Bob Marley’s Face At Large

bob-marley-legend-the-best-of-delanteraIn his song “Bad Card”, Bob Marley boasted, “dem a go tired fi see mi face”. Of course, this mocking threat did not mean that Marley was going to be tired of his own popularity. The very opposite! Like many a Jamaican star boy, Bob was throwing words, tauntingly declaring the longevity of not only his image but, more importantly, his mission: “Can’t get mi out of the race”. Marley was predicting that his legacy would endure.

Bob’s ironic prophecy has certainly been fulfilled.  Seventy years after his birth, the power of the mass media – both old and new – has magnified Marley’s image incalculably. Album covers, calendars, billboards, teeshirts, coins, stamps, luxurious coffee table books and documentaries all portray the many faces of Bob Marley: sensual, mystical, playful, contemplative, withdrawn, angry, spirit dancer, freedom fighter, duppy conqueror!

The Bob Marley Estate cannot possibly police the use of the reggae icon’s image across the globe without retaining a veritable army of intellectual property lawyers. In any case, the Estate is itself efficiently exploiting Marley’s image. Late last year, it was announced that the Tuff Gong was going to be the face of a new international ganja brand. The story was carried widely in the international media.

A November 14, 2014 article, posted on the BBC’s Latin America and Caribbean website, reported that:   “The family of the late Jamaican reggae artist, Bob Marley has launched what they describe as the world’s first global cannabis brand. It will be called Marley Natural and be used to sell cannabis-infused lotions, creams and various accessories.

1426115042438“The new brand is being developed with Privateer Holdings based in Washington state, stressing the life and legacy of Jamaica’s greatest cultural export”. I couldn’t help remembering that a privateer is “an armed ship owned and officered by private individuals holding a government commission and authorized for use in war, especially in the capture of enemy merchant shipping.”

In a flash of uncensored free association, the opening lines of Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song” came to me subversively: “Old pirates yes they rob I/ Sold I to the merchant ships”. But I don’t suppose the Marley Estate would appreciate this mischievous irony.

According to that BBC article, “Bob Marley’s daughter, Cedella Marley said her father would welcome the move. ‘My dad would be so happy to see people understanding the healing power of the herb’”. Not quite the same as exploiting Marley’s image, I don’t think.

JAMAICA IN MEXICO

unnamed-2-e1423469546908Last month, a major exhibition of Bob Marley posters opened in Mexico City. The venue was not a conventional art gallery. It was the Jamaica metro station, one of the busiest in the system with over a million commuters every day. The posters were selected from the collection of Marley entries in the International Reggae Poster Contest (IRPC), co-organised by the Jamaican graphic artist Michael ‘Freestylee’ Thompson and the Greek graphic designer Maria Papaefstathiou.

Since its inception in 2012, the IRPC has become a powerful visual medium for the spread of Jamaican popular culture. It has inspired graphic artists from across the world to create vibrant images that leap across sensory boundaries:  reggae music from sound to sight.

The vivid posters are both global and local. All the artists pay tribute to the Jamaican roots of reggae music.  But they also acknowledge the far-reaching branches of ‘roots’ culture.   They imagine the story of reggae in new ways that display their own cultural values and aesthetic practices.

Bob Marley has been a favourite subject in all three years of the contest. He is the single most popular image. Of course, there is Marley’s endlessly reinterpreted face. But other posters use the singer’s words and related images.

In the 2012 contest, there were 9 Bob Marley posters in the top 100 entries. In 2013 there were 14; and in 2014, there were 23. The figures for the other 900 or so posters each year were not easily retrievable. But the numbers don’t tell the whole story.

REGGAE IN PORTUGUESE PRISONS

Rogério-Araujo

Rogério Araujo, Portugal

Bob Marley’s global appeal is beautifully illustrated in this report on the Contest’s website: “In 2014, the IRPC received an email from the General Directorate of Rehabilitation and Prison Services of the Ministry of Justice of Portugal (http://www.dgsp.mj.pt), communicating their interest in participating in the 2014 International Reggae Poster Contest. . . .

