Around 2010 there was a shift in Reggae music that some people started calling Reggae Revival. Personally, I’ve come to call it the ‘New Movement’ since reggae was always here. Reggae is ever present because our lived philosophy is embedded in our music. Philosophy as a form of entertainment, taking on the role akin to a jester sometimes, other times its a wise sage.
Calling the new movement in Reggae a Revival is akin to Columbus’ ‘discoveries’. Such thinking comes from a state of mind that is not present but removed. So removed that there needs to be a revival.
This new movement in Reggae carries with it different arrangements akin to the shifts that happened before; from Lee Scratch Perry to Dennis Brown to Mystic Revealers. So it was that the new movement gave us Chronixx, Jah9, Jesse Royal, Kabaka Pyramid, Protoje to name a few. They built upon what came before, drawing inspiration from the likes of Dennis Brown, Jacob Miller and Ini Kamoze.
As Jamaicans our music always seem to invoke questions about where in our society power really lies and the responsibility of those that have it. If it is the entertainer who has the power then should we also worry about being programmed by dem? Or does the power lie with the Politicians? This tension plays out in how the state wrestle with artists, blaming songs for social ills. While the artists respond saying they are only messengers of the ills that already plague the streets.
Rivalries such as this highlights the unusual nature of art. Art is not real in the sense that a tree is real. A song is no stick but still, you can be hit by a song. The stink may shatter your bones but art when wielded properly can shatter your mind. It is this battle for minds that the Artists and Politicians have ongoing.
The advantage that the artists have over the politicians is that art also has the ability to get ahead of the real. Art can traverse the land of possibilities. Art can be our first glimpse of what could come into being. Art is a map of the world ahead of us. Such has been the case with Reggae music. Not only was Reggae born from the revolutionary spirit of the people but it also placed before all who listened, the promise of a coming revolution.
Just as how Bob Marley was sending signals to people in Africa with his music, to the delight of those who would not usually allow such messages. The Jamaican people long practiced this kind of coded was of transmitting philosophy. As far back as the first free villages, the drums of the maroons carried revolutionary messages unheard by those who should not hear. It is from this coded way of communicating that the first conflict arouse between the State and the People. The State, represented by politicians meaning to suppress certain forms of cultural expressions. While on the other hand the artists, rebellious against the systems of State engineer new forms of expression.
Such it is that for many, the Jamaican artists not only play the roles of Jester or Sage but represents also the Devil. The rebellious one, the first Rebel. The ragamuffin, blackheart man, dread; all name Jamaicans have associated with some of our own artistic forms of cultural expressions. But just like any great ancient myth, there is confluence in contradictions. Joe Higgs once pointed out that Jamaica is a land of contradiction, and true to form not only is Reggae associated with the rebel, it is also a symbol of liberation. It’s is no coincidence that Rasta is synonymous with Jamaica’s culture, which is equally tied up in Reggae. Rasta being a manifestation seen culturally by different people as Sage and Devil by another.
As Rex Nettleford explained it, Rasta is the memory of the Jamaican people that they are Africans. It is this connection to our past that gave is Reggae. Not only is the lived experience of the Jamaican people portrayed in dance but also in sound. The master artist is one who is able to condense history into a single moment – that moment presented as art. The more tightly packed the work, the greater it is. Such it was that the history of Africa was condensed into the form that came to be called Reggae. As if it was a law of nature, a thing may come together likewise it may dissipate into the world. Thus Reggae was dissipated throughout the globe. Reggae sparked the memory of humanity itself for all of mankind must look to Africa to remember the very foundations of their humanness. There can be no unity without a shared history and all of humanity shares Africa. This is the philosophy that is embedded in Jamaican music.
The entertainer plays the dual role of both a jester and a philosopher. Reggae music is but one tool out of many that carries the philosophy teachings of a culture. Our lived philosophy is often embedded in our music. Music being Humanities oldest means of collective rebellion.