Mon | Aug 2, 2021

Lest we forget music and Brand Jamaica

Published:Wednesday | September 2, 2015 | 12:00 AMMel Cooke
Debbie-Ann Pryce-Hoo Fung and her son Steven were among the persons who packed the National Stadium, Independence Day, to enjoy the Jamaica 53 Grand Gala.
Eric Donaldson during his performance at the recent Grand Gala inside the National Stadium.

Of the numerous outstanding moments for Jamaica in the IAAF World Championships in China, two were especially stirring. In the order in which they happened, there was O'Dayne Richards' bronze medal in the shot put and Novlene Williams-Mills' final leg of the women's 4x400m relay.

Richards' podium finish in a throwing event (for which Jamaica has not been particularly well known at the world level before the prominence of people like Jason Morgan, Federick Dacres, Chad Wright and Richards) is an indication of the diversity which we need in the track and field programme. Note the 'field' in it.

What more can be said about Williams-Mills' anchor leg to overhaul Francena McCorory in the home stretch and crush the USA? What more can be said about the way they gave credit to each other after the win?

However, in the euphoria around track and field and the proliferation of black, green and gold flags being waved not only by Jamaicans who make the trek to the various places where world-level events are being held, but people of varied nationalities, let us not forget music's effect on the brand that is Jamaica. This is not a comparison of levels of impact music and track and field have had in popularising Brand Jamaica - not only is a measurement like that unnecessary, but I have no empirical basis to refer to. Therefore, I would be foolish to write something like that in the first place, allowing room for similarly silly persons with Internet connections and the comfort of anonymity to spout off in the comments section.

We already have enough of that, don't we?

I think it is important, though, to remind us all that the various genres of popular music produced by Jamaica have produced and contributed significantly - maybe immeasurably - to a global awareness that Jamaica exists and has a culture which is vibrant and varied. It is also welcoming, with visitors coming in numbers not only for specific events like Reggae Sunsplash, Reggae Sumfest, Sting and Rebel Salute, but also staying for extended periods to do the rounds of round-the-clock events (many times in communities which quite a few Jamaicans would never visit, day or night).

It is not only the recordings, of course, but also the live performances. It would be interesting to know how many Jamaican sound system selectors, dancers, singers, deejays, band members, engineers and assorted support staff leave Jamaica over the course of a calendar year (with so many going out repeatedly) to perform. Each says, by their very presence, that there is a Brand Jamaica.

Unfortunately, many times the media focus is on mishaps and misbehaviour by a few of the performers (inevitably dancehall), or who is not being allowed to visit a particular country (inevitably dancehall).

It is important that we recognise and respect what our popular music has done for us, because that is part of the process which leads to greater support, which is vital for its development. There are inherent drawbacks, though. It is not overtly competitive, so the feverish excitement that comes from seeing little Jamaica overwhelm nations with much larger populations and resources is not there.

Also, the strain of Rastafari, which is deeply ingrained in Jamaican popular music, focuses on an African rather than a Jamaican identity. It is much less strident now than previously, but Rastafari's emphasis on an African identity is still strong enough to create that little distance which cools patriotic passions.

Also, much of the visuals associated with Jamaican popular music are not suitable for a general audience. It does not have to be a child being encouraged to dagger (as popped up recently) - the skimpy clothing, conspicuous liquor consumption and language which is part and parcel of much of Jamaican popular music which should not be shown to youngsters.

I could go on and on about the drawbacks, but in not properly recognising our popular music's contribution to Brand Jamaica, there is one contributing factor that must be noted - we are so excellent at the business of music that we take it for granted.

We should not.