Sound Clash In Uptown Ghetto

There was a time when dancehall DJs lived in downtown ghettoes. And they knew their place. No moving uptown into supposedly exclusive neighbourhoods and bringing their blasted noise to upset nice and decent people.

e9e42f745308002e26eb68a124cd5e2b-1Bob Marley was not a DJ but he was one of the first concrete-jungle musicians to break the ‘sound’ barrier. In 1975 he moved from Trench Town to 56 Hope Road, thanks to Chris Blackwell’s marketing savvy. Bob Marley was a star and needed an appropriate address. But he never abandoned Trench Town.

Four decades ago, Kingston 6 was definitely uptown. It wasn’t Norbrook. But still. These days, Norbrook is the preferred address for dancehall DJs. Some, like Sean-Paul, were born uptown. Others, like Mavado, the Gully God, made the big move, both physical and psychological, from the gullyside to the hillside.n

There’s a picture of Mavado’s house on the Internet with this freestyle caption: “This is what you called hard work first thing I just want to say thanks to the true and living God for my blessings and thanks to all my fans and please to keep supporting my music Gullyside one love”.

One man’s divine blessing is another’s demonic curse. Just imagine the outrage: “Lord, mi dear! Yu don’t see who just move in up the road? Nuh that DJ from across the gully bank! Is where him get money to buy house up here? I just don’t want the children exposed to that mentality”. Never mind that the children already know every single line of the DJ’s lyrics.

TOWNHOUSE SYNDROME

Once upon a time, you could buy protection from unwanted neighbours. Not anymore. Bob Marley completely understood the dicey nature of the real estate market. In “Bad Card”, he declares lyrical war:

“Oh, man, you said I’m in your place

And then you draw bad card

Ah mek you draw bad card”.

Marley launches a full-scale sonic assault:

“I want to disturb my neighbour

Cause I’m feeling so right

I want to turn up my disco

Blow them to full watts tonight

Inna rub-a-dub style”.

images-2If Marley’s neighbours on Hope Road wanted him to go back to where he came from, it wouldn’t be Trench Town. His origins were the wide, open spaces of rural Jamaica where noise is usually less of a nuisance than in congested cities. The same is true for Usain Bolt. And though he’s not a DJ, he seems just as unwelcome in Norbrook. Townhouses, unlike country houses, don’t give neighbours much breathing space.

It was the formidable journalist, Mrs. Barbara Gloudon, who first made the point about the way in which language reinforces social divisions between uptown and downtown. High-density housing in the inner city is scornfully described as ‘tenement yards’. Uptown, these yards become ‘gated communities’.

Obviously, there are differences between uptown and downtown tenement yards. Many uptown units are owned by residents, not rented as is usually the case in downtown yards. And uptown income levels uare much higher than downtown. There’s also more space between units in uptown tenement yards than downtown.

But conflict between neighbours, even in upscale communities, is sometimes caused by overcrowding.  You see it all the time. A single-family house on a big piece of land is knocked down. Soon, ten townhouses spring up. And that’s a conservative estimate.

Instead of say five people living in one house, there are now sixty or more squeezed up on what has become a relatively small lot. Uptown tenement yard! Or, ghetto, if you prefer. I don’t know how we got caught in the townhouse trap. I suppose it was the need for ‘security’. Proverbial wisdom promises that there’s safety in numbers. But there’s also a lot of contention.

I must admit I do have some sympathy for Jodi Stewart-Henriques. She’s suffering from townhouse syndrome. It’s a condition brought on by living so close to your neighbours that every little sound starts to get louder and louder. It gradually gets on your nerves. Eventually, even the flush of a toilet enrages you. Let alone loud music and dirt bikes. And you end up making unfortunate statements on social media about who should go back to where they came from.

NIGHT WORK

Jodi and Sean-Paul Henriques

Jodi and Sean-Paul Henriques

Fun and joke aside, I really do sympathise with Jodi. One of the serious noise issues that we’re not addressing is all-night construction work in residential neighbourhoods.