“The IRPC was delighted to support the Directorate in this creative mission in the area of cultural and artistic activities, and to implement this as an instrument of prison rehabilitation. . . . All eight prisons were encouraged to participate in the contest: A total of 20 posters were designed and submitted by 26 inmates. . . .

“‘Many of the prisoners are reggae enthusiasts,’ says the director of one of the prisons. He also stated, ‘The music of Bob Marley is favored highly among the prisoners in the institutions. They see the message from Bob as a message of hope and inspiration to help them while they are incarcerated’”.

Bob Marley has given the world an everlasting legacy of rebellious creativity. Visual artists will never get tired of imprinting on his face their brilliant interpretations of his life and legacy. Dem naa go draw no bad card.  Rogério-Araujo

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Twenty Years Of Reggae Day

Last Tuesday, July 1, was International Reggae Day. One of the highlights of the celebration was a huge video installation projected on to the exterior wall of The Jamaica Pegasus hotel. From Emancipation Park, it was quite a sight. Reggae posters from across the world were displayed, demonstrating the magnetic power of Jamaican popular culture, especially our music.

5-taj-francis-jamaicaI overheard a woman complaining with typical arrogance: “Mi a see picture from all bout an mi naa see nothing from Jamaica.” Mi naa lie. As soon as she said it, Taj Francis’ brilliant poster of Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, the Upsetter, appeared with a big flag of Jamaica beside it. Seet deh! My lady laughed contentedly.

The moral of this little story is that we’re often so nationalistic we just can’t appreciate the global impact of Jamaican culture. It’s quite ironic. The fact that so many of the reggae posters came from outside Jamaica should be a cause for pride, not complaint.

We don’t seem to realise just how far Jamaican popular music has spread. We take our creativity for granted and we rarely stop to think about why so many people from such diverse cultures are attracted to the music produced on this little rock. And it’s not just the beat and the lyrics that fascinate foreigners. It’s also the academic value of the music.

ROOTZ RADICALS

Just last Friday, I got a telephone call from Christian Moll, a graduate student specialising in English/American studies and music at the University of Regensburg in Germany. He was trying to find an external supervisor for his thesis on dancehall. Moll is also a reggae artiste who has been performing for over a decade. His band, Rootz Radicals, plays original music, both roots and dancehall.

http://rootzradicalzsound.wix.com/rootzradicals

Of course, I’m going to take on the project. It sweet mi so til! Twenty-five years ago, this month, I presented my first academic paper on dancehall at the annual conference of the UK-based Society for Caribbean Studies, ‘Slackness Hiding From Culture: DJ Rule’. I am indebted to DJ Josey Wales for the title. That pioneering work has inspired a younger generation of scholars, both local and international, to take dancehall culture seriously.

So we’ve given reggae music to the world. But sometimes we act as if reggae was stolen from us. We conveniently forget that the roots of reggae run deep into other black musical traditions. African-American R&B, fused with jazz and mento, produced ska – Jamaican jazz! Ska evolved into rocksteady, then reggae, and now dancehall. And we hear the riddims of religious revival music in dancehall.

Jamaican popular music is a ‘mix-up an blenda’ of musical traditions, both sacred and secular, that take us straight across to the continent of Africa. We don’t ‘own’ the music. Of course, this certainly does not mean that individual creators of song lyrics, melodies and riddims are not entitled to claim all the benefits of their intellectual property.

PROTECTING THE FUTURE

Unknown-1One of the tragedies of our music industry is that so many of the pioneering artists were cruelly exploited. Not by foreigners, but by unconscionable Jamaican producers who knew that for some never-see-come-see artistes, just hearing their tune on the radio was enough of a reward.

