Hasani Walters, Gleaner Writer
Participants of Reggae University, at the recently concluded Rototom Sunsplash, were privy to an interactive learning experience.
Since 2007, the Reggae University has been a part of the cultural programme of Rototom Sunsplash, one of Europe's largest reggae festivals. Professionals and artistes of the reggae industry meet to discuss and analyse different aspects of reggae music and culture.
The sessions focus on the past, the present and the future of reggae, exploring the evolution of the genre, and also its global nature as one of the most influential contemporary music styles.
They also deal with various other topics from the genre's history.
The collective in charge of the sessions is formed by David Katz, biographer of Lee 'Scratch' Perry's The Genius of Lee 'Scratch Perry: People Funny Boy, author of Solid Foundation: An Oral History of Reggae and creative consultant for various reggae labels; Ellen Koehlings and Pete Lilly, editors of the German RIDDIM Magazine and Pier Tosi, an Italian journalist who runs a radio show that is the benchmark for the Italian reggae massive.
"Reggae University is not so much about outcomes, but about providing a cultural context for non-Jamaican listeners love the music, but are not so familiar with the culture that the music is embedded in. It is also about discussing and analysing certain topics, and of course it offers the possibility to get the chance to get to know the artistes apart from seeing them performing on stage," explained Koehlings.
According to her, during this year's Reggae University sessions, several insightful topics were discussed.
Third World talked about their experience after 40 years in the business, and U Roy about his role as dancehall's godfather.
Carolyn Cooper introduced her book Global Reggae, Sonjah Stanley Niaah gave a preview of her not-yet-released book, A Politics of Pilgrimage: Reggae Music and the Movement of Jah People, and artiste manager Copeland Forbes shared anecdotes from his forthcoming book, Reggae: My Life Is.
Cooper and Stanley Niaah discussed the global impact of reggae with Jubba White (drummer of Dubtonic Kru), Chinese female singer Cha Cha and British sound system Iration Steppas.
Ricky Trooper and Tony Matterhorn shared insight on the Jamaican phenomenon of sound clashes.
Film director Brad Klein premiered his film Legends of Ska and afterwards discussed the significance of the music with Herbie Miller (director/curator of the Jamaican Music Museum at the Institute of Jamaica) and Skatalites saxophonist Lester Sterling.
Italian filmmaker Fernando García-Guereta, screened his documentary Songs of Redemption and Donisha Prendergast screened the film Rasta: A Soul's Journey and then talked about making the movie, being the granddaughter of Bob Marley and her role within Reggae Revival.
Horace Andy, Lloyd Parkes and Miller discussed the foundation of reggae music and its remarkable journey since then.
"It was striking that in every session, it became obvious that reggae and dancehall seem to be much more appreciated in Europe than in their homeland, where the music and its protagonists still have to fight for the approval of the society and Government," said Koehlings
The sessions, while being dubbed Reggae University, have not left out the genre's offspring, dancehall.
"We don't see reggae and dancehall as two different genres, but one as a derivative of the other, that despite the differences, have a lot in common," said Koehlings.
She went on to explain that the belief that Europe only listens to reggae and no dancehall, is not true.
"There are sound systems in every small town all across Europe that play at least as much dancehall as they play reggae. Especially, young listeners tend to listen more to dancehall than reggae. To us, dancehall is just as much a culture worth being discussed as reggae," she said.
Koehlings said based on reactions and the amount of people who attended the sessions, the university went well. The audience especially enjoyed the session on Reggae Revival.
According to her, Jamaicans in the creative industries can benefit from the university.
"The only thing Jamaicans can and should learn from Reggae University is to realise how much their culture and music is appreciated outside of Jamaica, and that it is not about stealing anyone's culture when foreigners play reggae music, but it's about the wish to be an active part of the culture they love so much. If they become more successful than their Jamaican colleagues, it only shows that Jamaica, needs to take much more care of its rich musical culture. It's time to not only talk about Brand Jamaica, but to support Brand Jamaica, by all means necessary. The Reggae Revival offers a great chance for Jamaica, since the artistes have the potential to put Jamaica back on the map," she said.