So lo and behold when Don Green, of Reggae Sunsplash fame, one of Jamaica’s pioneer Reggae promoters and aficionado, sent me a clip of the Jamaica Minister of Culture Hon. Olivia Babsy Grange and a group of Jamaicans thanking UNESCO, something seemed odd or out of place.
I kept listening and looking and at the end of her presentation as they sang One Love, it hit me I could not recognize anyone from my exposure to the emergence and development of this music genre between the early seventies to the late eighties. Not a visible Rasta anywhere. I personally consider Reggae music the first global expression of Rastafari, and there is more to come; it may not be in culture, hopefully economics or industry.
As my mentor Bongo U would often tell me, “we sen di message out de and dem glorify di messenger” referring to Bob Marley. Even Wikipedia acknowledges that Reggae music is intrinsically linked to the emergence of the global Rastafari movement, so how could any representation of this cultural accomplishment at the international level not include those responsible for its creation.
I know all about “you don’t have to dread to be a Rasta” I experienced the Baldhead Rasta days of the eighties moving from HQ on Hope Road, to Scotts Pass to Retreat in St. James, and accept that it is not about appearances. But “wha a gwaan”? let’s make sure there is no hijacking taking place. The ganja legalization experience should be a lesson for the Jamaican community that advocated, toiled in the fields and suffered in the jails for an industry that now offers little hope of sizeable participation by them.
The late Ian Boyne, in a 2016 Opinion piece stated that “Rastafari has largely been conquered by Babylon, enjoying greater influence and support in exile than at home. Rastafari has been eclipsed by the forces of globalization or, more properly, by cultural imperialism”. He continues “As a cultural resistance, Rastafari is a largely spent force… The things it fought for are now taken for granted, it has been so successful, its influence now so mainstreamed that we are tempted to say it has outlived its usefulness. We persecuted Rastafarians and let in the pirates, American cultural imperialism writ large. Jah save us” he begs.
UNESCO has answered Mr. Boyne request not with actually saving us but giving us a chance at redemption. Accepting and embracing the principles and traditions of our ancestors in defining our own values in transforming this chaotic world, Rastas can look at the Egyptian Maat experience for inspiration and models. Redemption is the manifestation of victory over the destructive nature of Babylon – crime, violence, corruption and injustice fueled by a steady flow of fear and hate now being played out across the globe. Some “inity”, self respect and organization sure would not hurt the redeeming efforts, being driven by what one wise brother calls the “righteous and relentless struggle”.
When Swing Magazine introduced the word Reggae in print to the world, or Toots Hibbert began using the word, little did they or Clancy Eccles who created the beat that eventually absorbed other Jamaican popular music forms, know that today we are seriously contemplating strategies to take our share of the $439 billion global consumer expenditure on entertainment.
It will not be an easy ride, but one worth taking. Minister Grange has done her part in creating the environment and setting the stage for this grand performance. The beat may well have to be the algorithms, digital currencies and other creative and disruptive technologies that have successfully challenged a global business environment that has not been known for its warm embrace of those creative individuals that delivered the cultural products that are contributing to Jamaica’s global brand.
So it cannot be business as usual for the Rastafari community to take full advantage of the opportunities surrounding this recognition. For starters we need to fully understand and be engaged in the regulatory channels because this is where business creativity and savvy will be played out. Minister Grange is no stranger to these waters, she has been part of a group of Jamaicans waging a battle for the enactment of better copyright laws and regime to benefit Jamaica’s performing artists and creators of cultural products. So now story come to bump, Africa and China are levelling the playing field and technology is the fuel in the bulldozer. I am looking for a Rastaman in the cab of one of the “dozers”.
China like Africa have begun to pay more respect to Intellectual Property and Performing Rights. Both regions when combined represents the largest consumer markets of the future and both are aggressively pursuing alternatives to the financial system that has imposed draconian measures and practices to exploit their human and natural resources. China is challenging the US dominant dollar by pushing for the internationalization of its renminbi (people’s money) to become one of the major international currencies.
As the second largest economy in the world and the largest contributor to global growth China may soon be the destination for safekeeping of the world’s savings. The US is already indebted to them for an estimated $1.18 trillion, the largest sovereign holder, followed by Japan with $1.03 trillion. It is not a coincident that China is putting its footprint in every corner of the globe. So brethren, teach your children Mandarin, and make nice with Chinese workers and business owners in Jamaica by a deliberate program of cultural engagement. The Chinese, like Africa is an old civilization deeply rooted in their culture, so next time I come to Bingi at Scotts Pass I will be looking for the Chinese.
I have vivid memories of the afternoon I spent at Scotts Pass many years ago trying to reason with a visiting Japanese youth lured to Jamaica by his exposure to Reggae music, and whose parents were industrialists. Trying to convince him to invest in the local ceramic industry was no match for his desire for the holy weed, ital food and bathing in the river, or the local brethren’s need to make sure that his guest was not made uncomfortable.
