There was a time when much of the music from Jamaica seemed to have hit rock bottom, and Sharon Gordon was among those disturbed by the plunge. Was this really what reggae had come to - songs showing a near-total lack of creativity, with vulgar and derogatory messages?
|Sharon Gordon and singer Shaggy|
Gordon, a Jamaican media expert living in New York, decided to do something about the issue. With her partner Carlyle McKetty, she founded the Coalition to Preserve Reggae (CPR) in 2005 with the aim of promoting talented musicians and restoring respect for the music.
Her efforts have done much to boost reggae, and earlier this year she was rewarded with the 2014 Woman of Great Esteem Emerald Award, an American prize that honours outstanding women who have “excelled beyond normal expectations in a multi-cultural society”, according to the organizers.
“Receiving this award for what I absolutely enjoy doing is a most awesome, humbling and gratifying feeling,” Gordon told SWAN, “It means that after so many years of hard work and pioneering efforts on my part of positively promoting, presenting and representing Jamaican culture, especially roots reggae music, there is recognition of my footprint in the Diaspora and it means a whole lot to me.”
Gordon says she was uncomfortably aware of just how “awful the vibes and commentary about the state of the music” was when she launched the CPR. She constantly heard complaints from colleagues and friends about the figurative black eye the songs were giving Jamaica.
“There was decadence, vulgarity and obscene lyrics and a sound that was highly frenetic and bore no resemblance to its mother Dancehall or even its grandmother, roots reggae,” she recalls. “It was not the most positive representation of our musical contribution to the world-stage, or of Jamaica in general. Both Carlyle and I felt compelled to do something about it, but what?”
|Gordon with actor Karl Williams|
and Jamaican filmmaker Storm Saulter
As someone who was “deeply invested” in the roots reggae scene in New York, having worked in various fields such as radio broadcasting and music promotion, Gordon felt she had the skills to make a difference. She took note of the fact that 2005 marked the 75th anniversary of the coronation of late Emperor Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia (“reggae's most significant muse”) and his Empress Menen.
“We looked at the landscape and saw that no one was doing anything to recognize this significant occasion in our history,” she says. “We felt it was important to do something that would highlight the unique relationship between Rasta, reggae, Selassie and Jamaica because we saw Rasta and reggae as two very significant gifts that Jamaica gave to the world in the 20th century.”
She and McKetty brought colleagues together and mounted the first annual Reggae Culture Salute concert to commemorate the coronation and its impact on reggae music. The show featured Third World, Morgan Heritage and Luciano, “representing the past, present and future of roots reggae at the time”, she says.
|Gordon with her award.|
The concert took place in New York and was a greater success than anyone expected. From that experience, Gordon says she discovered that “folks were really hungry for knowledge about reggae versus Dancehall”. She also found that there was a great deal of confusion about the differences between the various genres, and that people didn’t make a distinction between the crass new music and real reggae.
“Folks were calling this new sound and its practitioners homophobic, mysogonist, and criminals. So we felt an urgent need to let folks know that reggae music is about peace and love and unity, about oneness,” she says. “We felt that they needed to understand how we got to where we were and why.”
She also believed there had to be a way to explain the “social, political and economical implications of what had happened to silence the positive message of roots reggae music and instead elevate a more negatively channeled but absolutely catchy and hypnotic sound that was certainly not reggae.”
Soon after the concert, Gordon and McKetty presented the idea of the Coalition to Preserve Reggae, a non-profit organization based in Brooklyn, New York, and many fans embraced the concept. Since then the organization has been active in ever-expanding areas, including hosting the CPR Community Conversation Series, which are free monthly forums that examine topical issues and bring experts and the community together, for instance.
|Gordon (2nd from left) with reggae musicians|
This year's forums have so far looked at "The Future of Reggae Music", "Who is Making Money in Reggae" and "Understanding Intellectual Property". The month of June marks three years since Gordon and her partners launched CPRLive, an internet broadcast platform where they stream reggae music as well as host “progressive” programming with shows titled Social Living, Real Talk, Reggae Rising and Reggae Calling.
Some of the discussions have been heated, with Gordon and her partners getting flak when they criticize certain elements of the music, but she says she wants to jerk people out of their complacency.
On Nov. 1, CPR will host the 10th annual Reggae Culture Salute which has become the annual fundraiser for the Coalition. “Our mission is to raise the bar in the creation, development, promotion and presentation of our beloved reggae music,” Gordon says.
This goal is shared by several dynamic young musicians, including Jubba White, a co-founder
Like Gordon, White is one of the movers behind the current “reggae renaissance” movement that is re-energizing Jamaican music. His self-described aim is to produce “handcrafted reggae music with international appeal and strictly conscious, uplifting messages”.
After many years of working with his band, White recently decided to put his own company, White Stone Productions, more into the limelight, and last month he released two interesting new singles on the VPAL record label.
One of the singles is by Masia One, a Singapore-born Canadian reggae and hip-hop singer who wants to spread reggae throughout Asia. Her song “X Boyfriend” is a catchy number which has been getting much airplay in Jamaica and also gaining attention elsewhere.
“Reggae is appreciated in Malaysia, but I want to see it grow in other countries in the region,” says Masia, who lived and taught in Jamaica for a few years. She’s currently based in Singapore but she and White are working long-distance on her new album "Lim and The Lion” which will feature songs in the reggae tradition but with a youthful new vibe.
Gordon sees all this as a positive development. "I’m delighted that this is happening,” she says. “Jubba’s work certainly demonstrates exactly why Dubtonic Kru received CPR's first SIMBA Award in 2011.” The SIMBA Award is for those who have shown a dedication to creating and presenting “good quality roots reggae music", she adds. - A.M.
For more information on the Coalition to Preserve Reggae: http://www.cprreggae.org