Sunsplash history unlocked
Mel Cooke, Gleaner Writer
There was a time when a then 12-year-old Java Immanuel-I would make as little splash as possible as he snuck his way into concerts being held along Kingston's coastline. He would swim to the edge of the venue, clamber out of the water, dry himself off and listen to The Skatalites and The Mighty Vikings.
In a later life and in another place, for about a year, he toted two heavy boxes of records on a subway, taxi and walking journey to start his radio programme at 4 a.m. on WRTI FM, operated by Temple University in Philadelphia, USA, where he was a student.
Now, the combination of determination and love of Jamaican music has resulted in his first book, Reggae Sunsplash 1978- 1998. And it is literally Java Immanuel-I's book - researched, written and funded by him, all the full colour pictures in the publication taken by him.
He chose to document Reggae Sunsplash, starting his research in about 2003 and culling the archives of The National Library and The Gleaner Company as well as press releases which he saved because "it was the mother of all shows. It was just as good as any festival in the world in terms of production. And I am talking about the late 1970s, the '80s, coming up."
Immanuel-I makes it clear that "I did not set out to deal with the dirty linen of Sunsplash. I wanted to document Sunsplash. I welcome all books on Sunsplash. I don't have a monopoly, to not have another book out there ... I was not going to talk about who stab who in the back and all that. My only objective was to document it, to bring that in a way that painted the broader picture".
"There can be other books about Sunsplash, where people get into the suss and all that. I just want to document it from a historical point of view. I want to show people how our music is very huge, very sophisticated, very elaborate."
And so was Sunsplash. In the detailed Reggae Sunsplash 1978 - 1998, Immanuel-I gives a review of each staging, there are interviews with Ronnie Burke, Tommy Cowan and Barry G, Peter Tosh's speech at Reggae Sunsplash 1980 and the entrance fees as well as frequency of performers' appearances on the festival. "One of the people I wish I could have interviewed was the guy who took over Sunsplash. He got a raw deal," Immanuel-I said, as he did not know Tony Johnson had registered it in the United States.
Indicating Sunsplash's impact, Immanuel-I says "when Sunsplash was going, people in Kingston prepared for Sunsplash. When they went, it was like going to America. When they came back it was like they went somewhere, to foreign land".
He came from foreign land to Sunsplash, as he migrated when he was 16 years old. The first picture he took at the festival was of Roy Shirley at the 1982 renewal and Immanuel-I had started attending one or two years earlier. He could not come to all the stagings, as he financed the expensive ventures himself. And he did not start writing about Sunsplash then, as he was working in radio and primarily did interviews which he would take back Philadelphia to play on air.
However, Reggae Sunsplash 1978-1998 is not his first venture into publishing. Immanuel-I also does the Reggae Calendar, started the Caribbe newspaper and, about four years ago, tried to get the Philadelphia Caribbean Directory (PCD) going to encourage spending on goods and services within the community. Immanuel-I laughs as he tells The Gleaner that he has told his children that when his time comes, a one-line memorial is fine: "He was a trying man."
"Most of all my accomplishments are because I did not think of the difficulties," Immanuel-I said.
There was also encouragement on the Reggae Sunsplash 1978-1998 journey. Poet and broadcaster Mutabaruka wrote the foreword and Immanuel-I recalls telling him about the difficulty of going it alone.
Mutabaruka replied to the effect that if he had had 10 people "you would mash up". "Muta is a no-nonsense person. Once he realised the worth of the work, it gave me a greater sense of purpose," he said.
Then there are Dr Jalani Niaah and Dr Sonjah Stanley-Niaah, who both lecture at the University of the West Indies, Mona campus, ("They told me you are on to a thesis. They gave me so much boost at the time."), Jamaica Federation of Musicians (JFM) president Desmond Young and Lyn-Shu of Carpro. The last, who has supported the Reggae Calendar, told someone in Immanuel-I's presence "Java pay his dues".
"Sometimes people say a little thing to you and they don't know what they do for you," he said.
And now that the book is finished, he says "I felt that we need to document ourselves. We allow other people to do it. I did not know other people were seeing it that way. People in high places are saying they are glad it is a Jamaican who did it".
"It is to put something in the library with my name. The father say live clean and let thy works be seen," Immanuel-I said. "I have another book in the making. It is not as technical as this one. It is on music. It is something I need to document. What I am doing now, people in the industry know me. They don't see me as invading their space. What I love is that I have laid the groundwork."