Much to celebrate for Reggae Month 2021

Despite Reggae Month 2021 being held against the background of a global pandemic which has forced the lockdown of the entertainment ecosystem for nearly one year, and with no signs of relief any time soon, as the number of COVID-19 positive cases continue to spike, the consensus coming out of The Gleaner Reggae Month Forum is that there is still much to celebrate.

The dominance of the virtual space is reflected in this year’s Reggae Month theme, ‘Come Ketch di Riddim Virtually’, and this was played out at the virtual forum, which had a cosmopolitan array of participants. Representing from London was Rudi Page, whose Fresh FM radio has been making vital reggae links with Nigeria, Ghana, South Africa and Zimbabwe; David Cairol, French reggae artiste; Malida Henry from The Netherlands, an artiste manager who is linking Reggae Month across European radio stations and online platforms, and Jamaica’s Consul General to Miami Oliver Mair.

They joined the participants from Jamaica, which included Tammi Chang, manager for Koffee and Ryan Bailey, who also represented for that team; singer and producer Althea Hewitt; chairman of the Entertainment Advisory Board (EAB), Howard McIntosh; Lenford Salmon, chairman of the Reggae Month Secretariat, Frankie Campbell, president of the Jamaica Association of Vintage Artistes and Affiliates (JAVAA), and Ewan Simpson, chairman, Jamaica Reggae Industry Association (JaRIA).

Massive Collaboration

For the panellists, it is this massive online collaboration and presence that is creating a level of excitement that has been unprecedented. Chairman of the Reggae Month Secretariat Lenford Salmon stated emphatically that he was “super excited”, and although he is in the process of collating the actual numbers who have been tuning in to the events since the start of February, he noted that over 200 countries had been participating in this truly global effort. He admitted that at one point there was some consideration about aborting Reggae Month for 2021, but Minister of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport Olivia Grange insisted that there had to be a presence this year. That decision has so far steamrolled into over 200 events and a decision that moving forward Reggae Month will be an exciting, hybrid mix of live and virtual events.

The momentum has not been lost on some members of the fraternity who are truly grateful. “In this time of uncertainty, we ought to commend the Reggae Month team for making such a great effort to ensure that the music is alive. To organise and place music on a platform such as this is a brilliant thing. This is a great example for us to watch and see. It is a great step and great show so far,” Ryan Bailey enthused.

The message from Consul General Mair, who spoke on behalf of the diaspora, is that “reggae is alive and well”, and that Reggae Month and the culture have been well received. “Almost every day I am on some kind of show. My cousin, just as an example, Scott Dunn, who is all over the media, came here in Tampa and he had a good event. He has just been thinking outside the box. I want to congratulate the minister and the entire team, and as Tony Rebel says, ‘Reggae put Jamaica on top’,” Mair declared.

Frankie Campbell noted that this year’s Reggae Month is “bigger and better in many ways”, and he took the opportunity to plug JAVAA’s two concerts which are taking place online for the first time this year during Reggae Month.

Rudi Page from Fresh FM radio out of London has fully embraced the virtual concept and has run with it. “It is really important with Jamaica being the source of reggae, and by utilising the digital connectivity, this allowed us to bring in partners in what we are doing. Through citizens’ associations in Kingston, and then through radio stations, Fresh FM has been connecting to Nigeria, Sudan and Kenya. The digital connectivity has allowed a level of collaboration that wasn’t there historically. The challenge now is to make this platform sustainable,” he told the forum.

Barbara Blake Hannah, cultural liaison (films), Ministry of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport, traced the history of the Reggae Film Festival and how it came to being a part of Reggae Month. Blake, who has an archive of over 300 films, sees the pandemic, which has literally driven the entire film industry, from Hollywood, to Bollywood, online, as a silver lining on a dark cloud. “Thanks to COVID, films have gone virtual. The virtual Reggae Film Festival has started already with two films each Friday. What I would love to see is a place online where we can actually make some money from these films. A place where we could have our reggae films [similar to] Netflix,” she explained.

Reggae singer Althea Hewitt suggested that Reggae Month incorporate a second month by extending into March, but EAB Chairman McIntosh pointed out that Reggae Month is the only event that has an entire month totally dedicated to its purpose.

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