Leading up to International Reggae Day, there was an excellent conference held on June 30. One of the sessions focused on ‘Copyright Term Extension: Preserving the Past and Protecting the Future’. No matter how many of these conferences are convened, there are still so many players in the creative industries who do not know their rights.

Another session examined ‘Social Design: The Power of Art to Transform Space’. Like the exterior wall of the Pegasus hotel! Thanks to Michael ‘Freestylee’ Thompson, founder of the International Reggae Poster Contest (IRPC), art moved out of the gallery and into public space. Phase Three Productions, one of the sponsors of International Reggae Day, provided technical support for the video installation.

reggea-poster-map-1The 2012 IRPC attracted 1,142 entries from 80 countries. In 2013, there were 1,100 submissions from 78 countries. The 2014 contest was launched on International Reggae Day, and within hours entries came in from Slovenia, the UK, India, Portugal, Croatia, Spain, Greece, Japan, Venezuela and, of course, Jamaica – as that anxious woman in Emancipation Park will be pleased to hear.

Andrea Davis, founder of International Reggae Day, must be commended for her grand vision. Two decades ago, she recognised that the globalisation of reggae should be acknowledged and celebrated. It hasn’t been an easy journey. Sometimes, vision isn’t enough. You also need plenty backative.

I think it’s most unfortunate that six years ago when the bright idea of a Reggae Month came from out of the blue, somebody forgot that we already had a Reggae Day. It would have been so sensible to build on the foundation laid by Andrea.

134_imgaWe could easily have dubbed July Reggae Month. It would now fit so well into the Government’s plan for ’90 Days of Summer’. There’s Sumfest, which, like its predecessor Sunsplash, helps to fill empty hotel rooms in the slow summer season. But we always have to keep on starting from scratch. We forget that protecting the future also means remembering the past.

Alpha Boys’ School Get New Logo

Prof. Hubert Devonish, Co-ordinator, Jamaican Language Unit

Prof. Hubert Devonish, Co-ordinator,
Jamaican Language Unit, UWI

There are two spelling systems used for the Jamaican language below.  The first, which I call ‘chaka-chaka’, is based on English spelling. The second, ‘prapa-prapa’, is the specialist phonetic system designed by the linguist Frederic Cassidy.  It has been slightly amended by the Jamaican Language Unit at the University of the West Indies, Mona.  After the two Jamaican versions, there’s an English translation.

CHAKA-CHAKA SPELLING

ABS-NEW-LOGO-REDBig press conference keep up a Alpha yesterday fi show off di new logo fi di school. A long time now Alpha deh bout.  Inna 1880, Miss Jessie Ripoll buy 43 acre a land pon South Camp Road.  An she set up di Alpha Cottage fi look after poor people pikni. Fi di first, she did ongle tek een girl.

Inna 1884, Miss Ripoll decide fi start tek een boy pikni weh a gi trouble.  So dem seh. Plenty time a no di pikni dem a gi trouble.  A trouble tek dem.  Any way, Alpha school tek een di pikni dem an try wid dem fi keep dem outa trouble.

Inna 1890, govament gi permission fi Alpha turn ‘Industrial School’ an gi four shilling an eight pence fi di week fi di pikni dem, one-one. Dem time deh, a twelve pikni inna di school. Di pikni dem learn from book an dem learn fi use dem hand.  All a di pikni dem ha fi learn a trade.  Di school have a print shop, a woodwork shop, a tailor shop an a music shop.

lAn a music build up Alpha name over di year dem! A nuff-nuff big-time musician come outa Alpha: Dizzy Reece, Cedric ‘Im’ Brooks, Theophilus Beckford, Rico Rodriguez, Winston ‘Yellowman’ Foster, Vin Gordon, Harold McNair, Joe Harriott, ‘Deadly’ Headley Bennett, Leroy ‘Horsemouth’ Wallace, Leroy Smart an nuff-nuff more!

