Reggaefarians rally ‘Round the Red, Gold & Green

Dancehall DJ Bounty Killa joins veterans Winston “Merritones” Blake, King Jammy, and Stone Love deejays to show off his IRD award.
Photo by Steve James

KINGSTON, Jamaica – On one day, July One — acclaimed by reggae music lovers as International Reggae Day — a global celebration by more than 23 countries dominated the music industry by hosting events marking 21 years of tribute to the genre birthed in Jamaica.

Using the theme – “Unite Inspire, and Uplift” the first ever calendar event in the world to be officially proclaimed and dedicated to celebrating reggae music successfully corralled legions to acknowledge the explosive sound that brands Jamaica’s best export.

According to Andrea Davis, its founder, IRD was created “in an effort to highlight important individuals, institutions and milestones that have shaped Jamaica’s creative legacy and added to its brand value.”

In addition to its unique syncopated rhythm, reggae is also “associated with Rastafarianism and reflects the lifestyle, the ideals of freedom and the fight of the followers of the philosophical-religious doctrine.”

This year, proclamations from Honolulu, Hawaii and Florida, USA added to endorsements of the day’s activities.

On the first day of the month, IRD paid special tribute to Jamaica’s sound system movement which emerged in the 1950s and after 65 years boasts Merritone Music as the world’s oldest.

IRD 2015 Awards were presented to Winston Blake whose family has consistently provided the sounds Jamaicans appreciate regardless of genre. Using his popular Merritone Music sound-system Blake and his family of deejays provides entertaining music that is distinctly reggae but also often mixed with country, pop or rhythm and blues.

Also distinguished in the same category were: King Jammy, Stone Love Movement, Prince Buster’s Voice of the People and champion advocate for operators of the systems: the late Louise Fraser-Bennett. Japanese sound system benefactors Mighty Crown and the Jamaica Sound System Federation were also honored.

They were all regaled for dedicated and consistent promotion to the unique delivery of Jamaica and also “in recognition of its fundamental and pioneering role in the development and internationalization of Jamaican music and lifestyle culture.”

Reportedly, throughout July One, reggae fans converged on social media using Instagram to register salutations and acknowledgements of the 24-hour, eventful anniversary festival. Marley family members posted separately with positive messages from Cedella, Rohan, Kymani, Busta Rhymes, Reggae Sumfest, Butch Stewart’s son Adam using the hash tag #Thisismyreggae

Incorporating the significance of the date and the spirit of One — (perhaps in testament to a Oneness — One Love etc) IRD organizers emphasized a need for meditation during the celebratory day and at Emancipation Park in Kingston hosted a period of the day dedicated to yoga.

In Mumbai, a live stream from Café Nemo featured Delhi Sultanate and Begumn X, India’s foremost reggae and dancehall artists. The duo has opened for Snoop Lion and Julian Marley in India and has toured the U.S., Europe and Afghanistan “taking reggae music to new frontiers.”

In Australia, Dubai, England, Canada, France, in cities throughout the United States Anchored in Jamaica, an-all day conference, an afternoon digital display of reggae poster contestants, an evening marathon concert at Countryside Club and numerous radio and …made the island a virtual reggae destination for visitors and returning nationals to identify. At the Kingston airport —Norman Manley International — a welcome billboard strategically placed just before arriving passengers step onto the island brandished a message President Barack Obama might appreciate and would definitely identify with his recent “wha ah gwaan massive?”

The massive in 23 countries — Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Chile, Columbia, Canada, Czechoslovakia, England, France, India, Italy, Mexico, New Zealand, Portugal, Peru, Venezuela, Spain, Switzerland, USA (numerous states throughout) Ghana, Nigeria, Senegal — and in as many cities in many countries, marked the day in a myriad of ways but mostly rallying around the colors associated with the genre.

Fashion shows, dance contests, theatrical productions, art exhibitions, book launches, record releases, film screenings, concerts, specialized radio and television presentations lauded the day. HBO in the USA programmed the documentary “Marley” to mark the day. Clubs in New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles, Florida, Honolulu and others headlined reggae acts to host patrons.

The centerpiece of the celebrations was a conference which engaged Olivia “Babsy” Grange, a former minister of culture, entertainment and sports who ably articulated the political aspects involving government and artists. During a panel discussion of “the role of government in Jamaica’s creative industries” Grange seemed to rile some participants who took exception to some of her comments. Grange was formerly a reporter in Canada, the co-manager of Shang Records in New York before serving initially as the Member of Parliament tasked with formulating events for Jamaica’s 50th anniversary of independence as well as a formidable campaign to accompany Usain Bolt on his Olympic debut in Beijing, China.

Candid comments by both spokesperson provided edgy and almost combative commentary to the presentation. Streamed via viewers logged on to add to a hearty discussion that ended much too soon and only lacked currency with the absence of the current ministers of tourism and entertainment Damion Crawford and Minister for Culture Lisa Hanna.

Dr. Carolyn Cooper, a professor at University of the West Indies inserted levity into a serious discussion by providing a glossary to Jamaican language, her preferred referral rather than patois.

Insiders who have blazed a trail for the genre also opined on the state of the music. Don Green, one third of the Synergy team that introduced the annual Reggae Sunsplash festival, Cleevie brown, Gussie Clarke, Clyde McKenzie, Rashaun “Bay C” Clarke, Haldane “Danny” Browne, and Jason Hall, deputy director of marketing at the Jamaica Tourist Board also provided insight into a variety of advancements, deterrents and future aspirations for the hard driving beat that has crossed the Jamaican borders and for many, provides a colorful and pulsating alternative to a global marketplace.

The day’s celebrations culminated with a concert at the Countryside Club where reggae super-stars hob-nobbed showing support for the milestone achievement Davis and her pioneering concept.

Among the artists that appeared were Marcia Griffiths, Big Youth, Bounty Killa, Junior Reid, with performances by Beenie Man, Bushman, I-Wayne, Chuck Fenda, Cherine Anderson, Ken Boothe, Denyque, Marla Brown, daughter of Dennis Brown, the late Crown Prince of Reggae

Mixmaster J, a UK-based selector provided a variety of Jamaican music beginning with lover’s rock, rock-steady music, transitioning gradually to dancehall and reggae. He seemed to truly enjoy his first time performance here and the crowds seemed particularly endearing to his humble and unique style of showcasing the island’s best resource.

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