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Local interest in Int’l Reggae Day dwindles - Organisers hope to heighten excitement levels come 2020

Published:Sunday | July 7, 2019 | 12:18 AMShereita Grizzle - Staff Reporter

Last Monday, July 1, the world celebrated International Reggae Day (IRD). But while there were several activities taking place worldwide to commemorate the day, locally, July 1 passed without much fanfare. The excitement surrounding the day has been dwindling in recent times, and organisers lament that they continue to struggle to garner support from the powers that be in the home of reggae music.

Speaking with The Sunday Gleaner, IRD organiser Andrea Davis expressed that having realised the lack of fervour for the day’s celebrations over the years, she and her team decided to focus activities elsewhere in the world. She admitted that although Jamaica is the birthplace of reggae music, the genre is usually more supported outside the island. “Over the years, we have diversified our focus on developing an appreciation for July 1, both in Jamaica and outside of Jamaica. And given the environment for reggae music in Jamaica, we’ve spent quite a few years driving more of our focus to other countries in the world. And so in the last few years, we’ve taken a more international approach in developing markets like London and South Africa, and so that may be some of what is being felt,” she said. “IRD is a concept before its time, and it has taken a while for the market to get used to it. Sometimes when something comes so early, it takes a while for it to build, but we are continuing to seek out partnerships that will allow us to raise the profile and the participation for July 1 in Jamaica, and we are hopeful that 2020 can see a return in focus of energy to Kingston and Jamaica.”

Davis went on to say that as the home of reggae, Jamaica often takes the genre for granted. She said that while she appreciates and looks forward to the support other countries extend to reggae music, she wants Jamaicans to invest in their own people.

“We seldom invest in our own. I think the climate for investing in reggae music hasn’t changed much since the days of Reggae Sunplash. I believe there is an undervaluing of what reggae music means, not just to the culture but to the economy. We seem to have a far easier appeal for other genres of music. We support music of all types in Jamaica, but there seems to be a decidedly harder road for reggae and other forms of indigenous music,” she said.

“I think we take a lot for granted here in Jamaica (like our weather, which is so fantastic, such an invaluable blessing that we have). There is a lack of support (commercial or governmental), and to realistically make a festival like IRD realise its potential as a summer festival for Kingston ... , we need that.”

Reggae month

When asked if the lack of support could have something to do with the fact that the country already has a whole month dedicated to reggae music, February, Davis pointed out that for a genre that has given so much to the world, there should be no limit on the number of times it is celebrated. “IRD has a 25-year history for the world on July 1, and so it came as a concept that speaks to a bigger objective than is being satisfied in its current slot. We don’t think that one month of the year is enough to celebrate this music, so sorry to those who want to put it in a box. This is the soundtrack to our lives, this is the soundtrack to the brand, and there are many different ways in which we can express and execute the celebration and promotion of our culture in a way that’s going to have ongoing sustainable returns for us,” she said.

“We are sitting on a gold mine, and it takes more than lip service for us to develop this industry. We need partnerships to help us execute IRD in Kingston, just like we need to have more than two reggae festivals in Jamaica. We cannot be so limited in the home of reggae music.”

“There are six reggae festivals in Poland alone, and yet we feel like we can only do two? We have enough artistes, enough music, enough talent, enough everything to be doing a reggae festival every month. We need to stop giving lip service to this culture and start putting our money where our mouth is. It is not a dead music, or else Rihanna wouldn’t be doing her next album on it.”

Having said all that, Davis believes that with active participation from the private sector and the government, IRD has the potential to grow into something powerful. “One hand can’t clap, and this will grow once we build the participation. We’re hoping that in 2020 we will see a more robust participation in Jamaica, but in the meantime, IRD, like reggae music, continues to grow around the world.”