SKATALITES

holy-trinity-cathedral-jamaica1Di Alpha band start up inna 1892. Dem deh time, dem dida play drum an fife.  Den inna 1908, di school get some brass instrument from di Roman Catholic bishop. An a deh so dem buss out!  Come on to 1911, di band so good, di boy dem lead di march go a North Street fi bless Holy Trinity Cathedral.

An a so dem a gwaan.  Inna 1953, Alpha put on di first military parade fi honour di Queen coronation.  An dem keep up one big show, “March to Nationhood”, fi celebrate independence inna 1962.  Di Skatalites band form inna1964, an a four a dem come from Alpha: Tommy McCook, Johnny ‘Dizzy’ Moore, Lester Sterling an Don Drummond.

So hear how Alpha get new logo.  By di way, ‘logo’ a di pet name fi ‘logogram’.  Dat deh word mek up outa two Greek word – ‘logos’ an ‘gram’.  Logos mean word an gram mean enting weh draw or write, all like di letter dem inna di alphabet.  Dat simple mean, logo a di picture fi di word.

Freestylee-500pxMichael ‘Freestylee’ Thompson, one top-a-top Jamaican graphic artist, im draw one beautiful picture fi represent Alpha:  one lickle yute a blow im horn.  An yu can see seh di pikni feel im owna strength an know im power di way im a hold di horn.   Michael did put di picture inna di show weh dem did keep a National Gallery fi di “International Reggae Poster Contest” weh im did organize wid a next graphic artist, Maria Papaefstathiou, weh come from Greece.  When di head a Alpha, Sister Susan Frazer, see Michael poster, she know seh a it dat.  An a so Michael gi Alpha leave an licence fi use fi im ‘gram’ fi dem ‘logo’.  Rispek due!

PRAPA-PRAPA SPELIN

images-3Big pres kanfrens kip op a Alpha yeside fi shuo aaf di nyuu luogo fi di skuul. A lang taim nou Alpha a gwaan.  Ina 1880, Mis Jessie Ripoll bai 43 ieka a lan pan South Camp Ruod.  An shi set op di Alpha Cottage fi luk aafta puor piipl pikni. Fi di fos, shi did ongl tek iin gorl.

Ina 1884, Mis Ripoll disaid fi staat tek iin bwai pikni we a gi chrobl.  So dem se. Plenti taim a no di pikni dem a gi chrobl.  A chrobl tek dem.  Eni wie, Alpha skuul tek iin di pikni dem an chrai wid dem fi kip dem outa chrobl.

Ina 1890, govament gi pormishan fi Alpha ton ‘Industrial School’ an gi fuor shilin an iet pens fi di wiik fi di pikni dem, wan-wan. Dem taim de, a twelv pikni ina di skuul. Di pikni dem lorn fram buk an dem lorn fi yuuz dem an.  Aal a di pikni dem a fi lorn a chried.  Di skuul av a print shap, a udwok shap, a tiela shap an a myuuzik shap.

images-4An a myuuzik bil op Alpha niem uova di ier dem! A nof-nof big-taim myuuzishan kum outa Alpha: Dizzy Reece, Cedric ‘Im’ Brooks, Theophilus Beckford, Rico Rodriguez, Winston ‘Yellowman’ Foster, Vin Gordon, Harold McNair, Joe Harriott, ‘Deadly’ Headley Bennett, Leroy ‘Horsemouth’ Wallace, Leroy Smart an nof-nof muor!

Di Alpha ban staat op ina 1892. Dem de taim, dem dida plie jom an faif.  Den ina 1908, di skuul get som braas inschroment fram di Roman Catholic bishop. An a de so dem bos out!  Kom aan tu 1911, di ban so gud, di bwai dem liid di maach go a North Schriit fi bles Holy Trinity Cathedral.

SKATALITES

SkatalitesAn a so dem a gwaan.  Ina 1953, Alpha put aan di fos militeri paried fi ana di Kwiin karanieshan.  An dem kip op wan big shuo, “March to Nationhood”, fi selibriet indipendens ina 1962.  Di Skatalites ban faam ina1964, an a fuor a dem kom fram Alpha: Tommy McCook, Johnny ‘Dizzy’ Moore, Lester Sterling an Don Drummond.