These are different times and people, Chinese have been among us for many years and I hope by now we fully overstand each other. The name Byron Lee is synonymous with commercial music success in Jamaica. I can remember the Byron Lee team peddling records “for cash” at performances in the New York metro market in the good old days.
Today we have options, whether you collect your earnings in renminbi, digital currency or some other African value depend on your willingness to think outside the box, which Rasta have always done. Africa has adopted mobile and internet technology faster than the rest of the world, and partnerships between telecom and the music sector drove digital distribution and mobile revenues.
It is estimated that the under 24 year olds that make up 60% of Africa’s 1.2 billion population will account for 725 million mobile subscribers. Thanks to Artificial Intelligence, the data hungry technology, China is fast eliminating the use of cash and credit cards, to be replaced by mobile banking, joining Africa as regions that leapfrogged conventional technology to meet their transformational demands.
At the birth of Reggae there was Swing Magazine to take the message and the music from downtown Kingston to the freedom fighters in Zimbabwe and the rest is history, as we say. So Africans did liberate Zimbabwe, politically, but Africa’s economic liberation is still a work in progress. So where is the twenty first century Swing Investment Fund, marketing firm or other business entity that will navigate the Afro Sino waters to bring home the economic benefits from this recognition.
The African proverb “until the lion tells the story, the hunter will always be the hero” is a message to the Rastafari family to take this UNESCO recognition, embrace it, feel good about it and make our own future stories. There is a global audience ready, willing and able to absorb what we produce; they are the millennials that I see and talk with in places like China and Africa, who always assume I am an entertainer and ready to engage me in conversation about music.
My challenge is to fully comprehend the cerebral, socio-political, sensual and spiritual bearings of this important component of our planet, a generation and cultures distinctly different from my own. I find their interest in Reggae and Rastafari intriguing. The question is what to do with this interest beyond the obvious monetizing, if we can master the twenty first century technology driving the distribution of cultural products globally.
I recently noticed a Taurus Riley Crime Free Christmas video which should be widely distributed to the millions of young Africans engaged in internal warfare engineered by external forces that supply the weapons and rationale for their use, a situation not too different from what currently plagues Jamaica. Interesting is the reality that while Taurus Riley was performing in Uganda last September, a young parliamentarian Bobby Wine was resisting what he considered the injustice from the current political leadership that left him hospitalized and a member of his security killed.
Next door in the Democratic Republic of the Congo where millions have been killed over the past few years, young people are demonstrating and fighting against corruption and injustice. But in the little town of Jinja, where Riley came the see the source of the River Nile, it was all about love and humanity. A picture with Taurus Riley was a big deal for one young Ugandan who was able to show off his prize with absolute pride and joy. That is the magic of Reggae music.
Lloyd Stanberry, a Jamaican entertainment attorney and music business consultant, noted that “Africans have embraced Reggae with passion for decades and have identified with it as the soundtrack for liberation struggles and struggles against corruption and injustice”. Today in Africa it is more than a discourse on issues of corruption, injustice, resistance, love and humanity, it is an intense struggle between millennials and the old guard business and political leaders for better management of, and equitable distribution of the wealth and resources of the continent, to satisfy the expectations of love and humanity among people.
China in their 2011 – 2015 five year plan selected their cultural industry as a priority for government support in their diversification efforts. They used the cultural sector as a “soft power” tool to leverage their global influence. The major beneficiaries were the film, internet and mobile gaming businesses.
In addition to the film industry that generated $3.5 billion in 2013, live performances contributed $128 billion in 2013 to the economy. Music Business Worldwide estimated that of the 1.5 billion population with a disposable income of $4,735, there are 365 million willing to pay for entertainment. They include the increasing number attending festivals, including the Beijing 1st Caribbean Music Festival in 2016 featuring Reggae and Soca.
Africa and China are potentially good markets for cultural products such as Reggae. Chinese youth are reacting to the music in a manner reminiscent of the Japanese reaction to Reggae Sunsplash, and African youth have already shown their appreciation for local and international Reggae artists.
There is an African proverb that says “When spiders unite they can tie up a lion”, and whether it is Marley’s message of Africa Unite or Garvey’s vision of Africa for Africans, the Rastafari community must now unite around Africa’s economic liberation, utilizing innovation and creativity to build an economic powerhouse utilizing our cultural resources. We are definitely not a spent force, a hiatus for regrouping and recuperation are vital in any relentless struggle.
I can still hear the late Clement “Coxson” Dodd’s words as we exited the Wall Street building where in the mid-nineties, I took him to negotiate a multi-million deal involving his music catalogue. He looked up at the building and the sky and said “I never believe I would be down here on Wall Street negotiating million dollar business”. Let’s make sure the next generation of our cultural pioneers never have to place limits to their vision, but possess the clarity to select the path to their destiny.
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