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|
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.”
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
|Gordon with her award.|
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
were calling this new sound and its practitioners homophobic, mysogonist, and
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.”
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.”
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|
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.
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.
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
of the popular Jamaican band Dubtonic Kru.
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”.
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.
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
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.
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.