So ier ou Alpha get nyuu luogo.  Bai di wie, ‘logo’ a di pet niem fi ‘logogram’.  Dat de wod mek op outa tuu Griik wod – ‘logos’ an ‘gram’.  Logos miin wod an gram miin enting we jraa ar rait, aal laik di leta dem ina di alfabet.  Dat simpl miin, logo a di pikcha fi di wod.

Michael ‘Freestylee’ Thompson, wan tap-a-tap Jamiekan grafik aatis, im jraa wan byuutiful pikcha fi riprizent Alpha:  wan likl yuut a bluo im aan.  An yu kyahn si se di pikni fiil im uona chrent an nuo im powa di wie im a uol di aan. Michael did put di pikcha ina di shuo we dem did kip a National Gallery fi di “International Reggae Poster Contest” we im did aaganaiz wid a neks grafik aatis, Maria Papaefstathiou, we kom fram Griis.  Wen di ed a Alpha, Sista Susan Frazer, si Michael puosta, shi nuo se a it dat.  An a so Michael gi Alpha liiv an laisn fi yuuz fi im ‘gram’ fi dem ‘logo’.  Rispek djuu!

http://www.reggaepostercontest.com/

ENGLISH TRANSLATION

ABS-NEW-LOGO-FINAL-CRVA big press conference was held at Alpha yesterday to unveil the school’s new logo. Alpha has been around for quite some time how.  In 1880, Miss Jessie Ripoll bought 43 acres of land on South Camp Road.  And she set up the Alpha Cottage to care for the children of the poor. At first, she took in only girls.

Then in 1884, Miss Ripoll decided to start taking in boys who were giving trouble.  Well, that’s what was said. Many times it’s not really the children who are giving trouble.  It’s actually a case of trouble finding them.  Anyway, the Alpha school took in the children and worked with them to keep them out of trouble.

In 1890, the government recognised Alpha as an ‘Industrial School’ and gave an allowance of four shillings and eight pence per week for each of the children. In those days, there were twelve pupils in the school. The students got both academic and practical training.  All of them had to learn a trade.  The school had a printery, a joinery workshop, a tailor shop and a music school.

images-6And it’s music which established Alpha’s reputation over the years! A lot of great musicians have come out of Alpha: Dizzy Reece, Cedric ‘Im’ Brooks, Theophilus Beckford, Rico Rodriguez, Winston ‘Yellowman’ Foster, Vin Gordon, Harold McNair, Joe Harriott, ‘Deadly’ Headley Bennett, Leroy ‘Horsemouth’ Wallace, Leroy Smart and many, many more!

SKATALITES

The Alpha band started in 1892 as a drum and fife corps.  Then in 1908, the school got some brass instruments from the Roman Catholic bishop. And that’s when the band took off!  By 1911, the band was so good, the boys led the procession to North Street to dedicate the Holy Trinity Cathedral.

skatalites-logo-blk-300x264And they just kept on going from strength to strength.  In 1953, Alpha put on the first military parade to mark the coronation of the Queen.  And they mounted a huge show, “March to Nationhood”, to celebrate independence in 1962.  The Skatalites band was formed in1964, and four of them come out of Alpha: Tommy McCook, Johnny ‘Dizzy’ Moore, Lester Sterling and Don Drummond.

So this is how Alpha got its new logo.  By the way, ‘logo’ is an abbreviation of ‘logogram’, which is made up of two Greek words – ‘logos’ and ‘gram’.  Logos means word and gram means an image, like a letter of the alphabet.  Simply put, a logo is a picture representing a word.

