I have had the privilege of making three visits this year to West African countries Cote d’Ivoire, Senegal and Burkina Faso to participate in a series of training workshops for individuals and companies involved in the business of music. My interaction with the performers, music producers, entertainment media personnel and general music loving public in West Africa has allowed me to put into proper perspective the circumstances that have contributed to the growth and popularity of Reggae music around the world.
Africans, more than the inhabitants of any other part of the world, have for decades now embraced Reggae music with great passion. The musical works and messages of early Reggae pioneers such as Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, Steel Pulse, IJahman Levi, Third World, Jimmy Cliff, and Burning Spear are regarded by Africans as the fuel that carried the flames to burn down apartheid and other injustices faced by the poor black people on the wealthiest continent on earth. Many years of support from sympathizers around the world enabled and boosted Reggae music’s popularity globally. But where are we today – “under gal frock and bling”?
Despite the dismantling of apartheid, most Africans remain poor, and continue to live in sub-standard conditions, lacking things we take for granted such as clean drinking water and Internet access. The love and respect for Reggae music and Jamaica remain strong however, and was clearly evident from my experiences in the many days I spent this year in Ouagadougou, Dakar and Abidjan. Abidjan is actually considered to be one of the Reggae capitals of the world, and while there I was able to witness the stirring live presentations of homegrown Reggae band The Wisemen who perform regularly at the Parker Place Reggae Club. Reggae music is played and enjoyed everywhere and by everyone in West Africa, and the few Jamaican artists who travel to Africa for live performances usually experience playing before crowds larger than anywhere else in the world. It is not uncommon for a Reggae concert to attract 100,000 patrons in Africa.
The bond between Jamaica, Reggae and Africa is not only a very strong one, but I submit that this bond also provides the basis for Reggae’s continued global viability. I find the emotions and sentiments expressed by Jamaican Reggae artists and their African counterparts towards each other to be an interesting paradox, as Jamaican Reggae artists yearn to go to Africa while the Africans yearn to visit Jamaica. We have however failed to build that bridge to bring us all together. In February 2011 a group of West African music promoters, music producers and industry managers will make a study tour to Jamaica as a follow up to the training workshops I participated in earlier this year. Hopefully this will provide the opportunity for Jamaican Reggae industry members to make some meaningful connections with a view to creating this bridge.
As we look towards celebrating Reggae Month 2011 next February, let us make a special effort to re-focus on Reggae’s African roots and the significance of our connection with the motherland. Reggae needs Africa and Africa needs Reggae. Apartheid may be gone, but the suffering and exploitation of our brothers and sisters continue.