Reharnessing Power Of Reggae Music

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[Speaking Truth To Power]

Throughout the world, Reggae music is respected as a significant art form originally emanating from the island of Jamaica.

But as the current pop music scene degenerates with the promotion of gangsterism, crass materialism and misogyny, the question now is: what’s to become of the uplifting message music which was popularized by the magnificent musical maestro Bob Marley?

That very concern is currently being championed by the Brooklyn-based organization CPR (Committee to Preserve Reggae Music.) CPR, a non-profit organization, was formed by partners and business entrepreneurs Carlyle McKetty and Sharon Gordon. The duo is responsible for several business entities including TSO Productions, which is a boutique company specializing in niche marketing and public relations. TSO oversees the day-to-day operations of CPR.

“As we rolled into 2005, Carlyle and I had a desire to mark the 75th anniversary of the coronation of Emperor Haile Selassie I, and Empress Mennen of Ethiopia, with a commemorative event highlighting the unique relationship between Reggae, Rasta, Selassie and Jamaica, and went about mobilizing friends and colleagues to join us in this venture,” said co-founder and chairwoman Gordon. “The event was named Reggae Culture Salute and the collaborators became the Coalition to Preserve Reggae Music.” Gordon—who is the niece of former Zapow singer Beres
Hammond—declares “Our coalition continues to grow as more individuals who sincerely want the music to grow find that CPR is a viable vehicle for their aspirations.”

Some six years later, CPR is busy moving forward with the work of promoting the music that is loved by many—and on which Gordon and McKetty, both from Jamaica, were raised. “Although the friends and colleagues were in most cases affiliated with one organized entity or another," McKetty said, referring to media houses, bands, community organizations, and so on, "we came together as individuals, friends of Roots Reggae seeking to preserve the essence” of Reggae, said McKetty. “And we continue until this day to function in this way.”

CPR has also expanded their scope adding other elements to their mission. For example, they present an award called the Pinnacle Award for Excellence, honoring those who’ve contributed to the development of Reggae. They also launched a community forum called the Community Conversation Series that meets several times a year to debate important topics. A new endeavor called the Legacy Project is currently in the works. They also host two Internet radio programs. “Real Talk” on Thursdays at 7pm and “Reggae Calling” on Saturdays at 6pm. Both programs can be found at www.ustream.comIn October they will be launching CPRLive, on their website

For their efforts, Gordon and McKetty have been honored recipients of several awards. For instance, both were rewarded by AMPPS --Reggae Artists, Musicians, Producers, Promoters and Songwriters-- with their 2010 Making a Difference Award. And in Feb, 2011, Congresswoman Yvette Clarke bestowed McKetty with a Certificate of Special Congressional Recognition.

Given the state of today’s music, organizations like CPR are vitally important in promoting positive music, especially, Reggae which has been a potent force in uniting people. As African-American avant-garde saxophonist Albert Ayler’s last album stated “Music is the Healing Force of the Universe.” Around the same time Ayler’s album was being released, in 1970’s America, a new dynamic, underground sound was rising up from Jamaican ghettoes, like Trench Town. In a relatively short period of time, this music would bring healing by giving voice, not only to the downtrodden in Jamaica, but to the larger suffering masses within Africa, the Diaspora, and around the world.

Therefore, as the Seventies turned into the Eighties, Reggae’s horizon seemed as bright and blistering as a midday Caribbean sun. After all, besides the monumental inroads being forged by Mr. Marley, there were also other great acts bursting onto the scene. For Reggae aficionados, names like: Jacob Miller, Dennis Brown, Third World, Black Uhuru, Sly and Robbie, Steel Pulse and Aswad, just to mention a few, bring great joy.

Unfortunately, the Eighties started with a double dose of tragedy. First, on March 23, 1980; Jacob Miller a meteorically rising star—and uncle of Maxi Priest—died in a heartbreaking car accident. Miller had produced an incredibly body of work in a brief period. He was only 27.

But an even bigger tragedy would unfold a year later.  On May 11, 1981 Reggae King Bob Marley succumbed to cancer at 36. Marley’s death shook the Reggae community hard. Marley trumpeted a message of equal rights, justice and redemption capturing the imagination of untold millions. Fans across the globe mourned the man the New York Times called the “most influential artist of the second half of the 20 Century.”

Mega groups like Third World, Black Uhuru, Steel Pulse, Aswad and solo artists like Dennis Brown and Gregory Isaacs did much to push on in the wake of the deaths of Marley and Miller. However, as the Eighties unfolded, unseemly forces in the music industry decided to promote a hybrid form of Reggae which became known to many as “Dancehall.” But unlike the earlier form of cultural dancehall music—performed by artists like: U-Roy, I-Roy, Big Youth, and Brigadier Jerry—this new version appealed to the base instinct of greed and selfishness.

This destructive trend was, simultaneously, also taking place in the arena of Rap music. Today, in the pop music scene, the deterioration of music continues.

Yet, all is not lost. High quality Reggae is still available, although, much of it isn’t being recognized by the music business barons. New artists—alongside the legendary artists that have carried the Reggae banner for all these years—are still making profound music. And because Bob Marley paved the way, some of these artists hail from other areas of the African Diaspora, and elsewhere. Some of the new standouts include: Midnite, Nasio Fontaine, Bambu Station and Taj Weeks. Moreover, several high quality female artists are making their voices heard including: Etana, Queen Ifrica, Dezaire, Queen Omega and Sister Joyce.

Given the excellence of these artists the question now is: how do we break the current media monopoly that stifles positive music like cultural Reggae?

There’re no easy answers here. Those controlling the industry aren’t keen on promoting message music. Superficiality rules today. But, new opportunities are emerging. Is it possible the Internet will level the playing field, in the musical arena, as it has in other areas? I think so. Moreover, in the Marcus Garvey tradition, we must look into pooling our resources to start our own radio, television and satellite stations.

When Reggae musicians, business leaders and the rest of us come together, these ventures will become reality. In the meantime, we must support organizations like CPR for the essentially,  vital work they’re doing.

For more information on the Coalition to Preserve Reggae Music logon to  www.cprreggae.orgor call (718-421-6927 • Fax: (718) 421-0522. CPR will be hosting an open house, starting at 4pm, on June, 25, 2001. The event will be held at 1199 Ocean Avenue, suite 407, Brooklyn New York.

"Speaking Truth To Empower."

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