Friday, November 18, 2011

"Jafaicans" Making Reggae Music?

Hi Meltingpot Readers,

I was in my car the other day, listening to NPR when this very interesting segment came on about non-Jamaican artists dominating the reggae music scene. In fact, according to this story, European and Hawaiian reggae bands are more popular worldwide these days than Jamaican acts. And make no mistake, these are not transplanted West Indians living abroad, these are native Europeans and Hawaiians(Americans), aka, they're White. And therein lies the rub. Dubbed "Jafaicans" by some, the popularity and commercial success of these artists is making some people cry cultural appropriation.

So, can a group of White guys from Germany or Italy really sing reggae music? Do they have the right to? And is it fair? Does anyone actually own the right to reggae? Would Bob Marley approve? Well, his record label apparently does, as Italian reggae super star, Alborosie is represented by Marley's Tuff Gong label.

I am not a reggae expert by any means. I enjoy listening to reggae music, especially live when sitting on a beach in Jamaica with a fruity drink in my hand, but that's about the extent of my involvement. Still, it must be noted that though reggae music has its roots in Jamaica, it wasn't created out of a Black power or spiritual movement. The music came first and then it was adapted and adopted for protest and consciousness raising over social and political issues. But reggae songs can be about any thing, so one could say it can be sung and appreciated by any body. Right?

Here's a link to the story as it ran on NPR. Please take a listen. It's a fascinating piece. Let me know what you think?

And to take you into the weekend, enjoy this video by Italian-born, Alborosie.

One Love.



Anonymous said...

It might be news to a lot of Hawaiians that they are "white".

Amy said...

Wow, this is really fascinating. I don't really know where I stand on this. I think Alborosie is really unique in that he actually moved to Jamaica and learned Patois and has tried to integrate himself as much as possible into Jamaican culture and society.

I first encountered reggae by non-Jamaican artists in Mexico, where I dated a Mexican reggae musician. In his particular city, there were a couple of local reggae bands who were a big hit with tourists at local bars and clubs. My ex's particular band even toured Italy a few years back.

I think my ex had a love affair with reggae and really made that a big part of his identity. The band has a Mayan name and did all their songs in Spanish (except Marley covers). I would call it home grown Mexican reggae.

Interestingly, the three band members who had darker skin had dreadlocks and seemed to embrace an Rastafarian identity more so than the other two band members. They were also not living with their families, whereas the other two were.

This blog post provides some great food for thought and took me back to a time I haven't thought about in a while.

Amy said...

Here's a chunk from wikipedia on Reggae in Spanish:

Reggae en Español (Reggae in Spanish) is reggae and dancehall music recorded in the Spanish language by artists of Latin American origin. It originated in the mid 1970s in Panama and the 1990s in Puerto Rico, but today reggae en Español is well dominated by Puerto Rican reggae bands such as cultura profetica la muza.[2] Reggae en Español goes by several names, including Plena, roots reggae, regga tradicional boricua, and reggaeton. It is also known as roots en Español in Puerto Rico because reggae is well dominated and sung in Spanish in Puerto Rico. Reggae Español is a particular style musically adapted from the Jamaican reggae and dance hall into the Spanish language.
Currently, reggae en Español contains three main sub-genres: Reggae 110, Reggae bultrón and Romantic Flow, known as Romantikeo in Puerto Rico. In addition, and although technically they would not fall into the category of Reggae Español because their beats are not directly derived from Jamaican Dancehall rhythms, Reggae en Español also includes 2 music fusions: Reggae Soca and Reggaeton.[3]

Amy said...

Also, in Panama there are significant numbers of descendants of Jamaicans who helped build the Panama canal.

Once I met a black Panamanian cab driver in Philly who told me his first language was English, which he spoke at home, and then Spanish, which he learned at school. He said he was teased and mocked at school as a child for not knowing Spanish, but then later in college, his English became an asset because a lot of texts (he was in the sciences in Panama) were only in English.

LT said...

Agreed. But a lot of Hawaiians are White. But you raise a really good question. Maybe a future blog post. Thanks.

Thanks for the comments, story ideas and musicians I now have to check out. And glad I could take you back.

the bandit queen said...

There was a HUGE reggae star here in Denmark who passed away a few years ago, tragically. When I first noticed her in the Danish cultural scene, it made me feel really uncomfortable, because I couldn't help but think she was appropriating something that wasn't hers. But the thing about Natasja was that, first of all, she could really sing and chant. Don't ask me how she did it, I say channeling! The second thing is, she was a biracial woman growing up here in Denmark, and I think a lot of people get attracted to Reggae because of the messages (love, peace & harmony, ok, that's not the message all the time, but you know!) I held back from getting to know about this amazing artist, and I have to honestly say it was due to my bias. Now I am beginning to realize the power in following something you genuinely feel a passion for, despite what others may think. True, there is a history of Whites appropriating our culture and commodifying in benefiting ways, but I don't think all are perpetrators. Also, when I lived in Hawaii, a lot of locals were into Hawaii because, well, in the end, they too believe in the positive vibes etc. that so many others do. And local Hawaiins, even if they are white, are not considered White...and the worst thing you can do is call a local Hawaiin (looking white) a haole! lol