Michael put his picture in the show that was kept at the National Gallery for the “International Reggae Poster Contest”.  He co-organised the contest with another graphic artist, Maria Papaefstathiou, from Greece. http://www.graphicart-news.com/

When the principal of Alpha, Sister Susan Frazer, saw Michael’s poster, she knew instantly that that was it.  And that’s how Michael came to give Alpha permission to use his ‘gram’ for their ‘logo’.  Rispek due!

Who’s In Charge of the Rompin’ Shop?

Hot_Dancehall_Queen_by_answer973March is International Women’s Month.  It’s a good a time to talk about sexual politics in dancehall culture which is often dismissed by outsiders as misogynist. But dancehall culture can be seen in a quite different way as a celebration of full-bodied female sexuality.  Especially the substantial structure of the Black working-class woman whose body image is rarely validated in the middle-class Jamaican media!

The uninhibited display of female bodies in the dancehall is vividly illustrated in the lyrics of two foundation deejays whose endurance is legendary: Shabba Ranks and Lady Saw.   References to fleshy female body parts and oscillatory functions should not be seen just as devaluation of female sexuality.

32349In “Gone Up,” from the As Raw as Ever 1991 CD, Shabba, playing on the proverbial association between food and sex, notes that the price of a number of commodities is going up.  To a chorus of affirmative female voices, he asks women a rather pointed question and proceeds to give advice on negotiating a mutually beneficial sexual contract:

Woman, wa unu a do fi unu lovin?

(Wi a raise it to)

Before yu let off di work

Yu fi defend some dollars first

Mek a man know seh

Ten dollar can’t buy French cut

No mek no man work yu out

A body line, old truck.

‘Everything a raise’

images-2Shabba makes it clear that he’s not advocating prostitution. The complicated relationships between men and women cannot be reduced to purely economic terms of exchange. He insists that men must assume responsibility for their sexual partner.  It’s a moral issue:

Is not a matter a fact seh dat unu a sell it.

But some man seh dat dem want it.

As dem get it, dem run gone lef it.

No mek no man run gone lef it

An yu no get profit

Everything a raise, so weh unu a do?

Shabba encourages robotic, domesticated females to stand up for themselves. They are often too timid to question the unequal exchange of services and resources in the household:

Have some woman gwaan like dem no worth

Hitch up inna house like a house robot

House fi clean, dem clean dat up

An clothes fi wash, dem wash dat up

An dollars a run an dem naa get enough

Shabba chastises irresponsible men who waste household resources on carousing with their male cronies:

IcyMint32x405g100ctNow yu have some man no want do no spending

Dem wuda do di spending pon dem bredrin

An naa buy dem darling  a icymint.

An icymint is one of the cheapest sweets on the market. The depth of the delinquent man’s failure is measured in very common currency.

Erotica or pornography?

Lady Saw would certainly not put up with this kind of cheap man. In a decisive act of feminist emancipation, she cuts loose from conventional social expectations. Marian Hall’s spectacular performance of the role of “Lady Saw” is not often acknowledged as a calculated decision by the actress to make the best of the opportunity to earn a good living in the theatre of the dancehall.

images-3     Flamboyantly exhibitionist, Lady Saw embodies the erotic. But one viewer’s erotica is another’s pornography. So Lady Saw is usually censured for being far too loose—or “slack”. Even worse, she is often dismissed as a mere victim of patriarchy, robbed of all power. But it is Lady Saw’s anansi-like personality that appeals to a wide cross-section of intelligent fans – both male and female.

In addition to the sexually explicit songs for which she is infamous, Lady Saw’s repertoire includes impeccable hymns, country and western laments, songs of warning to women about the wiles of men and politically “conscious” lyrics that constitute hardcore socio-cultural analysis.

pa-4942810In a radio interview in the “Uncensored” series on Fame FM, Lady Saw boldly countered charges of vulgarity with absolute self- assurance:

Interviewer: Lady Saw, you do things like, yu grab yu crotch on stage. . . .

Lady Saw: Uh huh. Michael Jackson did it and nobody say anything about it.

