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Music and More | Regard for reggae in a plantation society

Published:Friday | March 2, 2018 | 12:00 AMMel Cooke/Gleaner Writer
One of the two Zion buses that transport tourists to Nine Mile, St Ann, the birthplace of Reggae legend Bob Marley.
Minister of Tourism Edmund Bartlett

There is a mind-blowing thing about a plantation society, like Jamaica. Those who earn the most do not have to work much - if at all. Now, there are those will be saying "dat a blow him mind at dis ya late stage inna 'im life?". Yes. I remain flabbergasted at the disconnect between consistent productive labour and financial reward.

In this context, the scammer from Montego Bay and the person getting political 'contracts' when their chosen colour is in power are in the same line of work. So is the would-be extortionist handing out letters in Mandeville and the police officer who asks a motorist caught committing an infraction (real or framed - I have been in both situations) "write or lef?".

Reggae Month, the 2018 edition of which ended on Wednesday, brought these thoughts back to the forefront as I marvelled, once more, about how the business of music bucks the production model and power relations of the plantation. For the plantation model on which Jamaica was built, be it for growing sugar cane or tobacco, bananas or coconuts, demanded ownership of large swathes of land. Making music requires a much smaller physical space for a studio, and the money required to construct and run a recording facility, though still significant, has dwindled in the digital era. That easier access may be, for better or worse, in terms of quality control.




Second, the plantation society requires a large labour force of low-intellect labour. It needs hewers of wood and drawers of water (in the modern-day context that would include mixers of mortar to build north coast hotels). Sure, there are highly skilled labourers among the lot, but the hard work of bringing in the crops requires muscle, not brain. On the other hand, music, from mento to ska, rocksteady, reggae, dancehall and dub, involves application of the mind to create intellectual property. Think about it - something tangible coming from thoughts. Damn, it sounds a bit like the creation tale in the Bible, but it takes much longer than seven days to monetise a song to its maximum earning power.

Now, one of the latter day manifestation of the plantation society is the network of large hotels on Jamaica's north coast, with more going up each year (which is why Queen Ifrica can deejay "a lie dem a tell say Jamaica mash up"). It requires the cheap labour force to construct the buildings and provide basic services; large expanses of land are utilised; and there seems to be a tendency to have an approximation of the plantation stratification (including absentee ownership with, I suspect, a lot of the money generated going overseas). So I am not surprised that Jamaican popular music is pressed into the service of the all-inclusive version of the plantation society.

Tourism Minister Ed Bartlett has consistently said that in Internet searches Jamaica is heavily associated with food, music and love. One of the Reggae Month centrepieces, the Reggae Icons concert, will be part of a film reel which invites potential visitors to experience Jamaica. It is not a coincidence that the performing arts centre slated to open in 2020 will be in Montego Bay, St James, a tourism hub, rather than Kingston, the hub of creativity (which has been declared a Creative City of Music).