A couple of years ago, a house quite close to where I live was being renovated. Twenty-four hours, non-stop! There was the constant noise of drilling and hammering right through the night. One morning, at about 1:00 a.m., I just couldn’t take any more. So I went to speak to the workmen.

I got a good and proper tracing. One of them told me he was doing honest work and if he had come to beg me money I would have run him. He was right. He was an able-bodied man. I appealed to the architect, begging him to talk to the owners. They all acted as if they didn’t know night work was being done. And it continued without relief.

I complained to the police. That was a complete waste of time. Noise is a weapon that causes bodily harm. But that’s how it’s usually seen. We have to protect ourselves against invasive noise, no matter in which kind of tenement yard we live.

The High Cost Of Development

casaamI recently visited Grand Cayman for the first time. I was on my way to Havana for a conference on cultural diversity in the Caribbean, hosted by that distinguished Cuban institution, Casa de las Américas.

One of the highlights was a symposium titled ‘Bob Marley, Time Will Tell’. Professor Horace Campbell, author of the classic, Rasta and Resistance, gave the opening lecture on ‘Bob Marley and the Resistance to War’. All the speakers acknowledged the power of Marley’s music as a political force, urging the oppressed across the globe to rebel against systems of injustice.

The struggle against colonialism is a recurring theme in Marley’s lyrics. But, from what I could see of Cayman, colonialism didn’t look like such a bad thing. Cayman is still a colony of Britain. And Grand Cayman does seem to be rather grand. First World. I kept wondering what was hidden beneath the surface. Offshore banking has been a source of great wealth. But the obvious material prosperity of the Cayman Islands wasn’t the whole story.

My sister, Donnette, noticed that there didn’t seem to be too many ‘local’ people around. At the hotel on the island’s famous seven-mile beach where we overnighted, most of the employees were not Caymanian. The majority of the waiters in the main dining-room appeared to be Filipino or South Asian. The housekeeping staff on our floor were Jamaican. We went into town for dinner and the waiter who served us was from Santo Domingo.

Where were the Caymanians? The female taxi driver who took us back to the airport on Sunday gave us the answer. She described herself as one of a dying breed. Soon, Cayman will be almost completely overrun by foreigners. They will be the primary beneficiaries of development. For Caymanians, the price of ‘development’ will be loss. Loss of land, loss of social place, loss of identity.

BRAND-NEW SECOND-HAND

In Cuba, I was immediately struck by the ‘retro’ development of the communist state. Even on the website where we booked our boutique hotel, Terral, we were warned that the neighbourhood wasn’t so hot. So we were prepared for the crumbling buildings. Very few seemed as if they could be salvaged. But Terral was a bright spot. And the building next door was being renovated.

The decades of embargo imposed by the US, as well as the collapse of the Soviet Union, have forced the Cuban people to be extremely creative. Recycling is both an art and a science. The antique American automobiles are legendary. They are more than mere cars. They are symbols of the resilience of the Cuban people who take pride in craftsmanship, demonstrating their capacity to transform ‘old bruck’ into ‘brand-new second-hand’. I hope that with the lifting of the embargo, these glorious antique cars will not be sold for a song to greedy collectors. Surely, the owners must know their worth.

MacklinCreativity takes many forms. At the main craft market in Central Havana, I met Arturo Macklin, an elderly gentleman who was born in Cuba of Jamaican parents. He approached my sister, asking if she was Jamaican. He’s 86 years old and his walking stick was a marvel. It was made from empty deodorant containers, placed over a stick and joined, like sausages, by being heated! At the top was an umbrella handle. Mr Macklin stylishly twirled his home-made walking stick as if it were pure ebony from the finest of gentleman outfitters. And he posed for the camera with an athletic ‘to the world’ gesture, worthy of Usain Bolt.

