I am in this country at the moment enjoying the sweet spirit of the passionate, fun-loving and friendly Jamaican people.
Reggae music was born in Jamaica. That is a known fact, but many subcultures have merged reggae with their own music to create new genres such as Zimdancehall, hip-hop, and reggaeton. Jamaica is also the birthplace of Rastafarian culture.
At the weekend beginning June 1, I was supposed to attend the One World Ska and Rock Steady Music Festival in Sabina Park, Kingston, but the line-up of artistes billed for this festival did not impress me enough to part with my $50. The only group I had heard of before was Toots and The Maytalls. There were artistes such as Delroy Thompson and Ansell Collins whom I had never heard of before. Most of the artistes I wanted to see performing there were abroad entertaining patrons in America and Europe. How I wish I could extend my vacation so that I can watch some of the most talented Jamaican artistes who will descend on Montego Bay next month for the popular Reggae Sumfest.
Montego Bay, affectionately referred to as MoBay by the majority of Jamaicans, hosts thousands of festival goers every year at Reggae Sumfest.
Instead of attending the One World Ska and Rock Steady Music Festival, I spent time with an old friend, Boisie Woolcock, author of the 1970s monster hit I Wonder and a close associate of Bob Marley. Together, after briefly stopping at Sir Jimmy Cliff Bay (yes, the Jamaican government has honoured Jimmy Cliff for all his contributions over the years in promoting Jamaican culture with his music and acting prowess in films such as The Harder They Come), we visited The Bob Marley Museum at 56 Hope Road in Kingston and then The Peter Tosh Museum, both of which gave me a new insight into the lives of the two reggae icons as I saw new memorabilia of their lives.
The Bob Marley Museum has undergone some structural upgrades and renovations to enhance the visitor experience since the last time I visited Jamaica.
Musically, things have also changed in Jamaica. Dancehall seems to be dominating the musical scene everywhere. New tunes such as Chant It by Sevana, Blood Money by Protégé and Humble Mi by Jah 9 seem to be the happening tunes of 2018.
Ten years ago you would hear only Bob Marley tunes such as One Love and Three Little Birds playing all over Jamaica, but today there is a variety of popular tunes such as Chronixx’s Smile Jamaica and from the old school collection songs like Third World’s Try Jah Love.
Woolcock and I straddled past the late Gregory Isaac’s home and he said to me: “You know what, Fred? I was there when Gregory wrote Night Nurse. A lot of people think that song is about a real nurse, but what Gregory had in mind was completely different from the interpretation many people make from the song. Night Nurse is actually cocaine. Gregory used to take it at night and he would sing ‘Only you alone can quench this your thirst. I don’t wanna see no doctor. I need attention from my nurse around the clock’”
“Really?” I said. “I have often thought that I was a genius, but this one, I never worked it out,” I told him.
We moved on to New Kingston’s Courtleigh Auditorium to attend a commemoration concert for the late Sugar Lincoln Minott, who died from a heart problem on July 10, 2010. It was quite revealing. I had known of Sugar Minott from long ago when I collected hundreds of reggae records, but had never considered him among the big Jamaican artistes. So you can imagine my surprise on seeing thousands of reggae lovers in this auditorium remembering their music hero. Apparently Sugar Minott did a lot of work with the youths and other aspiring artistes in Jamaica. He liberated them from the doldrums of poverty through the formation of his Black Roots record label and Youth Promotions Organisation where any talented youngster would come and get assistance in recording their music and having it published and distributed without any payment. Most of these youths would then come to Sugar Minott if their record was doing well to receive their royalties.
I am told that his organisation was responsible for bringing up Jamaican artistes such as Tony Tuff, Barry Brown, Junior Reid, Tenor Saw, Jah Stitch, Captain Sinbad and dozens of others.
Among Sugar Minott’s stand-out cuts were This Old Man, Get Ready Rock Steady, Party Night, Youth of Today, Mysterious Nature and No Cup No Broke.
We moved on to have lunch at Dunns River Falls in Ocho Rios, St Ann, a smaller version of our Victoria Falls but attracts over 50 times the number of tourists. Even the legend of Bob Marley comes alive as you walk through his home location in the village of Nine Miles. This is the very house Bob lived in as a young boy and we met so many people, now in their 70s, who knew him as a little boy. Each one had a story to tell. One told me how Bob was great as a footballer and another told me how they shared the same girlfriend and how they fought over her. I also met Lee Perry’s aunt who claimed that her nephew wrote many of the songs Bob recorded. This experience gave me first-hand knowledge of the life and times of the great musician from the people who lived there with him.
A lesson for Zimbabwe’s tourism industry and culture ministry: If you design cultural programmes for the thousands of unemployed youths who are in this country and assist them to develop them, they will feel a sense of responsible citizenship. One or two might rise to be Zimbabwe’s ambassadors in the near future and will do all of us proud as Bob Marley has done for Jamaica.
Do not look down on culture. In Jamaica it is drawing hundreds of thousands of tourists every year and has become the biggest economy booster in that tiny island. We can also do it. Come on now!