UNESCO adds Reggae music to global cultural heritage

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Reggae music, the genre that originated in Jamaica, on Thursday secured a coveted spot on the United Nations’ list of global cultural treasure.

UNESCO, the world body’s cultural and scientific agency, added reggae to its collection of “intangible cultural heritage” deemed worthy of protection and promotion.

“This is a historic day. We are very, very happy,”  said Jamaica’s Culture Minister Olivia Grange.

“Anywhere you go and say you’re from Jamaica, they answer ‘Bob Marley,’” said Grange, adding that the distinction “underscores the importance of our culture and our music, whose theme and message is ‘one love, togetherness and peace.’”

UNESCO noted that while reggae started out as “the voice of the marginalised” it was “now played and embraced by a wide cross-section of society, including various genders, ethnic and religious groups.”

Its “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,” Paris-based UNESCO added in a statement.

The musical style has now joined a list of cultural traditions that includes the horsemanship of the Spanish Riding School in Vienna, a Mongolian camel-coaxing ritual and Czech puppetry, as well as more than 300 other traditional practices spanning from boat-building and pilgrimages to cooking and dance.

Jamaica applied for reggae’s inclusion on the list this year at a meeting of the UN agency here, where 40 proposals were under consideration.

Reggae was competing for inclusion alongside Bahamian strawcraft, South Korean wrestling, Irish hurling and perfume making in the southern French city of Grasse.

Reggae emerged in the late 1960s out of Jamaica’s ska and rocksteady styles, also drawing influence from American jazz and blues.

It quickly became popular in the United States as well as in Britain, where many Jamaican immigrants had moved in the post-WWII years.

The style is often championed as a music of the oppressed, with lyrics addressing sociopolitical issues, imprisonment and inequality.

Reggae also became associated with Rastafarianism, which deified the former Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie and promoted the sacramental use of marijuana.

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