LOOKING FOR JAMAICAN FAMILY

At the conference, a Cuban woman with Jamaican roots gave me a list of names and asked me to help her find her family. Her name is Belkis O’Connor Jones. At the top of the list was Archibald Edinazer O’Connor, who was born in Westmoreland in the 1870s. Belkis didn’t know the district. Next was Anna Gardener. But there was no information about her birth. Then there was Albertha Adeline Gregory, who was born in Port Antonio in May 1895. And Lois Alexander Jones, who was born in St Ann in the 1890s. I promised to try my best to see if I could find any record of these births and, if possible, any descendants. But I wasn’t hopeful.

G-best-genealogy-sitesSo many Jamaicans went to Cuba to work on the sugar estates and did not return. They made life in their adopted homeland. But their grandchildren now want to reclaim their Jamaican culture. Mr Macklin spoke longingly about wanting to eat ackee and salt fish. His ackee tree in the country was blown down in Hurricane Flora! I promised to check with the Cuban embassy to see if I could send him some canned ackee. Not the same as fresh from the tree. But better than nothing.

There is so much that we share across the Caribbean. A common history of ‘discovery’, genocide, squatting, enforced mass migration, enslavement, resistance, emancipation, colonisation, flag independence and economic colonisation all over again. But there are still cultural differences that make us claim particular places as home. Even when we don’t always feel at home. Like that woman in Cayman who sees herself as an endangered species. And Belkis, who is not completely at home in Cuba, wanting to find her distant relatives in Jamaica.

Suppose Jesus Did Funny Fi True

Frederic Cassidy

Frederic Cassidy

Two spelling systems are 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 Jamaican linguist Frederic Cassidy.  It has been updated 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

images-3Mi no mean dead wid laugh. A di odder kind a funny mi a talk bout. Wa dem a call ‘queer’ inna dem ya time. Suppose Jesus was a B-man. Tink bout it. Im never married. An im par wid nuff man. Pon top a dat, ascorden to weh John write inna fi im book inna New Testiment, Jesus did av a special love fi im. A so John seh.

Den some Bible scholar claim seh a no ongle 12 disciple Jesus did av. A nuff more. Bout 70! Jesus come een like dem DJ an dem crew. Or di yuut dem weh go a dance wid dem one anodder an no dance wid no uman whole night. Nuff man inna bungle. Jesus did av uman fren. But some a dem never come offa no high table. Dem a prostitute.

bolt_2309832bAnyhow, mi no want nobody a pray God fi mi. So mek mi spell it out: Mi never seh Jesus funny. A aks mi a aks. An a no me one a aks disya question. Mi go pon Google an put een ‘Was Jesus a homosexual?’ Mi shock fi see 11,300,000 answer come up inna 0.28 second. Faster than Usain Bolt!

So hear wa mek mi a aks disya funny question. Yu see di parson man dem weh a stir up dem congregation gainst B-man? An a keep up demonstration outa road gainst di people dem weh a try fi change di buggery law? Mi no know wa dem deh parson man woulda do if dem find out seh Jesus was a B-man. Dem woulda ha fi go kill demself.

Or dem coulda start tek Matthew 7:12 serious an try treat odder people like how dem woulda want people treat dem. An dem woulda ha fi come offa dem high horse an memba seh dem a sinner. Some a dem said same parson man a commit adultery, an through a uman dem a sex, dem a gwaan like seh fi dem sin better than odder people sin. Sin a sin.

FROM PILLAR TO POST

ambitionAn me want know wa dem parson man a seh an a do bout di yuut dem weh a bata-bata from pillar to post an cyaan find no weh fi rest dem head. Mi sorry fi di yuut dem. Dem bun dem outa uptown an dem cyaan go back downtown. But wat a way dem deh yuut chest high! A Millsborough, an Seymour Lands, an Cherry Gardens an Beverly Hills dem a squat. After all. If yu a squat, yu might as well av ambition.