Interviewer: And you gyrate on the ground. I mean, do you think this is acceptable for a woman?

Lady Saw: Yes, darling. For this woman. And a lot of woman would like to do the same but I guess they are too shy.

Shyness is not one of Lady Saw’s virtues. In response to the question, “Some people are saying that you are vulgar on stage and your lyrics are indecent. Do you think they are justified?”, she dismissively asserts: “I think critics are there to do their job and I am here to my job . . .  to entertain and please my fans.”

Aphrodisiac Avocado

So who’s in charge of the rompin’ shop? In the case of Shabba Ranks and Lady Saw it’s a clear draw.  And, not so surprisingly, even the frontrunners of the reggae revival are singing rompin’ shop songs. Last Thursday evening, Janine ‘Jah9’ Cunningham gave a brilliant lecture at the University of the West Indies, Mona, tracing her musical journey to her first CD, New Name.

images-4One of Jah9’s sweetest tracks ‘bigs up’ her ‘humble lion’ who is almost seven feet tall and wears size 14.  He satisfies her with the ‘right remedy’:  avocado. The aphrodisiac qualities of this fruit are well known.  At the album launch at Redbones, she put on the mask of her sunglasses to sing “Avocado”.

Jah9’s lecture was the first in a series of ‘Reggae Talks’ that are being hosted by the Department of Literatures English. Protoje will give this week’s lecture on Thursday at 7:00 p.m. in the Neville Hall Lecture Theatre (N1).  No-Maddz, Cali P and Michael ‘Freestylee’ Thompson follow.  The public is invited and admission is free. The reggae dancehall rompin’ shop has many rooms.

Israeli Artist Wins First International Reggae Poster Contest

For the first time in its almost 40-year history, the National Gallery of Jamaica (NGJ) is hosting an exhibition of poster art.  It opens this morning at 11:00 o’clock and showcases the top 100 entries from the First International Reggae Poster Contest. Six hundred and seventy-eight designers from 80 countries submitted 1,142 posters! The lyrics of the Hotstepper, Ini Kamoze, are the inspiration for the title of the exhibition: ‘World-a-reggae’.

‘Freestylee’ poster

The contest was co-founded by Michael ‘Freestylee’ Thompson, a  Jamaican digital poster artist, and Maria Papaefstathiou, a German-born  graphic designer and art director who now lives in Greece.

Michael defines himself as an ‘artist without borders’.  This is not just because he was born in Jamaica, lives in the U.S. and traverses the globe on the digital highway.

Thompson’s conception of his ‘freestylee’ art as borderless also signifies his refusal to get caught in narrow definitions of ‘high’ and ‘low’ culture or ‘pure’ and ‘commercial’ art. And his work is ‘outer/national’.  It’s rooted in Jamaican culture and, at the same time, incisively engages with the whole world of international politics.

Maria’s brilliant blog, <www.graphicartnews.com>, documents what she calls her ‘twin passions’:  graphic arts and photography.  She describes her blog in this way:   “It is a blog for graphic designers and photographers, focusing on high quality designs and art photography. The ultimate desire is to constantly inspire people and expand their work all over the world.”

Maria’s ironic design

Partisan ‘Politricks’

Like Maria, Thompson is a politically committed artist whose sophisticated posters lucidly articulate the breadth and depth of his insights.  In an interview posted on the House of Reggae website, he talks about how he started to do poster art.  His story is a graphic indictment of partisan ‘politricks’ in Jamaica.

“My poster art goes back to the late 1970s in Jamaica. My first protest poster was about an incident in Jamaica called the Green Bay Massacre. An incident that took place on January 5, 1978 in which seven youths from the South Side ghetto in Kingston were lured to the Green Bay military firing range in Hellshire, St. Catherine and were executed by JDF (Jamaica Defense Force) Soldiers. This incident was shocking when the truth came out and I had to use my art to protest the massacre by the Jamaican State.

