Many Jamaicans have been taunting each other on social media because American band SOJA won the Grammy earlier this month for ‘Best Reggae Album’. The highest rated album title is beauty in silence. Angry Jamaicans should listen to this message. A nice silence, rather than an ugly outrage, would have been a much more appropriate response to SOJA’s triumph.
It was impossible for some hardcore Jamaican reggae fans to keep quiet. SOJA defeated Sean Paul, Spice, Jesse Royal, Etana and Gramps Morgan for the Grammy. But these militant patriots should have at least listened to the lyrics of SOJA, which pay homage to the Jamaican roots of reggae. SOJA stands for Soldiers of Jah’s Army. These recruits are part of a worldwide battalion of reggae artists who were not born in Jamaica. They immersed themselves in our culture and worked tirelessly to perfect their craft.
As SOJA states in ‘Press Rewind’, the first title of beauty in silence:
“I remember when we used to watch
Buju Banton, Bob Marley, Peter Tosh
Take six strings and just tell me where to go
If you could tell me about now, I’d never know
And now the tourist bus stops in every town
And all my old friends are still the ones playing with me
And every song I sing I always smile
Remember that travel is all about timing”
SOJA has walked the path of reggae for a quarter of a century. They are not in a hurry. They paid their dues. It was time for SOJA to win the Reggae Grammy. Their name reflects the pronunciation of “soldier” in the Jamaican language. That’s a whole other problem. Reggae fans around the world take pride in learning the Jamaican language, which many of us despise.
In response to my column from last week, “Holness an Tufton a Talk Outa Two Side a Dem Mouth”, Chris Mitcehll [same so] posted, “People who read the gleaner expect standard English to be used, unless it’s a quote
Writing this article (sic) is better for the Star a newspaper.” Another reader clapped, “She shudda thump yuh dong inna an article next week fi dis hya outta ordah how!” The only thing I would do is say Chris needs to master the spelling and punctuation in English.
Also this month, two German music journalists, Ellen Koehlings and Pete Lilly, won another reggae award. The Jamaica Reggae Industry Association (JaRIA) honored them for their “extraordinary impact on the reggae industry”. For two decades Pete and Ellen were the dedicated editors of Riddimthe first brilliant reggae and dancehall magazine to come out of Germany.
In her heartfelt acceptance speech, Ellen said, “When we first came to Jamaica, it was actually a life-changing experience. You know, we were so touched by the music and the culture in general that after that we started writing about that experience. . . . And since the creation of Riddim magazine, it has to be, you know, I think the most essential part for us was staying true to this beautiful culture. Ellen described the award this way: “It’s the greatest achievement we could dream of.”
In his speech, Pete said, “We want to thank the singers and instrument players for being so open to us.” It highlights an important issue. Unlike fanatical defenders of Jamaican “ownership” of reggae, our musicians respond positively to outsiders who respectfully engage with our culture.
A prime example is Chronixx who posted SOJA’s big win on Instagram: “Soja have been one of the best bands in America for years. . . They have been blessing us and sharing their platforms with us for years…constantly. Bring nuff a wi on the road before we have open opportunities for one of Jamaica’s music legends.
As far as I know, there has been no social media outcry against Ellen and Pete being honored by JaRIA. Is it because over-excited Jamaican reggae fans don’t take music journalism seriously? Or even worse, they have no respect for the Jamaica Reggae Industry Association awards? How ironic it would be if those short-sighted reggae fans who defend Jamaica’s ‘right’ to reggae cared only about a foreign award! Not theirs!
Recently, there was another irrational protest on social media regarding the Tourism Enhancement Fund (TEF) sponsorship courses offered on the Reggae Online website. The class that seemed to upset a lot of people was ‘Reggae Rudiments’. Indeed, the instructor, Gerd Beyens, is Belgian. An angry person posted, “Why should we use taxpayers. [same so] money (Tourism Enhancement Fund) to pay a foreigner [same so] teaching reggae to Jamaicans. When people are angry, they seem to forget to check what they’ve written.
Perhaps this offended writer does not know that Beyens heads the theory and musicology department at the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts. He studied composition at the Royal Conservatory of Brussels and he is certainly qualified to teach a course on “the elements and instruments which give Reggae its typical sound”. To oppose Beyens’ expertise is to insist that a Jamaican cannot teach a course on Shakespeare at a publicly funded British university!
In 2008, the Reggae Studies Unit and the Institute of Caribbean Studies at the University of the West Indies, Mona, organized an international conference on “Global Reggae: Jamaican Popular Music A Yard and Abroad”. Scholars came from all over the world to share their academic work on reggae. Keynote speakers documented the reach of reggae across all continents. Their articles are collected in the award-winning book, World Reggae. It’s time Jamaicans recognize that while reggae was born here, it doesn’t belong to us. Just like how parents don’t own their children!