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Reggae music to be protected by the UN

Published:Wednesday | November 28, 2018 | 12:00 AMKimberley Small/ Gleaner Writer
Chairman of the Jamaica Reggae Industry Association (JaRIA), Ibo Cooper.
Bob Marley
Culture Minister Olivia 'Babsy' Grange being congratulated by other members of the committee as Reggae music was added to the list of international cultural treasures the UN has seen worthy of protecting.

Many reggae lovers think that the music form is being commandeered by outside forces. To combat that idea, minister of culture, gender, entertainment and sport had an idea have reggae music inscribed on the Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, through action by the UNESCO Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage.

On Wednesday, the minister got her wish. Speaking with The Gleaner from the Republic of Mauritius where she travelled for the 13th session of the committee she said: "What it has done is solidify the power of our music throughout the world. It's a statement that Jamaica a small country has given the world a music that is powerful and potent, that people from all corners of the world, all religions and nationalities embrace to the fullest."

"A Norwegian tried to copyright Jamaican folks songs. Pirates still a try rob I!" said Ibo Cooper, president of the Jamaica Reggae Industry Association (JaRIA).

According to Cooper, JaRIA played an integral role in promoting the proposal. From his perspective, the most important thing about the inscription is acknowledging the authenticity of the origin of reggae music.

"Going forward, people cannot say reggae did not come from Jamaica.

It was our gift to the world. It started here, and now the world has it. That's how the arts are," he told The Gleaner. The reggae music authority outlined a number of instances in which nations were recognised for their cultural contributions to the world, by way of the list. Particularly, he noted that both Uruguay and Argentina are protected as the originators of the tango, as is Cuba for the rumba. Cooper then said that the world already accepts that the originator of jazz music is the USA. "You can have Cuban jazz and French reggae, but the origin is protected," Cooper punctuated.

Reggae musician Tony Rebel believes that local musical gatekeepers have kept reggae music on a back burner, while international parties treat it like mainstream.

"This is what people have been trying to formalise. For those who don't know the origins of reggae music and the greatness of our culture, people still take reggae for a joke. It will help us to recognise and hug up what we have. We're just a dot on the map that can produce magnificent things. That is more powerful that any political machinery," he said.

Grange, the first Jamaican minister elected to the committee, said: "Reggae is uniquely Jamaican. It is a music that we have created that has penetrated all corners of the world. It is important that we safeguard and protect reggae music," she said.

The committee, ensures the implementation of the rules to the Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage.

The convention promotes the safeguarding of traditions and living expressions handed down from generation to generation, including oral traditions, performing arts, social practises, rituals, festive events, knowledge and practices concerning nature and the universe or the knowledge and skills to produce traditional crafts.

The nomination was submitted last year, however, the technical committee for UNESCO recommended that the nomination be deferred to be presented in the next cycle which would have been two years' time. "


Unanswered questions


They felt there were unanswered questions," Grange explained.

Defiant against the deferral, the minister travelled to Mauritius for the committee's 13th session, to defend the nomination on the floor. According to Grange, 20 of the 23 other nations represented on the committee spoke passionately about wanting to see reggae music inscribed. "The determination to have it inscribed was without a doubt very strong. The numbers were strong in the room, and emotion was high," she said.

Grange told The Gleaner that Cuba and Senegal, along with Palestine, led the charge for the inscription despite the recommendation of the technical committee. "All the other countries followed. It was quite emotionally charged," she said.

She continued: "It's an experience that is difficult to explain. I saw people crying when the declaration was made.

"I just want to say to the people of Jamaica I don't know if they know how awesome our music and our culture is, and how much the world loves our music and culture."