A Nigerian political dissident working in Austria. A Jewish bike messenger from Long Island. A fashion designer in Manhattan who grew up in a Durban township. A writer from an apple farm in Western Massachusetts. An Oglala Lakota painter raised on the Rez in South Dakota. A Cuban-American jet-setting lawyer. If you search through your past, you’ll find a lot of different kinds of people who love reggae. How did music born in the streets of Jamaica out of a particular cocktail of influences and designed to lift people out of the post-colonial prisons of poverty, racism, and oppression become the international language of self-actualization, positivity, and love?
This week’s edition of Rootfire features more of Semaj Surreal’s road chronicles, telling about how touring alongside The Green opened his eyes to what reggae can mean in island nations outside Jamaica, and what that says about the way people connect through music.
We’re also premiering a song from New Kingston, a crew of Jamaican-American brothers from Brooklyn bringing a fresh roots vibe that sounds like it’s been there all along. And Seth takes over as history DJ In Throwback Thursday, not reaching too far back but far enough back to the time just before this scene really took flight, when Bedouin Soundclash, a Toronto-based band, crossed over onto headline stages at massive indie-pop festivals.
Put something wild in a cage and one of two things will happen. Its heart will break and it will lose its will to live, or it will cultivate a rage so hot that when someone opens the door to set it free it will only know how to attack. There’s something wild inside all of us and we all live in cages of our own design. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that reggae is growing fast at a time when we need it more than ever. The forces of post-colonial multi-national industrialization have morphed into a globalized corporate oligarchy governing a digital universe in which our most intimate messages are monitored. Some of us are still shackled to the assembly line and others are confined to our inboxes.
Reggae is the formula for turning righteous anger into love. It’s the alchemy that turns violence away from hatred and towards dancing and lovemaking. It’s the force that turns an isolation cell into a platform for meditation. Smoking weed, listening to music, sharing food, and living for one another are the rules; the riddim is the message. Remember, though, this is not music about escape; it’s about confrontation. When we keep the I and I intact, we can’t see another person as race, nationality, or class. I and I can only see I to I.