The anti-Apartheid movement in the 1980s was spearheaded through numerous consciousness raising initiatives, which included reggae music’s unrelenting attention to the plight of South Africans (notably the late Peter Tosh’s 1977 anthem “Fight Apartheid”). The economic sanctions and divestment of foreign companies from South Africa resulted in an estimated $7 billion loss to the country between 1986 and 1990, according to the South African Reserve Bank, and, ultimately the dissolution of the racially oppressive Apartheid regime.
In 1991 Winnie Mandela acknowledged reggae’s contribution to South Africa’s liberation in an address at Kingston’s National Stadium alongside her then-husband Nelson Mandela, the South Africa’s President 1994-1999. This came a year after Nelson was freed from 27 years in prison for his uncompromising anti-Apartheid activism.
Winnie Mandela’s recognition of Jamaican music’s profound role in support of the South African struggle prompted Kingston’s Andrea Davis, business manager for legendary singer Toots Hibbert and his label D&F music, to establish International Reggae Day (IRD) on July 1, 1994, as a 24-hour global media festival celebrating the music as a major influence on popular culture, a catalyst for social and political change and as a viable economic sector for Jamaica.
Enabled by the proliferation of internet usage in the mid-90s and the rise of social media in the late ’00s, IRD now encompasses a vast international network of online newspapers, magazines, radio stations and other web based platforms, each tailoring their content on July 1 towards examining the power and potential of the island’s signature rhythm while highlighting the finest in Jamaican and international reggae, made by veterans and upstart artists alike. The music of the legendary Burning Spear, and the late Dennis Brown and Gregory Isaacs, who passed away on October 25, 2010, will be honored this year through various IRD broadcasts.
IRD parties will be held in New York City (at lower Manhattan’s Spur Tree Lounge) and in Sao Paolo, Brazil; in Soweto, South Africa, several radio programs will extend the 24-hour celebration into an entire weekend devoted to the music of African reggae artists. In reggae’s epicenter, Kingston, IRD parties will be held at the Wyndham Hotel’s Junkanoo Lounge, at Redbones Blues Café and the Bob Marley Museum while a vinyl only celebration will take place at the Marley family’s Tuff Gong Studios.
Jamaica’s National television station TVJ will broadcast an IRD produced concert special, Roots Rock Reggae, (which can be viewed on www.ireggaeday.com) featuring veteran singer Luciano and several young acts representing the best of Kingston’s thriving live music scene including singers Jeanine “Jah 9” Cunningham, Jesse Royal and roots band Raging Fyah. Royal, and Sizzla Kalongi will release their respective singles, “All Faya” and “Only Jah Love”, from the ‘Bambas Dois’ project by Brazilian producer Eduardo Bidlovski (a.k.a. Eduardo Bid) a fusion of Brazilian tempos with Jamaican rhythms. Both singles will be available for free download from midnight June 30 to midnight July 1 at www.ireggaeday.com.
Davis produces the IRD events through her brand management/event planning companies, Jamaica Art Holdings (JAH) Ltd and The Higher Intelligence Agency (HIA) Ltd, but she has been unable to stage a major IRD concert in Jamaica for the past five years, lacking adequate corporate and governmental support, a dilemma, she says, that permeates much of the island’s music industry. “Reggae continues to be under invested in, under promoted and limited to a niche market when we know it has the potential, like any other music, to make significant gains not only in brand value and employment but in terms of raw economic power,” Davis states.
According to a 2005 report by John McMillan of Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business, annual global sales of reggae recordings in the late 1990s were an estimated US$1.2 billion, with Jamaican musicians, producers, and songwriters earning an estimated US$300 million. Jamaicans’ earnings from live performances and sales of ancillary products were approximately a further US$50 million, suggesting that the music industry accounts for approximately 4 percent of Jamaica’s GDP.
Those figures would likely be diminished today due to the sharp decline in record sales and the inability of several top Jamaican dancehall reggae acts to travel to the United States due to the revocation of their visas. However, Davis argues that an enabling entrepreneurial environment and structured government policies for Jamaica’s music business would provide employment and a larger global share of revenue related to the music forms the island has birthed. Seemingly an intimidating objective, her suggestions become eminently achievable goals when considered within a historical perspective. “Given reggae’s impact on the fight for freedom in South Africa,” surmises Davis, “I know it can do a lot more for us in Jamaica.”