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Reggae music is Jamaican, says Tommy Cowan

Laments ‘psychological claims’ about African origin

Published:Friday | December 2, 2022 | 12:10 AMYasmine Peru/Senior Gleaner Writer
Tyrone Downie passed away on November 5.  He was laid to rest on Saturday, Novermber 26.
Tyrone Downie passed away on November 5. He was laid to rest on Saturday, Novermber 26.
Tommy Cowan says reggae music is from Jamaica and nowhere else as he paid tribute to former Wailer, Tyrone Downie.
Tommy Cowan says reggae music is from Jamaica and nowhere else as he paid tribute to former Wailer, Tyrone Downie.
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Foundation reggae singer, producer and ordained gospel minister, Tommy Cowan, in paying tribute to former Wailer Tyrone Downie at the thanksgiving service for the musical prodigy last Saturday, emphasised that reggae music is from Jamaica and nowhere else, not even the Motherland, Africa. In a subsequent interview, Cowan also stated that there is a deliberate effort from African governments to fund the rise of Afrobeats to the exclusion of reggae and dancehall music.

“What I find happening is that the African government is putting a lot of money behind this psychological claim that reggae is from Africa. They will put money behind an unknown artiste, giving them up to one million US dollars for Afrobeats … which then transcends into dancehall. This investment is not out in the open, but it is deliberate,” Cowan sated.

Recently, Ghanaian Afrobeats star Stonebwoy, in an interview with TheCable Lifestyle newspaper, said that the Jamaican music genre belongs to Africa. In responding to the interviewers who said: “Many would argue that reggae is not an African thing. What is your viewpoint on it?” Stonebwoy declared that “Reggae is rooted in the heart of Africa. It’s not a foreign style or movement. It only has more consciousness and awareness attached to that style of music.”

He continued, “Music is music, you have just got to present it well and find the manner in which you can express yourself the best and the most. I’m not the only one doing it, there are tons and tons of people who are inspired by that genre of music. It doesn’t belong to any Caribbean society from its core. It belongs to Africans and we are enjoying it in diverse ways.”

However, Cowan, like many Jamaicans, totally disagree, and he made that known at the thanksgiving service for Downie, who played with Bob Marley and the Wailers from age 20 and who also distinguished himself in France where he lived for many years.

“Reggae music was laid upon a bed, a foundation and there is where Tyrone was significant. He has inspired generations of musicians with his playing. People are still trying to capture that sound all over the world. He was part of that music that has a generation of a country crying out for Bob Marley to be a national hero. And so, we pay respects to Tyrone. He played on Three Little Birds, Kaya, Survival, Redemption Song, Coming in From the Cold…” Cowan, who was a member of The Jamaicans, shared.

As marketing manager for Bob Marley and the Wailers during the ‘70s, Cowan had a ringside seat to the development and the sheer power of reggae music and the work put in by the singers and players of instruments who must be credited for the global musical thrust.

“I was able to travel to Africa and that sound of music caused 7,000 prisoners to break jail because they wanted to be where that music was being played. Amen! This was really something else,” Cowan said.

Then he paused before delivering his piece de resistance. “When I hear people from other countries trying to claim that music belongs to them ... where were they when a little boy walked out of KC to play Cherry Oh Baby? Where were they when that music hit Africa? Where were they when that music hit the people in Spain that caused the government to say no, we have to send out the soldiers to keep the people quiet?”

He had earlier shared that it was he who took Tyrone Downie from his class at KC and took him to the studio, in his school uniform to play the keyboards on the Festival Song Cherry Oh Baby, which went on to win the 1971 competition. Cowan recalled that veteran musician Ibo Cooper was also in studio and sitting at the piano and had a quizzical look when young Tyrone walked in. Cooper just happened to be sitting at the piano inside the chapel when Cowan was speaking and was seen nodding in agreement at the recollection, and even played a bar of Cherry Oh Baby.

“Respect must be given whenever respect is due. We give respect today to Tyrone ‘Organ D’ Downie,” Cowan said, to much applause from the family, extended family and friends inside the chapel at Kingston College.

Tyrone Downie passed away on November 5.