Last September, VP Records reminded us that “Reggae music is more than a riddim that people dance to, it is a genre of study”. Indeed, in the United States and England for example, this Caribbean musical genre is taught in colleges (University of Minnesota, Wolfston College Cambridge and Washington University in St. Louis) and allows students to obtain credits to graduate. Do we Caribbean people who regularly listen to reggae know that? Do we also know that the University of the West Indies, which is located on several campuses in the Caribbean (Barbados, Jamaica, Antigua & Barbuda, Trinidad & Tobago), has also included reggae in its teaching programme?
The largest record company, specialized in Reggae and Dancehall and based in New York, also told us that this music popularized by the unforgettable Bob Marley is taught on the Mona Campus in Jamaica. Indeed, by consulting the University of the West-Indies website, we learn that this “Reggae Studies Unit was created based on recognition of the influence of Reggae music on both Jamaican and world cultures” and that it has four main objectives, namely : increase reggae-related research and teaching in diverse areas (film, musicology, and dance) at the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences ; establish a Specialist Documentation Centre containing various resources relative to the culture of Reggae music; create partnerships with local and international institutions to promote reggae studies ; sponsor or co-sponsor seminars, conferences, public lectures, among others, and to assist with the publication of research findings.
We also learn that one of the main activities of the Reggae Studies Unit at the University of the West Indies is the annual Bob Marley Lecture. This meeting named after “Jamaica’s most famed cultural ambassador” was first organized in 1997 during February, the month of the Jamaican cultural icon’s birth. This annual Bob Marley Lecture is now organized by the Institute of Caribbean Studies and its Reggae Studies Unit in collaboration with the Bob Marley Foundation.
“Since their inception, the Annual Bob Marley Lectures were designed to honour and celebrate the contributions of Bob Marley and his music and legacy and also to highlight issues around Jamaican popular music and culture. As such, the Annual Bob Marley Lectures focus on a diverse range of issues around Bob Marley’s life and work, reggae music, and Jamaican music and culture from a range of academic disciplines and popular standpoints”, says the University of the West Indies, Mona Campus in Kingston.
In addition, the International Reggae Conference (formerly Global Reggae Conference), whose first edition took place from February 18 to 24, 2008, is held every two years, also in February, on the Mona Campus by the Reggae Studies Unit in partnership with other organizations. The 7th edition, held February 16 to19, 2022, whose theme was “Reggae Films, Reggae Icons, Reggae Music” focused on the 50th anniversary of “The Harder They Come”, the first Jamaican feature film released on June 6, 1972, starring legendary superstar Jimmy Cliff.
“The Conference consolidates and disseminates knowledge on the global impact of Jamaican popular culture”, the university says. As for Jamaican scholar, writer and cultural activist Sonjah Stanley Niaah, she writes : “It is important to note that the cultural exploration which gave birth to the Global Reggae conferences began in a tradition started in 1996 when the inaugural Conference on Caribbean Culture was convened at the University of the West Indies, on the initiative of Prof. Barry Chevannes to celebrate the distinguished intellectual legacy of Professor the Hon. Rex Nettleford, former Vice Chancellor of the University of the West Indies. The second Culture Conference paid tribute to the Barbadian historian and poet, Professor Kamau Brathwaite. The third Conference on Caribbean Culture provided sharpened focus on a mass movement of popular consciousness and the Global Reggae Conferences continue in this vein today”.
Recall that on November 29, 2018, reggae was included in the list of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by Unesco. Reggae – inseparable from Rastafarianism – which is a mixture of ska, rocksteady, jazz and blues, appeared in the late 1960s and became the music of the oppressed.
Ten years earlier, on January 9, 2008, February was officially declared “Reggae Month” by the Government of Jamaica to celebrate the impact of this musical genre on the development of the island’s society, culture and economy ; July 1 being the “International Reggae Day”…
The Caribbean islands are lands where many rhythms and dances forged in the painful history of the peoples are known worldwide, some have also become “Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity” as Gwoka of Guadeloupe (2014) or Rumba of Cuba (2016).