WHEN Reggae music emerged from the back streets of Kingston in the late 1950s, it came as a cultural bombshell, not only to Jamaica but the entire world.
Raised in difficult circumstances, it has matured into friendly and generous music that travels well and warmly embraces the other cultures and music it meets. Its slow jerky rhythm, low frequencies, militant and spiritual lyrics as well as the rebellious appearance of its singers, among others, have influenced musical genres, cultures and societies throughout the world, contributing to the development of new counterculture movements in Europe, the USA and Africa. And because in each phase of its evolution music inescapably matches the biographies of those who make it and those who respond to it, reggae music was at some point condemned to the precarious periphery, almost out of the social sphere.
For all that, it may not be a commercially powerful genre today as it was in its heydays, but it has done much heavy lifting culturally, politically, religiously and musically, and continues to inspire, inform and inflect countless popular songs to this day. In 2018, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), added reggae to the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Whether or not you’re an aficionado, you have to admit that it’s a monumental accomplishment for a musical genre that sprung from a small island barely 50 years ago, one that even the United Nations agrees is a global treasure.
It’s 2020 and as South African reggae musician and Rastafarian Lucky Dube put it, “Nobody Can Stop Reggae”. The genre is still understood to be a form of direct action, in that musicians are understood to “chant down Babylon”, destruction or the overthrow of oppressive social structures and more in terms of a conversion to new ways of thinking, central to which is the strategic primacy assumed by the arts.
Just recently, Afro-jazz musician, Jeys Marabini, debuted his first reggae track Jah Deliver Us to a considerably fair response. The track, produced by Dumisani Ramadu Moyo and with visuals by Film & TV Resources and Keaitse Films, alludes to the pandemic, but only loosely as it also echoes the rampant social ills – corruption, slavery, human rights violation and the overall dwindling of social/political freedoms – and struggles people face on an everyday basis.
Blending the fundamental of reggae with Imbube dance elements, and the rich traditional sounds indigenous to Southern Africa, Marabini’s new song provides a voice for maligned groups – and at-risk groups – as well as a vehicle for social commentary and expression. The singer carries a timely unifying message, yearning for the global community to feel safe and sound, especially those in the oppressed nations of Africa.
The while, Marabini is planning to record a reggae album following the success of Jah Deliver Us, upon the realisation that this might be the tonic he needed to break into a global sensation.
“My focus now is to do a full [reggae] album. So, I’m working on new songs to make sure that people get the album as soon as possible,” Jeys told the Chronicles.
Marabini’s music has been described as a perfect blend of Afro-centric sounds and heartwarming lyrics. He emerges from a Southern African cultural crucible and heritage that spawned the likes of Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Dorothy Masuka, Ilanga, Augustine Musarurwa, Chiwoniso Maraire, Hugh Masekela and Oliver Mtukudzi.
Starting out in 1991 as a member of an Imbube (traditional acapella harmony singing) ensemble called Comforting Brothers which later adopted a more culturally relevant moniker in the name Imbizo, Jeys has forged a musical legacy that melds Afro-Pop, Imbube, and the rich traditional sounds indigenous to Southern Africa. In his music, there is a voice of a high tenor Maskandi singer complete with an acoustic guitar (that sometimes morphs into a spear when he dances), the plaintive Imbube influence and the chugging rhythmic sounds that complete a sensuous soundscape.
Now, with his new reggae single Jah Deliver Us fast intrenching his erstwhile crest, fans can’t wait to find out how he plans to navigate the slow jerky rhythms of reggae and its bewitchingly catchy counterpoint of bass and drums.