Abby Aguirre's trip to the island was to satisfy her own curiosity, "I'm here for something I have read about but not yet seen. After more than two decades of being dismissed as music for parents and tourists, roots reggae is relevant again in Jamaica..."
The performances and seemingly euphoric vibe at Rebel Salute seem to have left an indelible mark on her. She wrote of an impressionable moment, When Raging Fyah, a young five-piece band that came up through Edna Manley College's School of Music in Kingston ("the Julliard of Jamaica," as it is often described), had begun to sometime around 3:00am, the whole crowd was drawn to its feet in a visible wave, like fallen dominoes getting up again.
When I first heard that roots reggae was coming back in Jamaica, it made sense to me in
Foreign versions of the Revival origin story cast it as a rejection of modern dancehall, with its overtly digital sound and emphasis on money and sex, and cite the 2014 murder conviction of that genre's biggest star, Vybz Kartel, as the final turnoff.... But in Protoje's (the first of the new reggae artists to hit in Jamaica) telling, "I was running off some tapes from my mother's studio sessions in the 70s, and I heard some music and I was captivated by it. And then I really went into research mode on 70s and 80s local music, and a whole new world kind of opened up to me."
They did not find reggae without finding Rastafarianism, which brought about changes in diet and outlook. They went vegetarian. They began to emphasize the positive and the communal. There came, as Protoje puts it, "an overall awareness of self, or at least a beginning to wonder." These choices made sense as news headlines turned from the global financial crisis to Arab Spring and then to Occupy. They engaged in "reasoning," philosophical discussions, with Mystic. There was something else that they embraced: "Social media played an integral part in it, especially for me." Protoje says.
By 2011 they were all getting radio play, especially Protoje, and it was decided by a young Jamaican writer-known as Dutty Bookman that this new movement needed a name. At the time he was very fascinated with the Harlem Renaissance..."If there was any Renaissance in reggae music, it was that era of Bob Marley and all of them," Protoje says. What Bookman saw, rather, was a reawakening. And so, in Novemember 2011, with history and search optimization in mind, Bookman published a post on his blog announcing the Reggae Revival.
It was around that time that Protoje was first contacted by Chronixx, "He wanted to produce" Protoje said....Protoje invited Chronixx to send some beats, and then to with him and Kabaka Pyramid.
For their part, the artists of the Reggae Revival cite a global "shift in consciousness" in as matter-of-fact a tone as they might describe a movement of tectonic plates. It seems to follow without need for explanation here that such a shift should make us want to hear reggae, not merely for its lyrics but also for the one-drop, Its signature rhythm, which, depending on your vantage point, is about the pace of a heartbeat, or of the slow, incessant drone of manual labour, the kind that builds pyramids, or railroads....
If dancehall offers the dream of material riches, reggae seems to offer an alternative idea of freedom. To Jamaicans and especially to Rastafarians, the music is encoded with cultural and religious references, but the rest of the world has never needed to understand the references, or believe that the Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie was a prophet, to hear the underlying messages. Get Up, stand up. In reggae, it seems, the promise of freedom is fulfilled through awareness itself..
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Photo credit: Michael Christopher Brown/Magnum