by Lloyd Stanbury
What Does Reggae Mean to Africans?
“How good and how pleasant it would be before God and man, to see the unification of all Africans”. Bob Marley – “Africa Unite”
“Don’t care where you come from, as long as you are a black man, you’re an African”. Peter Tosh – “African”
The messages in the music of Reggae artists such as Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, Joseph Hill and Burning Spear are regarded by Africans in the motherland as the soundtrack of African liberation and African unity. This reality was on full display on my recent visit to Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire for the second annual Abi Reggae Festival and Conference presented April 7 to 10, 2016.
Abi Reggae is a project sponsored and supported by the Government of Cote d’Ivoire, and spearheaded by the Minister of Employment and Social Protection, Moussa Dosso. The festival and conference is presented with a Pan-African perspective, and lists among its specific objectives the following:
To Make Abidjan the world capital of Reggae by organizing an annual meeting with musicians coming from Ivory Coast, Africa and the world;
To Participate in the artistic preservation and cultural expressions of black people;
To create an international platform for exchange and discussion throughout the conference to impact the new forms of mass diffusion of knowledge in relation to the history of Reggae;
To make the festival a key meeting point for professionals, and a benchmark in the field of international artistic activities.
Abi Reggae was conceived through a meeting a few years ago between Minister Dosso and internationally famous Ivorian Reggae artists Alpha Blondy and Tiken Jah Fakoly. The inaugural presentation in April 2015 featured Third World, Morgan Heritage, Marcia Griffiths, Judy Mowatt, Kymani Marley, Luciano, Mutabaruka and Alpha Blondy, along with other artists from several countries on the continent. Guests at the 2015 Abi Reggae conference included Dr. Julius Garvey, son of Marcus Garvey, and Jamaica’s current Minister of Culture Olivia “Babsy” Grange. The second staging of Abi Reggae in April 2016 included performances by Julian Marley, Tiken Jah Fakoly, Morgan Heritage, Mutabaruka and Reggae artists from Ethiopia, South Africa, Cameroon, Guinea, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Cape Verde, Nigeria, Mali and Senegal. Conference participants included Bill Howell, son of Leonard Percival Howell, professor Horace Campbell, author of Rasta and Resistance: From Marcus Garvey to Walter Rodney, Mutabaruka, myself, as well as several scholars and experts on Rastafari and Pan Africanism.
On my first visit to the Ivory Coast in 2010, several persons I met in Abidjan expressed the view that their city was the capital of Reggae music in Africa. Some even went as far as to say it was the world capital of Reggae music. Upon my return to Jamaica, I mentioned this claim in a newspaper article I wrote, and as expected, many Jamaicans were not happy with these claims. The people and government of Cote d’Ivoire have however continued to make moves to substantiate and prove their position. It is my opinion that the level of commitment to Reggae and Rastafari demonstrated by the people and government of the Ivory Coast far exceed the support for Reggae coming from the people and Government of Jamaica. Unlike the Jamaican government, the Government of Cote d’Ivoire has provided significant support to the advancement and preservation of Reggae by investing in excess of US $3 million in Abi Reggae 2015 and 2016.
The commitment of Ivorians and other Africans to Reggae music is underscored by the fact that the devastating terrorist attack near Abidjan less than a month prior to the staging of the event, which claimed the lives of several innocent persons, did not dampen the people’s resolve to stage and participate in the festival and conference. The event proceeded as planned, and was well supported by several thousand patrons.
In keeping with the over-arching theme of promoting Pan Africanism, Abi Reggae aims to support ongoing cooperation and collaboration between Africans and Reggae artists on the continent and in the diaspora, with much emphasis placed on the recognition of the role played by Jamaica and Rastafari in the movement towards African unity and African liberation. I have come to the conclusion from several visits to Africa, that one cannot fully appreciate the value and meaning of Reggae without experiencing the impact of the music on Africans in Africa.