Reggae in Britain

In late 2018 it was announced that the United nations had added reggae music to its list of international cultural treasures worthy of protection and promotion.

Jamaica applied for recognition of its musical tradition at a meeting of the UN in Mauritius this year. “It is a music that we have created that has penetrated all corners of the world,” said the country’s culture minister Olivia Grange.

To mark reggae’s inscription into the representative list of the intangible cultural heritage of humanity, Unesco – the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation – said: “[Reggae’s] contribution to international discourse on issues of injustice, resistance, love and humanity underscores the dynamics of the element as being at once cerebral, socio-political, sensual and spiritual.”

The function of the music “as a vehicle for social commentary, a cathartic practice and a means for praising God” had not changed since its emergence from the Caribbean in the late 1960s, said Unesco.

David Rodigan said: “The Unesco announcement is fantastic news for reggae, which has traditionally spoken out for the underprivileged whilst offering hope for a world in which love and respect is paramount.”

Reggae artist Hollie Cook said that politicians could take a leaf out of reggae’s “strong message of peace, love and unity”, and described its cultural impact as “a great example of how immigration has a great and positive effect in our society. Maybe some of our country’s leaders can put down their pens, stop fear-mongering and blast out some Aswad to relax.”

Postwar immigration from Jamaica led to the genre flourishing in the UK: the famed British reggae label Trojan has just celebrated its 50th anniversary. Laurence Cane-Honeysett, author of The Trojan Records Story, described the UN’s recognition as an “amazingly positive” move. “The impact and influence of the genre globally has long been overlooked.

“It has contributed significantly to the development of multiculturalism, with the ska, rock steady and reggae of the 1960s and early 70s having a notably positive effect in the breaking down of social barriers by bringing together people of all colours, particularly in Britain.”

Unesco’s list began in 2008, following an international convention to safeguard intangible cultural heritage. It defines this as “the practices, representations, expressions, knowledge, skills – as well as the instruments, objects, artefacts and cultural spaces associated therewith – that communities, groups and, in some cases, individuals recognise as part of their cultural heritage”.

The purposes of the convention are to safeguard, ensure respect, raise awareness and provide for international cooperation and assistance.

“Reggae Britannia” documents the story of the development of reggae in this country:

Waka Waka Africa North East’s second performance of “The Story of Reggae in Britain” on May 25th 2018 was a sell-out success in the Music Room at Liverpool Philharmonic Hall !   Our first venture outside the North East !


Tuesday 5th December, 2017, 8pm, Hall Two, Sage Gateshead
Reggae in Britain: Dennis Bovell and friends

Dennis Bovell
Dennis Bovell tells the story, in words, film and music, of the first three decades of reggae in Britain – the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s – and its origins in ska and rocksteady. With his band, and with archive film footage, he charts how reggae reflected contemporary issues and influenced other music forms and a whole range of British musicians
Born in Barbados, reggae guitarist and singer Dennis Bovell (sometimes known under the pseudonym of Blackbeard) was one of the key figures on the London reggae scene of the late ’70s and early ’80s, not only as a solo artist but also as a producer. The band Bovell co-founded in the mid-’70s, Matumbi, was one of England’s first self-contained reggae bands. In addition, Bovell released several albums of solo dub experiments, and he participated in the BBC’s Reggae Brittania season in 2011.
Writer Benjamin Zephaniah is contributing to this Arts Council-supported project and appears on film. He was part of the school known as the ‘Dub Poets’ – poets who worked alongside reggae music.

Watch Dennis and his band here performing his signature tune “Dub Master” – from Berlin –

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