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Letter: A redemption award for Jamaica
Published on August 10, 2017 Email To Friend    Print Version

Dear Sir:

I first visited Jamaica in 1985. I was on a mission. To see, understand. While there I was fortunate to interview Jean Binta Breeze, a poet, who in those days they would have called “roots”, “dread”; a woman of smarts and great consciousness. Then Mutaburaka, another “roots” gospeller. And John Hearne, a man of letters, a novelist. Part of the Jamaican literati. And likewise, poet and critic, Mervyn Morris. I also visited Trench Town, a hometown of Bob Marley, where I sat in a hut with some Rastafari gallants, I imagined rather romantically, like Walter Rodney before me, and listened to them. They were smoking, grounding, philosophizing; I did not smoke; I did not say a word; I did not know what to say. Unlike Rodney, the Guyanese/African revolutionary, I did not know how to ‘ground with my brothers’.

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In the seventies and mid-eighties, Jamaica, like other nations in the Caribbean and Latin America was a place of turmoil. Jamaica was a divided city. It was wracked apart by partisan fury, Seaga vs Manley. It was wracked apart with Left-Right dialectics, Marxism vs Capitalism. It was wracked apart with drugs, gun-running. Large plantation estates, the nooks and crannies of pastoral Jamaica had become a farmland for weed. From weed, this crop, the little brother of ‘serious stuff’, and from party politics, ideological clash, emerged many adulterous spin offs. The guns were bursting forth in country, city streets, ghettos; and official law was under attack. Jamaica seemed victoryless.

One writer, George Beckford in 1972, had written a book called Persistent Poverty. Orlando Patterson, in 1964, had written a novel called The Children of Sisyphus. Both described how the Jamaican people were rolling large boulders, like Sisyphus, the mythological Greek character, up hills, sweating, suffering, only to see them roll back down when they almost reached the top. Persistent poverty, despair, malaise, penury, and little redemption. In 1980, Bob Marley released Redemption Song, a manifesto for redemption, emotional and psychological emancipation. And then, little by little, somehow, dawn broke. Three little birds, the I-threes, appeared on the footsteps of Jamaica, and began to sing.

The following are these birds of redemption:

Marley and Music. Around, within Bob Marley, there arose a drumbeat. It was an ancient drumbeat, fed from the drums of West Africa. Ragga, rap, ska, blues, soul, jazz. Out of this beat emerged a cultural complex: cultures of music, song, dance, craft, a plethora of rich indigenous ital Jamaican forms, distinctive, irrepressible, and warm. It offered fierceness, dread, and pathos. All in one go. A ‘natural mystic blowing in the air’. Out of this natural mystic has blossomed an industrial complex, rare, rich, distinctive, representing the volksgeist, the genius of the Jamaican people. The spin-offs are immense: social, political, economic, financial. A distinctive Jamaican brand. Global. That peoples everywhere recognize, respect, imitate, buy. Not just Grace but grace, a gracious approach.

Quarry, Merlene Ottey. Grace Jackson. Donald Quarry, Merlene Ottey, Grace Jackson emerged onto the national and global scene in the 1970’s and 1980’s. Their achievements laid down the foundations of a solid industrial complex in Jamaica. A sporting industry, athletics. Like Cuba in boxing, the Jamaican people, middle managers, experts, athlete aficionados, have developed a rare and victorious athletic program inside Jamaica itself. Its wealth now comes flooding onto the international tracks. Not just Bolt, Campbell-Brown, Fraser-Pryce, but a fertile field of practitioners who have arisen to combat and defeat giant sporting, and often contaminated, programs. This has been their monumental achievement. Ital, real, genuine, authentic, programs, killing giants. Elaine Thompson is more than an athlete; she represents professionalism, style, fashion, elegance, humility, native expressiveness, lingua-franca, accent, figuration and colours: a burst of Caribbean glory onto the global stage. Forgive the audacity, but ‘they cannot buy that’.

The Gayle Factor. Chris Gayle is a superman. He is calm, and astounds. He did not come from nothing. He came from the very place that Bolt, Campbell-Brown, Fraser-Pryce, Thompson came from. From Jamaican sporting programs, developed by Jamaicans, by Jamaicans, for Jamaicans. A cohort of industries, clusters of the imagination and will, exponential spin-offs: music, sports, culture, food. Football, cricket, athletics, yam. Yam foo foo, akee and saltfish, curry goat, Jamaican patties. These products are traded in metropolitan suburbs and centers, not only in the US or UK, but globally. Jamaica brands! The Gayle Factor is the Lowe Factor, the Marley and Ottey Factor, the Bolt and Elaine Thompson Factor; an invisible, ineffable, complex of national economic, social, aesthetic redemption.

Jamaica offers a lesson in economic emancipation. In national redemption and post-Colonial reconstruction. It strives to rise from the fruitless tumult of partisan politics, ideology, Left vs Right; violence and fracture, the narcotic economy. Jamaica offers us the words and the deeds. I. Ital. Ital development. This is the way revolutions are built. Ordinary people, investing in programs, the rural food economy, the music and sports industry, the passionate pursuits of the people, will bring the industrial spinoffs, economic and financial redemption. Not the sickening harvest of post-Colonial race, partisan and ideological fury.

Last night, when Elaine Thompson, the favourite to win the 100 meters gold medal in the London IAAF World Championship, was asked how her fifth place in the event affected her, she replied: “It does not affect me. Because I have to get up, tie my shoe lace and move forward!”

Wayne Kublalsingh
 
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