Reggae Conference goes 'over the wall'
Mel Cooke, Gleaner Writer
The 2010 International Reggae Conference went 'over the wall' on Friday afternoon for a session in African Gardens, August Town, St Andrew. Participants in the conference, then into its penultimate day at the University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona campus, visited the community in what UWI principal Professor Gordon Shirley described as "a dream come true".
The wall which the conference participants drove around is the high, extended concrete barrier which separates the Mona campus and August Town, mainly along the perimeter of the Mona Bowl sports facilities.
The August Town session, which included brief performances by Michael and Diana Rutherford as well as a longer stint at the microphone from Etana, dovetailed with the UWI Township Project, headed by Professor Barry Chevannes. Chevannes described to the gathering of residents and conference participants, Jamaicans and visitors, how the wall kept getting higher and higher, foot by foot. Concurrently, the relationship between the university and August Town degenerated into "deep fear, deep hostility, deep alienation".
However, Chevannes said, "There were those of us who thought this ought not be so," Shirley among them.
"Under his leadership, we have set out to build a better relationship with August Town," Chevannes said.
That is being done under the Integrated Township Community project.
"There should be no barrier between a world of knowledge and a world of people hungry for knowledge," Chevannes said. Despite the wall, the worlds already overlap, as Chevannes dubbed August Town the "seventh hall of residence", as more UWI students take up residence there.
There is also a plan to get more residents of the community over the wall and enrolled at the university. Chevannes said that there is an automatic Challenge Scholarship for bona fide members of the community. Having satisfied the entry requirements and being accepted, their fees will be automatically waived for the first semester. The waiver will remain in place if they maintain a B+ average.
In his brief address, Shirley put forward another angle of the relationship between August Town and the UWI.
"It was here before the campus," he said, adding that so many students, employees and workers on construction projects on the campus live there. "It is an area the Mona campus wants to be associated with," Shirley added.
He also made the connection between the conference specifically and August Town, noting that many artistes have come from the community.
"It would be difficult to have a conference like this without engaging the people of August Town," he said. Shirley also thanked Professor Carolyn Cooper for her ongoing contribution to reggae studies at the university.
Etana explained how she had written the song 'August Town', describing a party at the river including adults and children which had been thrown into chaos by gunfire from the police.
"I wrote the song not to bash the police. Them have them hands full," Etana said. However, unlike her, most community members do not have access to a video camera and a microphone and the intention is to encourage a different approach from the police.
The politicians also need to change their approach, Etana said, decrying the practice of giving someone $5,000 to wear a shirt.
, cutting it short as she said she was getting emotional, and then
, which details the travails of a woman who is denied employment because she lives in an inner-city community.
Ellen Köhlings, a 2010 International Reggae Conference participant from Germany, told the academics, "Let's talk to the people who make the music", urging them to go into communities such as Denham Town. She said that when involvement is at the university level, "You preach to the already converted."
Chevannes had also spoken to the relationship between the police and August Town's residents and expressed his hope for future linkages between the International Reggae Conference and August Town.
"When you have the third or fourth reggae conference, there is a space you can factor in to host panels, not only in the square but also in other venues," Chevannes said.