July 1 was International Reggae Day. What did it mean to Jamaicans, in Jamaica?
It has been said, over and over ad nauseam, that Jamaica does not sufficiently tap into the deep wellspring of its creativity. And it’s true. We tend to tinker away at it – the “potential” of it – puff ourselves up and celebrate how reggae has contributed so much to the world. We talk about it (oh yes, we’re good at talking!) Then an overseas entity takes the embryo of an idea and creates something serious out of it. We wring our hands and cry, “But we could have done that! Why didn’t we? Now look, these foreigners have taken it over!” Yes, we missed the boat again.
I love the city of Kingston. I have lived here longer than anywhere else in my life. I love it with all its faults. It has always been vibrant, in its own way. In the past couple of years that energy seems to have stepped up a notch. There is a positive frenzy of building going on. New hotels. New apartment blocks. New parking lots (ugh). Wider roads (ugh). More cafés, bars and restaurants; yes, Kingstonians have finally discovered the pleasures of café life. We need far more green spaces – proper green spaces, and we need urban forests and parks (public ones, not just people’s yards). There is a lot of room for improvement, and air pollution is but one of the major concerns I have about the quality of life in the city.
There is something exciting happening in the city’s cultural life, and it’s not stopping. Kingston Creative, for example, is quite a stroke of genius. It’s a group effort so I won’t mention specific names. It is a coming together of mostly middle-class Jamaicans, whose goal is to bring colour, life, commerce and an expression of true Jamaican culture to downtown Kingston, which over the years has become something of a cultural wasteland. The ever-positive Mayor Delroy Williams is enthusiastically touting Kingston as our next tourism destination. He is slowly but surely getting the beloved, historic Ward Theatre fixed up. We might get a ferry across the Harbour again, as in the good old days. And there is the “potential” of Port Royal (again, I am dubious about the environmental impact and the actual current state of the town). There is a restaurant perched right on the waterfront, and some glitzy new high rises, too. It’s all a little haphazard (the way we do things, perhaps) I want the whole town and Harbour to be cleaned from top to bottom!
But you know, we might actually get it right in the end. Kingston gets full marks for trying. And we are trying.
So, what is missing? On December 11, 2015, Kingston received the UNESCO designation of Creative City for music. There are seven creative categories, but for our city, music is the obvious one. Reggae music. It is so glaringly obvious that I have to ask why there is no focal point, no major reggae attraction?
In other words, why is there no Reggae Hall of Fame?
There are places where the Reggae Pilgrims, as I call them, make their way (not on hands and knees, but almost). From all corners of Planet Earth, their blond dreads and red, gold and green woven belts trailing. Downtown, there is the Tuff Gong Studio and the Culture Yard in Trench Town. There is the Bob Marley Museum (which I visited for the first time four years ago) – the house where our superstar lived in his better-off uptown days. Marley fans love the Museum. Even I was impressed by Bob’s “high-tech” blender, with which he made his smoothies. Fascinating.
Some Jamaican millennials like Tyrone Wilson understand, I believe, how to stop the conveyor belt, grab a bag and walk off with it (what a metaphor that is! Does it work?) For heaven’s sake, we can’t just stand there, wearily watching it go round and round, can we? Towards the end of last year, Wilson, the Founder, President, and CEO of the eMedia Interactive Group signed an agreement with the Guardsman Group to bring back the iconic celebration of reggae on its home soil, Reggae Sunsplash. What it’s going to look like, we don’t know yet. I hope it will retain a little of the true, nostalgic flavor of the late 1970s when it began. Reggae Sumfest has none of the charisma; it seems little more than another uptown party for Jamaicans on the North Coast, a nice marketing opportunity for sponsors and lots of selfies and Instagram posts. We need more substance.
I would love to see Reggae Sunsplash emerge somewhere near Kingston, but it seems unlikely; music festivals in and around the city have had a somewhat chequered history, although I hear the now-defunct Sting was exciting, in its heyday. Then it became a little too exciting. Besides, tourists have to come and loll on the all-inclusive North Coast beaches, purchase overpriced weed and drink overpriced alcoholic concoctions, in between the musical acts. So, I guess it will stay up there and the visitors will help fill some of those monstrous Spanish and Mexican hotels.
So, I ask again: why is there no Reggae Hall of Fame?
International Reggae Day is fine, so far as it goes. At the moment, it doesn’t go far. Again, though, it has “potential.” It also points out that yes – reggae is international. In fact, it went international about half a century ago now.
So, what are we waiting for? Part Two is coming up now…