The clouds were swollen and ominous. We (Ro and I) were a bit tentative about attending. Besides, we thought we were too fashionably late for we are not into the Jamaican 5:30 p.m. versus the dancehall 5:30p.m. versus the real 5:30 p.m and all other versions of 5:30 p.ms. that might exist.So we arrived; a little after 5:30p.m, on Tuesday, February 15, 2011, only to find one other person (Jo-jo) there, finding out that one other person came before to enquire about the event. So I guessed it would start at 5:30 p.m. Jamaica style after all. This, in fact was a lecture about Jamaican culture, it is only fitting to employ all aspects of the culture to set the ambiance (including the fact that nobody at the venue knew that an event was scheduled for that day at that time). This was no "Piahn-piahn" (hn produces nasal sound) event - it was the second 'lecture' organised by the Carolyn Cooper led, Global Reggae Studies Centre, which was held at Studio 38 New Kingston.
We eventually began at some point after 7 p.m. We were not at all concerned about the late start anymore because the ever effervescent, witty and charismatic Cooper ensured that our minds were quickly captivated by her mouth-slpit-wide-belly-cramping sarcastic humour. She told us about the birth of Global Reggae Studies Centre and its graudual exodus from its uptown Villa Ronai home in Old Stony Hill (until it hopefully gets to somewhere downtown).
Attendees were led on an excursion into the Jamaica from the not too distant past; where a village raised a child and boys would fight but the guns were absent; of rasta philosophy, shared by ball-head and niahbingi, bobo, twelve tribe rasta alike because it was more than mystical teaching - it was about livity; of black power; of absence of hunger and knowledge of poverty because people knew how to share. It was a recollection of 'real' Jamaican culture by a gentleman whom I can only recall being Cooper's deportee cousin, who according to Cooper is in the good company of our most honoured deportee, Marcus Garvey.
And then we had the lecture/reading/presentation.A Reggae lecture presented by two Germans? Yes! They were not there to tell us of the origin of reggae and the negotiation of power, identity, gender roles and sexuality in the performance of reggae. They spoke about the journey of reggae from the tenement yaad of Trench Town to the cities of Europe, in general and Germany, in particular. They told of their first encounter with reggae (making no distinction between roots reggae and its derivative hybrid, dancehall)and how it became their area of research and business and how reggae, albeit a potted plant in "imperial" Europe, survives, independent of Jamaica and Jamaican talents. The Germans have managed to appropriate reggae in some ways; making it theirs.
But can reggae really be anything but Jamaican and Jamaica's? Can the Germans make reggae theirs? What does this mean, financially for Jamaican reggae artistes and Jamaica whose art has been borrowed and "exploited"? Is this the reincarnation of imperialism? Do these Germans, who claim to have a love for Jamaica and Jamaican culture have a responsibility to offer solidarity to Jamaican Reggae performers to ensure the survival of the art form on the rock or is that too paternalistic an expectation? WHAT SAY YE?!
In part 2 we will discuss all of those questions and some of the other issues raised...