But some a dem yuut a gwaan like leggo beast. Dem no av no behaviour. How dem fi out a yard stark naked inna di people dem good-good community? Dat a pure slackness. Out a out. But dem gone far out. Outa order. Dem buy on trouble pon demself. Dem no know how fi squat. Dem ha fi small up demself so nobody no notice dem to dat. Dem too bright.

Still for all, wi cyaan dash dem weh an gwaan like seh dem no belongs to wi. Dem a smaddy pikni, smaddy bredda, smaddy uncle, smaddy cousin, smaddy puppa. Wi dis ha fi claim dem. Dem a fambily. Dem a fi wi. An dem a God pikni. Same like Jesus. Dem a smaddy.

  • Prapa-Prapa Spelin

queer_by_choiceMi no miin ded wid laaf. A di ada kain a foni mi a taak bout. Wa dem a kaal ‘queer’ ina dem ya taim. Sopuoz Jesus woz wan B-man. Tingk bout it. Im neva marid. An im paar wid nof man. Pan tap a dat, azkaadn tu we John rait ina fi im buk ina di Nyuu Testiment, Jesus did av a speshal lov fi im. A so John se.

Den som Baibl skala kliem se a no ongl 12 disaipl Jesus did av. A nof muor. Bout 70! Jesus kom iin laik dem DJ an dem kruu. Aar di yuut dem we go a daans wid dem wan anada an no daans wid no uman uol nait. Nof man ina bongl. Jesus did av uman fren. Bot som a dem neva kom aafa no ai tiebl. Dem a prastityuut.

emoticons--question-face_17-317132617Eni-ou, mi no waahn nobadi a prie Gad fi mi. So mek mi spel it out: Mi neva se Jesus foni. A aks mi a aks. An a no mii wan a aks dis ya kweschyan. Mi go pan Google an put iin ‘Was Jesus a homosexual?’ Mi shak fi si 11,300,000 ansa kom op iina 0.28 sekan. Faasa dan Usain Bolt!

So ier wa mek mi a aks dis ya foni kweschyan. Yu si di paasn man dem we a stor op dem kangrigieshan gens B-man? An a kip op demonschrieshan outa ruod gens di piipl dem we a chrai fi chienj di bogri laa? Mi no nuo wa dem de paasn man uda du if dem fain out se Jesus woz a B-man. Dem uda afi go kil demself.

Ar dem kuda staat tek Matthew 7:12 siiriyos an chrai chriit ada piiipl laik ou dem wuda waahn piipl chriit dem. An dem wuda afi kum aafa dem ai aas an memba se dem a sina. Som a dem sed siem paasn man a komit adolchri, an chruu a uman dem a seks, dem a gwaan laik se fi dem sin beta dan ada piipl sin. Sin a sin.

FRAM PILA TU PUOS

13480844-success-diagram-shows-vision-ambition-execution-and-determinationAn mii waahn nuo wa dem paasn man a se an a du bout di yuut dem we a bata-bata fram pila tu puos an kyaahn fain no we fi res dem ed. Mi sari fi di yuut dem. Dem bun dem outa optoun an dem kyaahn go bak dongtoun. Bot wat a wie dem de yuut ches ai! A Millsborough, an Seymour Lands, an Cherry Gardens an Beverly Hills dem a skwat. Aaftar aal. If yu a skwat, yu mait az wel av ambishan.

Bot som a dem yuut a gwaan laik lego biis. Dem no av no biyievya. Ou dem fi out a yaad staak niekid ina di piipl dem gud-gud komyuuniti? Dat a pyuur slaknis. Out a out. Bot dem gaan faar out. Outa aada. Dem bai aan chrobl pan demself. Dem no nuo ou fi skwat. Dem afi smaal op demself so nobadi no nuotis dem tu dat. Dem tuu brait.

Stil far aal, wi kyaahn dash dem we an gwaan laik se dem no bilangz tu wi. Dem a smadi pikni, smadi breda, smadi onkl, smadi kosn, smadi pupa. Wi dis afi kliem dem. Dem a fambili. Dem a fi wi. An dem a Gad pikni. Siem laik Jesus. Dem a smadi.

