertainment and sport, spearheading this landmark achievement for Jamaican culture.

Were the circumstances less charged in Mauritius, it would have been appropriate seeing the likes of Jimmy Cliff, Derrick Harriott, Bunny Lee, or representatives of the families of Arthur ‘Duke’ Reid, Clement ‘Coxsone’ Dodd, Vincent ‘Randy’ Chin, Sonia Pottinger, and Byron Lee and Neville Lee – pioneers of the Jamaican music industry – accompanying her.

And now what? Although largely symbolic, this recognition by UNESCO can serve as a strong promotional tool to attract more revenue into the Jamaican coffers.

I have long tried to get the Jamaican governments and private sector, through my writings and projects submitted as an entrepreneur, to appreciate that the country has enormous potential for earnings via its creative industries, primarily music and cinema.

References were drawn to the United States, which valued and invested heavily in its creative industries to make it, for several decades, among the six biggest net earners for the American economy – up there with agriculture, motor vehicles, pharmaceuticals, energy, aircraft, and aerospace. Not only were their creatives – literature, film and television, and music – earning big, they were also principal tools in spreading American culture and values around the world.

REGGAE TASK FORCE

Jamaica must now prioritise reggae and the attendant creative industries for increased revenue generation. The financial institutions must remove their risk-averse attitude to funding for the creative industries.

At a recent meeting with JAMPRO, I learnt that they led a delegation of Jamaican potential financiers, a couple months ago, on a sensitisation trip to Hollywood, and Las Vegas to get a better understanding on how financing the film and entertainment industries works. This is a significant development.

I would further suggest a task force – headed by the prime minister, minister of finance, and minister of culture, and comprising financial and creative industry leaders such as Michael Lee Chin, Chris Blackwell, Marlene Street Forrest, Sandra Glasgow, Keith Duncan, Jimmy Cliff, Michael ‘Ibo’ Cooper, and Diane Edwards – be instituted to drive investments in creative industry projects. Capital must be sourced from the IDB, World Bank, CDB, and other multi-laterals for investment in the creative industries.

There are several creative projects that can be beneficial to improving the socio-economic conditions in Jamaica, but they are shunned by financial institutions because they emanate from the unconventional classes that have no history with the financial establishment.

The two most important historical node points for reggae are Orange (Beat) Street – where the business was centered, record shops operated, deals were made, and monies passed; and Trench Town, where most of the singing and songwriting talents lived. Target these for investments.

Reggae has demonstrated its power and value internationally, providing substantial revenues from record sales, publishing copyrights, and live performances, enabling many in Jamaica to enjoy a better standard of living.

The great Rastafari leader and visionary Sam Brown said, “The black man in his bid for freedom, walked through many doors.”

Reggae music is certainly one such door to socio-economic freedom.

- Julian ‘Jingles’ Reynolds is chairman of Sounds & Pressure Foundation in downtown Kingston, a novelist (‘A Reason For Living’), and a documentary filmmaker. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and sounds_pressure@yahoo.com.