Sun | Aug 14, 2022

Prathit Misra | India, Jamaica and some beats on the crescendo

Published:Sunday | July 31, 2022 | 12:08 AM


Chris Gayle’s ‘Jamaica to India’ single topped the charts in India, having earned 55 million views to date
Chris Gayle’s ‘Jamaica to India’ single topped the charts in India, having earned 55 million views to date

Samara Chopra (Begum X), left, and Taru Dalmia (Delhi Sultanate), go strictly vinyl at the launch of BFR sound system.
Samara Chopra (Begum X), left, and Taru Dalmia (Delhi Sultanate), go strictly vinyl at the launch of BFR sound system.

Patrons move to the beats at the 2020 edition of Goa Sunsplash
Patrons move to the beats at the 2020 edition of Goa Sunsplash

Members of the Reggae Rajahs.
Members of the Reggae Rajahs.
Prathit MisraPrathit Misra
Prathit MisraPrathit Misra
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During his recent state visit to Jamaica, the President of India, Ram Nath Kovind, while addressing the joint sitting of the Jamaican Parliament, exclaimed that if cultural richness was made the metric for measuring the strength of nations, Jamaica would be an undisputed global superpower. His observation is but natural given the thriving cultural groups, festivals, food, icons like Marcus Garvey and Bob Marley, dance forms, and, most of all, Jamaica’s music.

For a country with less than three million people to have at least half a dozen significant music genres, including reggae, dancehall, ska, dub, rocksteady, and ento is no mean feat. These genres have crossed Jamaican shores and have influenced music scenes in the North and Latin American world and across the countries of Africa and Europe. However, what is not known is that Jamaican music is creating waves in India and is rapidly gaining new converts.

India is a music-loving country with various classical music forms as well as the Hindi film industry, Bollywood, regional and country music ruling the roost. Western classical music, pop, rock, jazz, hip-hop, rap, and EDM have their enthusiasts, too, especially in the dozens of ever-expanding Indian towns and cities.

Till some decades ago, it was difficult for Indian music enthusiasts to travel to Jamaica to explore and learn from the Jamaican music scene due to the steep distance. The recordings were hard to get. The language barrier also prevented Jamaican music from reaching the Indian masses. All this is changing fast.

SUNSPLASH IN GOA

International icons like Shaggy, The Wailers, UB40, and Julian Marley have all toured India in recent years. If you happen to visit the Indian state of Goa in January, you might confuse it with Ocho Rios or Montego Bay. The Sunsplash is South Asia’s largest annual reggae festival on Goa’s shores, attracting thousands of music lovers from India and abroad. Started in 2016, the festival boasts reggae performers like Johnny Osbourne, Cali P, Skarra Mucci, Mad Professor, General Levy, Zion Train, Manudigital, and Brother Culture. Sunsplash is also home to India’s first handcrafted reggae sound system, ‘the 10,000 Lions’.

You would be mistaken if you thought that the performers in this festival were all international reggae artists. Sunsplash is driving a wave of Indian homegrown reggae bands and performers. One such popular group is the ‘Reggae Rajahs’ based out of New Delhi, which helped set up the Goa Sunsplash itself. They are the first Jamaican-style sound system from India and have received a ‘Best International Band’ award nomination at the British Reggae Industry Awards.

India also hosted its first dancehall camp, ‘INDIES VIBEZ UP’, in early 2019, developed by Dancehall India, with the intention of spreading dancehall culture across India. The SkaVengers is another prominent Indian band blending ska, dub, and other music genres. Only last year, cricketer Chris Gayle’s ‘Jamaica to India’ single topped the charts in India, having earned 55 million views to date.

The reasons for the growing popularity in India of Jamaican music in general and reggae in particular are easy to understand. If Rastafari is the message, reggae is the medium for transporting that message. The contribution of Indian culture in the development of Rastafari through the Indian community, which landed in Jamaica more than 175 years ago, is well known. It is natural that Indians feel an affinity to reggae and the philosophy it espouses. The conversant lyrics and the accommodation of social and environmental themes also appeal to the young generation in India. Furthermore, the increased travel of Indians to Jamaica, the easy online access to music and greater visibility of Jamaica on the global stage have also played their part.

POTENTIAL

However, reggae and dancehall have entered India from the top echelons of the society through the efforts of a handful of artistes. Although there is potential, they are yet to become the music of the masses. The same can be said about the popularity of Indian music in Jamaica. Realising this, the Indian High Commission in Jamaica and the Jamaican diplomatic mission in India are encouraging the curation of music performances in Jamaica and India by blending performers from both countries. It could result in the cross-pollination of skills, ideas, and themes that would eventually enrich our overall music scene. To this effect, music shows are being planned later this year by bringing the crème de la crème of the classical, Bollywood, country, and contemporary musicians from India to Kingston. The Indian artists will closely collaborate with the Jamaican artists for the performances. Not only will they go back better musicians, but they will also impart their expertise to the budding Jamaican artistes. To me, this is powerful.

After more than 175 years of the presence of Indians in Jamaica, one can confidently say that the combination of anything Indian and Jamaican works wonders. Whether it be the planting of the Indian mango and moringa in the Jamaican soil or the inclusion of Jamaican cricketers in the IPL, both India and Jamaica have gained from the successful exchanges. There is no reason why cooperation in the art of music will be any different.

Prathit Misra is second secretary at the High Commission of India in Jamaica. Views expressed are personal. Any comments or feedback can be sent to cons.kingston@mea.gov.in.