  • English Translation

images-7I don’t mean laughing out loud.  It’s the other kind of funny I’m talking about. What’s called  ‘queer’ these days. What if Jesus was homosexual! Think about it.  He never married.  And he used to hang out with a lot of men.  And, according to John’s account in the New Testament, Jesus had a special love for him.  That’s what John said.

Some Bible scholars claim that it wasn’t only 12 disciples Jesus had.  It was lots more.  About 70!  Jesus was like these DJs and their crew.  Or those young men who go to parties in a big group and don’t dance with women at all.  Just a whole bunch of them together. Jesus did have female friends. But some of them were quite disreputable.  They were prostitutes.

tumblr_l52qc59d1i1qz8tzlo1_500Anyhow, I don’t want anyone to feel they need to pray for my soul. So let me spell it out:  I’m not saying that Jesus was queer.  It’s a question I’m asking.  And I’m not the only one to raise the issue. I googled  ‘Was Jesus a homosexual?’ and  I was shocked to see that  11,300,000 responses came up in 0.28 seconds. Faster than Usain Bolt!

So let me tell you why I ‘m asking this funny question. You see those parsons who are stirring up their congregation against homosexuals and holding demonstrations in the streets against those activists who are trying to change the buggery law! I don’t know what those parsons would do if they found out that Jesus was homosexual.  They would have to commit suicide.

Or they could  start taking Matthew 7:12 seriously and try to treat others the way they’d like to be treated.  And they would have to come off their high horse and remember that they are sinners.  Some of these parsons commit adultery and because they’re having sex with women they pretend as if their sin is better than other people’s.  Sin is sin.

FROM PILLAR TO POST

46199millsboroughgayraidh2013070

Evicted from Millsborough

And I want to know what these parsons are saying and doing about the youth who are wandering around from pillar to post, unable to find a home.   I’m sorry for them.  They’ve been driven from uptown and they can’t go back downtown.  But these youths have high standards! Its in Millsborough, and Seymour Lands, and Cherry Gardens and Beverly Hills that they’re squatting. After all. If you’re going to squat, you might as well be ambitious.

But some of these youths are behaving like wild animals.  They have no sense of decency. How can they be outdoors stark naked in respectable communities?  That’s pure vulgarity. Coming out of the closet is one thing. But they have gone far out. Out of order. They are making trouble for themselves.  They don’t know how to squat.  You have to be discreet so that you’re hardly noticed.  They are too outrageous.

Belonging_TrimmedAll the same, we can’t distance ourselves and act as if they don’t belong to us.  They are somebody’s  child, somebody’s brother, somebody’s uncle, somebody’s cousin, somebody’s father.  We have to claim them.  They’re family.  They are ours.  And they are God’s children.  Just like Jesus.  They are human.

Exploiting Brand Jamaica

“So wat we a get outa it?” That’s the question I was asked by a rather sceptical Rastaman, Raymond, who sells in Papine Market.  He seemed to think that VW of America, Inc. owed Jamaicans something for the viral super bowl ad which has gotten two million more hits since play day.  Well over twelve million in all!  “How yu mean?”, I asked.  “We can’t stop people from trying to talk like us!”  The man just kiss im teeth.  Obviously, I was a big eedyat.

The more I thought about the vendor’s penetrating question I realised that it wasn’t limited to the specific case of the VW ad.  He was actually raising the much broader issue of whether or not Jamaicans can, in fact, benefit from the global appeal of our culture.  Who defines ‘Brand Jamaica’?  Who ‘owns’ the brand?  And how can this brand be best exploited in the interest of the masses of the Jamaican people?

92983.gifThere’s a big difference between brand identity and brand image. Identity is who we really are; image is how others see us.  So they attempt to construct an alternative image that suits their own needs.

