Black History Month is commemorated in February as remembrance of important people, events and achievements in the history of the African Diaspora. The commemoration originated in the United States and is credited to black historian Carter G. Woodson who in 1926 started the “Negro History Week”. Black History month in the United this year will take on added significance because of the emergence of the first African- American president in the person of Barack Obama.
Last year, the Ministry of Information, Culture, Youth and Sports took the decision to twin Black History month with Reggae Month. There is indeed a historically and inextricable link between reggae and black history. There is therefore good justification to commemorate reggae and black history in the same month. Reggae music and reggae artistes play an important role in articulating and advocating the concerns of black people locally and internationally. Interestingly, both the king of reggae, Bob Marley and the prince of reggae music, Dennis Brown were born in February.
Commercially, the linking of reggae with black history provides the Government, the music industry, tourism and other related sectors a unique opportunity to package, promote and market our rich cultural industries. Apart from the commercial opportunities, there are some wonderful educational and social benefits that can be derived from the formal linking of reggae with black history. Despite its early struggles for acceptance in the Jamaican society, reggae is now general accepted by the population and is known global as the definitive Jamaican music form. Black history on the other hand is not well known by the Jamaican population and although we have a population of over 90% people of African descent, black consciousness and black pride are woefully lacking in the psyche of many Jamaicans. The ignorance, disregard and struggle for an unknown identity is a major root cause of much of our social, emotional, political, economic and even spiritual problems.
What is required therefore, is a concerted effort by all stakeholders to promote the knowledge, understanding, appreciation and application of black history by carefully and creatively infusing it with reggae and its popular derivative, dance hall. There are some urgent realities that should be address through this infusion – the inclusion of the teachings and philosophy of Marcus Garvey throughout the educational system; the inclusion of African History in schools to put Caribbean and European history in their proper perspectives; the teaching of the Bible and the doctrines of Christianity in the proper African context; concerted efforts geared towards addressing the causes and practice of skin bleaching; serious and consistent efforts towards addressing the violence and vulgarity in our music and in the wider society; greater use of reggae music in the promotion of nationalism and in advocating for social and economic justice.
The commemoration of reggae and black history in the same month is an important statement that underscores the inextricable link between the two. This marriage is too important to be consummated, climaxed and cancelled in one month. The formal linking of reggae and black history provides some great opportunities towards nation building; great care should be taken to ensure that it is not reduced to a month of song and dance.
Orville Plummer is a Jamaican educator