OPINION: The history of reggae music is a bigger part of black history than you might think | New


“It doesn’t matter where you’re from,” sang Peter Tosh on his 1977 album Equal rights. “As long as you are black, you are African.”

The song is a Tosh classic, a forceful declaration of unity among blacks across the diaspora, stretching from Kingston, Jamaica, across the Caribbean to the UK, Europe, Canada and the States. United of America. “It doesn’t matter your nationality,” Tosh continues. “You have the identity of an African.”

Tosh’s message resonates with special power as we come to the end of another, Black History Month, which also coincided with Reggae month, a worldwide celebration of Jamaican music. While the month of February was chosen because the birthdays of reggae legends Dennis Emmanuel Brown (February 1) and Robert Nesta Marley (February 6) both take place during the first week, it is more than normal that these two commemorations take place simultaneously.

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If you think reggae is all about ganja, shottas and “dutty wine”, think again. Dancehall may be known as the greatest party music in the world, but since the inception of classical reggae music in the late 1960s, the message has been one of oneness, upliftment and upliftment. empowerment of black people.

February 1 of this year, Studio 17: The Lost Reggae Tapes, marked the start of a film I produced about the birth of the Jamaican music industry. It had its world premiere on Tidal and Qwest.TV, a video platform founded by Quincy Jones. Studio 17 tells the story of one of Jamaica’s most important creative spaces. Tosh made his albums Equal rights and Legalize at Studio 17, and also worked there as an in-house studio musician. Him and Bob Marley and Weeping rabbit recorded several of the most timeless classics of the Wailers in this space, with the great producer Lee “Scratch” Perry. For lovers of reggae culture, the smoky hall upstairs at 17 North Parade in downtown Kingston was a sacred place.

Then one day the magic ended when the family that established this cultural hub fled to the United States due to the political violence that swept through Jamaica in the late 1970s. When the Chin family moved to New York, they were in such a hurry that they left behind over 1,000 reels of precious audio recordings – the “lost reggae tapes” that drive the action of my film, which was recently praised by ESSENCE magazine as a “must”.

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During the preparation of the film, I spoke with many iconic figures of Jamaican music whose songs have toured the world. Grammy winner Jimmy Cliff, whose main role in the 1972 film The more they come introduced Jamaican music, slang and street life to the world, talked about the new vibe that took hold after the excitement of Jamaica’s independence from England wore off started to fade in the late 1960s.

“Music was what we used to express what was going on in society,” Cliff said, looking crisp in a red snakeskin suit. “So when we saw that independence was not working for us as African descendants, we started looking for our roots in Africa. And that’s when the music turned into reggae.

The rawness and reality of songs like “The Harder They Come” and “You Can Get It If You Really Want” have touched hearts and minds around the world, setting the stage for Marley, Tosh and countless other musical icons. to carry the message forward.

The Jamaican duo of Bob andy and Marcia griffiths recorded a cover of Nina simone“Young Gifted and Black” from “Young Gifted and Black” which hit the UK pop charts in the spring of 1970, even before American stars like Donnie Hathaway and Aretha franklin adapted this inspiring hymn of self-esteem. Just 500 miles south of Florida, Jamaican listeners could tune into American radio stations, strengthening the musical bond between the two countries. In the summer of 1973, a young Jamaican named DJ Kool Herc started throwing parties in the Bronx with his sister Cindy, spawning a cultural revolution called hip-hop that wouldn’t exist without Jamaica’s vibrant sound system culture.

“So as sure as the sun shines, I’m going to have my part, what’s mine,” Jimmy Cliff sang on the title track of his famous movie, but the sad truth is that many music pioneers of his generation do haven’t had their fair share of the benefits of their timeless tunes. In The more they come, Cliff’s character can be seen facing a producer who tries to offer him only J $ 20 for recording a hit song. During filming Studio 17 I learned that this sort of thing happens too often, sometimes leaving great artists to live in desperate circumstances.

As a reggae and dancehall publisher for Tide, we ran a special Reggae Month campaign to showcase studios, producers and music pioneers who created this great music that continues to touch the world. Jamaica is an island nestled in the Caribbean that occupies approximately 4,400 square miles on the map, but its impact on global pop culture, from music and athletics to slang and swag, is far greater. . Jamaicans have a saying to express this concept, proudly stating that “We love but we tallawah”—Significant small but powerful.

I hope everyone reading this takes the opportunity to delve into the sweet sounds and invigorating lyrics of reggae music, which will be featured on The Tidal home page for the first time in February, ranging from Wailers’ “400 Years” to Sizzla’s “Black Woman and Child”. And above all I hope that all these songs, both new and classic, will bring us all a little closer and help us to understand that the distance between us is often only in our minds. That’s what Bob Marley sang when he sang “One love, one heart? Let us unite and feel good.

Reshma B is a music journalist and filmmaker specializing in reggae and dancehall. his chronicle Murda she wrote appears monthly on Tidal where the reggae & dancehall curator is also. You can find her on Twitter @ReshmaB_RGAT.

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