On the other hand, the very people who embody ‘Brand Jamaica’, like that market vendor, are usually left out of the process of defining and marketing the brand. They are not entitled to interrogate the ‘experts’. All the same, Jamaica’s distinctive identity is not ‘uptown’; it’s ‘downtown’.  And, at the risk of offending our minority racial groups who do not wish to be seen as ‘minority’, it’s obvious that ‘Brand Jamaica’ is the black majority.

“Proper-proper Language”

Even though some of us consistently refuse to see ourselves as we actually are, non-Jamaicans find it relatively easy to immediately recognise some of the key components of our identity: for example, our distinctive language.  And some of them make a big effort to try to learn it.  They want to be in the know.

GlobalReggaeCoverI recently telephoned a European embassy about the launch of the Global Reggae book I edited, which takes place today at 6:00 at PULS8.  The diplomat I spoke to said he’d been planning to contact me.  Several of his colleagues want to take a course in ‘patwa’.  I couldn’t resist saying ‘Jamaican’.  And I put him in touch with Professor Hubert Devonish who heads the Jamaican Language Unit at the University of the West Indies.

How do we see Jamaican?  It’s not even a language.  It’s nothing but a ‘corrupt’, ‘broken’ version of English, with absolutely no social status.  After all, “is black people mek it up”.  You can bet your last devalued dollar that if Europeans had created ‘patwa’ it would now be accepted as a ‘proper-proper’ language.

Counterfeit Jamaicans

bolt_to_di_world_jamaican_flag_hat-p148359947895250901en80o_216I think it’s a great idea for everybody in the whole world to learn Jamaican.  It’s a global language of athletic prowess, musical genius, dutty winery, business acumen and innovation in so many other fields.  The real problem is the counterfeiting of Jamaican products in global markets; and the exploitation of the name ‘Jamaica’.

The Jamaica Intellectual Property Office (JIPO) has been valiantly negotiating for the recognition of “nation branding as a development tool”.  In a major report to the World Intellectual Property Office (WIPO), a very strong case was made for protecting Brand Jamaica.  The report documents “the extent of use of Jamaica’s country name in trade marks that are registered by persons or entities which have no association with Jamaica in relation to good and services which do not originate in Jamaica”.

4000304_f260A classic example is the “Jamaica energy drink” which was actually made in Croatia.  Turning Jamaica’s superlative Olympic performance into a marketable commodity, Croatians just decided to ‘try a ting’.  And talking of ‘ting’, remember how hard it was for the Ting soft drink to enter the US market.  It was argued that ‘Ting’ was too similar to ‘Tang’, the U.S. fruit-flavoured drink.  I can’t recall all the details of the case but I do remember being asked to write a statement confirming that ‘ting’ was a Jamaican word.

Thanks to the expertise of JIPO, the bogus “Jamaica energy drink” was yanked from the shelves.  We haven’t been so lucky with the “all natural Jamaican style ginger ale” which has not a shred of Jamaican ginger in its ingredients.  Well, the label does say “style”.  It doesn’t claim to be the real thing.  So the product is still on the market.

Paying to get happy

imagesI was quite disappointed to find out that, in a not-so-surprising twist, Sandals has had to pull their ‘Germaican’ spoof of the VW ad.  Adam Stewart, CEO of Sandals Resorts International, told me that the Partridge Family, copyright holders of “Come On Get Happy”, were insisting on payment of a “sizeable sum” for its use.

I suppose if Adam had anticipated that his version of the ad would have become so visible, he wouldn’t have used the copyrighted song.  He would have taken a leaf out the uncopyrightable proverbial book of Dr. Michael Abrahams, who uses a basic riddim as the sound track for his own wicked version of the ad, “Miserable Jamaican”.

We’re a ‘brand name’ nation.  But if we really intend to get anything out of the high visibility of our culture, we will have to consolidate our efforts.  JIPO, the JTB, JAMPRO and all of us in Papine and other markets and sectors, just have to come on and get really serious about it.

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.