“Some Reggae artist[s] at the time also recorded protest tunes about the incident, songs like ‘Green Bay Killing’ by Big Youth and producer Glen Brown. Incidentally one of the youths who was killed in the massacre was a young Reggae singer name Glenroy Richards who ironically recorded the chune ‘Wicked Can’t Run Away,’ on Glen Brown’s ‘Youthman’ riddim. This chune was later renamed ‘Green Bay Killing’, this was a wicked dancehall anthem and a haunting tribute to those who suffer injustice at the hands of the ‘wicked men’”.

Reggae Hall of Fame

Thompson conceived the International Reggae Poster Contest as a first step towards the construction of a Reggae Hall of Fame Pavillion and performing arts centre in downtown Kingston.  Thompson’s grand vision encompasses not just the intellectual capital of reggae culture but also the symbolic architecture of the building that would house the enterprise.

Biomuseo, Panama City

Michael ‘Freestylee’ Thompson is talking Frank Gehry:  architect of the Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao, Spain; the Walt Disney Concert Hall, Los Angeles; the Experience Music Project, Seattle; The Vitra Design Museum, Germany; the Novartis campus, Switzerland.   A magnificent BioMuseo has been designed for Panama but it’s still under construction.

So why not Kingston, Jamaica?  I can just see it.  On Kingston Harbour, the 7th largest natural harbour in the world, with the majestic Blue Mountains as a spectacular backdrop, an organic mass of crumpled steel rises to affirm the indomitable spirit of the Jamaican people.  Well, that’s before the IMF ‘done wid wi.’  Greece and Spain, here we come.

Yes, ‘wi ha fi tek bad tings mek joke’.  But fun and joke aside, doesn’t reggae music deserve a hall of fame worthy of the global reach of Jamaican popular culture?  Who would have thought that out of Kingston’s concrete jungle would have come a ‘riddim’ of resistance that now reverberates across the world?  Reggae music and its wild child, dancehall, symbolize the unlimited potential of the creative industries that enable hard-working, talented people to make ‘nuff’ money out of brainpower.

Jamaica Music Museum

Thompson’s dream of a Frank Gehry-designed Reggae Hall of Fame does not at all diminish the value of the pioneering Jamaica Music Museum, now temporarily located on Water Lane.  ‘Yu ha fi creep before yu walk an den bolt like Usain’.  Mr. Herbert Miller, Director/Curator of the fledgling museum, is doing the best he can in the cramped quarters he’s been assigned by the Institute of Jamaica.

The Museum’s current exhibition, “Equal Rights:  Reggae and Social Change”, uses mostly record album covers, along with sound clips, music samples and poster boards to document social history.   It resonates with the National Gallery’s ‘World-a-reggae’.  Both exhibitions focus on visual sound.  The powerful word and sound of music are transformed into the equally powerful image and ‘zeen’ of graphic art design.

All the same, can you imagine what a Gehry building would do for downtown Kingston? And for the Jamaican economy?  Without a penny in my pocket for the project, I contacted the Frank Gehry practice and was taken quite seriously when I asked if the firm might be willing to consider designing the Reggae Hall of Fame.  What is needed is a formal proposal and a commitment from ‘whole heap’ of people all over the world who love reggae music to come up with the ‘dunny’.  It shouldn’t be hard to do if the overwhelming response to the First International Reggae Poster Contest is anything to go by.

Alon Braier, winner of the contest, is a freelance illustrator and reggae musician living in Jaffa, Israel. His brilliant poster, “Roots of Dub”, features King Tubby, Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry and Augustus Pablo. Alon uses the image of the recurring circle to represent dub echoes. He got it completely right.  I knew he had to come to Jamaica for the opening of the exhibition.  I called my sparring partner, Ainsley Henriques, honorary secretary of the United Congregation of Israelites in Jamaica.  He immediately caught the vision of cross-cultural exchange.  With the support of the Israeli government, ‘di yute deh yah’ in the Promised Land of reggae.