NYU Black Renaissance Noire Spring 2015 - Page 43

BRN-SPRING-2015.indb 41 In May 2013 during the celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of the African Union in Addis Ababa, at a panel on Pan-Africanism and the African Renaissance, Jamaican Prime Minister, Portia Simpson Miller said that Jamaica and the Caribbean community are ‘proud of our African heritage.’ It was Peter Tosh’s song ‘African’ that was played as former Jamaican PM PJ Patterson and Mrs Simpson Miller joined the panel. Even before the emergence of reggae in the late 1960s, there were some expressions of African consciousness in Jamaican popular music. The work of folklorist Olive Lewin provides evidence in a number of Jamaican folk songs, in which Africa is remembered; songs which mention Congo and Guinea, for example. Noted jazz musician and musicologist Marjorie Whylie is an expert on African derived drum rhythms like kumina, etu, bhurru, gerrey, gombey and nago, which are still played in Jamaica today. During the era of ska, the visionary trombonist Don Drummond named one of his instrumental compositions ‘Addis Ababa’ after the Ethiopian capital and another ‘The Reburial’ in reference to the re-interment of Marcus Garvey, the greatest and most effective political advocate of black/ African consciousness, in Jamaica. Prince Buster, in his famous talking tune ‘Judge Dread,’ declares that he has come from Ethiopia to preside over the trial of rude boys in Jamaica charged with robbing and shooting black people. Buster’s black nationalist sentiment can be heard in several of his recordings including ‘Black Head BLACK RENAISSANCE NOIRE And yet the cultural revolution that put Jamaica “on the map” in the twentieth century, reggae music, is replete with expressions of African consciousness and adherence to the African component of Jamaican history. What do I mean by African consciousness? Simply, an awareness of connectedness to the continent of Africa in being its diaspora and seeing Africa as ancestral homeland. Stuart Hall identifies two approaches to African consciousness: ‘cultural nationalist’ and ‘pan-African imaginary,’ the emphasis of the first being identity and the other, solidarity. He opts for the latter because it is that approach, he asserts, which has kept the consciousness, or what he calls the ‘connections,’ alive. I would argue that both the ‘cultural national’ and the ‘pan-African imaginary’ find expression in reggae music. There is ample historical and anthropological evidence that the slaves who were taken to the new world, from Africa, brought Africa with them, and that African traditions and language components were interwoven into t