Packed month of activities water down celebration
The month of February has flown by with the speed of lightning. The quick passing of February is due in part to it being the shortest month of the year. But there are other factors which attribute to its ephemeral nature, particularly from a Jamaican perspective.
February has, in fact, become a keenly anticipated month in the lives of many Jamaicans, given the many important and interesting activities included therein. When you think of it, although being the shortest month of the year, quite ironically, it is packed with more activities and events than any other month. There is Valentine's Day on the 14th, Ash Wednesday (sometimes), this year on the 13th, Jamaica Day, the 22nd, Bob Marley Day, the 6th, Dennis Brown's birth anniversary, the 1st, in addition to the month being labelled Black History Month, Heart Month and Reggae Month.
They have all combined to create what could perhaps be described as a phenomenon.
But of all the activities and festivities that February is burdened with, Reggae Month has seemed to take centre stage, with Marley and Brown playing starring roles.
Given the fact that other reggae-related events will always be planned for the month, by virtue of the status it has acquired, one is inclined to question the wisdom of having so many events included.
A clashing of events is certainly one of the risks that cannot be ruled out. For what reason International Reggae day (July 1) is placed in a different month from Reggae Month, I am not sure, but on the surface, it seems inconsistent, and it perhaps would be a good idea, as a matter of expediency, to merge both observances and celebrate them in July, as Reggae Month - a longer and less busy month.
By so doing, more focus and attention could be paid to Black History, and the Marley and Brown celebrations in February. Other stellar events now celebrated in February include the Peter Tosh Tribute at his home in Belmont, Westmoreland - an event which has become a tourist attraction; the Trench Town Rock Concert at the Vin Lawrence Park in Trench Town, in recognition of the outstanding singers and musicians who hailed from that community; the Digicel Concert at Emancipation Park - a tribute to the legendary Reggae King, Bob Marley on his birthday; and the Dennis Brown Tribute - a stage show approximately held on the Sunday closest to his birthday - February 1 at his birthplace - the intersection of North and Orange streets in downtown Kingston. Unfortunately, the Dennis Brown tribute this year suffered sponsorship and security hitches which resulted in two postponements. The good news, however, according to Julian 'Jingles' Reynolds, one of the organisers and Chairman of the Sounds and Pressure committee, and former entertainment journalist with The Gleaner Company, the show will definitely be on in March at a date to be announced.
Reggae month was, in fact, conceived in 2008, by the then ruling Jamaica Labour Party, through the executive arm of the ministry responsible for culture. Its main aim was to promote the music industry and culture in Jamaica, thereby significantly contributing to national development.
By dedicating a month to reggae music, it was the hope of the ministry that the Jamaican diaspora, and, by extension, the international community would follow suit and design similar events in its honour, providing a stimulus for more visits to the island.
Somewhere amid the tumultuous political atmosphere of the late 1960s, this music phenomenon called reggae was born.
It became the mouthpiece for the oppressed, as it boldly tackled issues of poverty, corruption, hopelessness, and politics. The stories aligned to its development have been no less intriguing, fascinating, and controversial.
Just the mention of the word reggae creates confusion in the minds of the ill-informed. To those persons, a distinct differentiation needs, first of all, to be made between the coining of the name, the first time the name was mentioned in a recording, and thirdly, the first recording that was made with the reggae beat. The coining of the name, which at first had no relation to music, was first used interchangeably with 'streggae' (a loose woman), from as far back as 1953, according to one source.
The late record producer Clancy Eccles created controversy when he claimed that he coined the name, while calling to one such woman at at dance in the later 1960s. It has been widely accepted that the first recording to have included the word in its lyrics was the Leslie Kong, 1968 Toots and the Maytals recording, Do The Reggae.
It remains debatable, which recording was the first to signal the shift from rocksteady to reggae, owing to a lack of proper and precise documentation.
Larry Marshall and Alvin Leslie, recording under their stage name Larry and Alvin, are firm contenders for that title, with their 1968 Clement Dodd-produced recording, Nanny Goat. The Bunny Lee-produced Bangarang by Stranger Cole (vocal), and Lester Sterling (saxophone), and the Harry Johnson-produced, No More Heartache by the Beltones, have also been cited as being among the first reggae recordings.
By the end of the 1960s, reggae had spread its wings to Europe, particularly the United Kingdom (UK), making its presence felt with Desmond Dekker's Israelites (1968), and Shanty Town 007 (1967) - recordings that literally opened the eyes of many to the conditions of sufferers in an island portrayed as a tropical paradise.
Israelites, in fact, created history by becoming the first Jamaican recording to reach the No.1 position on the British charts.
Possessing a sense of conviction and a natural intensity in the beat, the song opened the floodgates for some 20 UK charted Jamaican recordings, including three more No 1s - Double Barrel (1970) by Dave Barker and Ansel Collins, Everything I Own (1974) by Ken Boothe, and UPTOWN TOP RANKING (1977) by Althea and Donna.