Just so we are clear, I am not the only person who has written about this or has questioned the absence of a Reggae Hall of Fame. I am simply trying to let social media do what it does best. My goal with this article is to get the attention of those that can influence such matters. I hope this piece is read and shared by those who genuinely love this genre, and we can invoke change together.
During my research for this piece, I found an excellent article by Richard Johnson from the Jamaica Observer. Richard writes about the efforts of reggae historian Roger Steffens and his attempts to get the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame to induct the late Toots Hibbert, considered one of the fathers of reggae. I’m going to share a snippet of Mr. Johson’s article. “According to Steffens, there are other Jamaican acts who should be inducted, but there should be a Jamaican Hall of Fame.”
In a quote from Steffens that Richard shares, we witness the lack of representation from Jamaican icons that are essential to reggae and its roots. “It’s past time too for Peter Tosh to be inducted there as well. My question is why hasn’t Jamaica instituted an official Reggae Hall of Fame so that figures like Joe Higgs, Coxsone Dodd, King Tubby, Roy Shirley, Alton Ellis, Slim Smith, Jimmy Riley, Justin Hinds, Dennis Brown, Jacob Miller, Prince Buster, Duke Reid, King Tubby, the Mighty Diamonds, and Culture could be honoured in their home country? And the list goes on and on,” he noted. (https://www.jamaicaobserver.com/entertainment/call-for-reggae-hall-of-fame/)
The article brought Steffens’ frustrations to light. I find myself asking the same questions and asking why is it that a country and culture that owns a genre outright hasn’t created a place for fans to pay tribute to those greats. Right now, only two reggae artistes are members of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame – Robert Nesta Marley (1994) and Jimmy Cliff (2009). I’ll ask this question, why does it appear that Jamaica is waiting for acceptance from a venue that in the name doesn’t fit with the music it created? I also ask the same from the Hip-Hop community (that’s an article for another day). I recently watched the documentary done for Quincy Jones, “Quincy” on Netflix.
After watching it, I started getting ideas on how I wanted to convey my message and relate it to the great reggae producers. In the documentary, Quincy Jones quotes the great Ray Charles. You can hear Quincy repeat these words, “Not one drop of my self-worth depends on your acceptance of me; you can’t be that vulnerable.” I recall going back and listening to those 3 or 4 times. When the meaning of this clicked for me, I began to ponder. I then asked myself why reggae is waiting to be accepted by the same system it defies? Is reggae willing to sell its self-worth for this inclusion? Jamaica, ask yourself those same questions. It shouldn’t take a Panamanian-born fan of your music to call you out on this.
In my opinion, the decision to recognize and honour a reggae artiste for their contributions must be owned by the country that created and truly owns the music. Performers representing reggae music and taking it to a global reach should not have to wait for an outside organization to recognize them. Let’s apply this to past, present, and future artistes. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame uses criteria that do not capture the essence and culture reggae stands for. You find this when you Google the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame requirements for their members. “Artists become eligible for induction 25 years after the release of their first record. Criteria include the influence and significance of the artists’ contributions to the development and perpetuation of rock and roll”. If this doesn’t give you a reason to reflect on why there are only two artistes inducted since its creation (1983), I don’t know how else I can break it down for you. How does reggae perpetuate rock and roll? If the last word in that sentence is music, the story would be different.
Jamaica is in debt to reggae fans across the globe, and they also owe the musicians that have carried its flag abroad. Reggae is not just Bob Marley and Jimmy Cliff; it runs deeper than that. It needs must have the recognition and accolades it deserves. There’s a track by Chronixx – Smile Jamaica – (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vofff0Ei3kk) where the singer proclaims his love for this island and how it manifested. Jamaica needs to pay this love back. Chronixx is not the only artiste that has proudly composed a song about his homeland. Compared with Hip-Hop, Pop, and Reggaeton performers, Jamaican performers have written the most number of songs per capita. (I would love to have someone challenge that, I think country music is close, but Jamaica is number one)
Jamaica also owes the infinite number of producers that have re-shaped the music world. The most famous one that deserves induction is Lloyd James, better known as Prince Jammy or King Jammy. We know him to be the creator of the first fully computerized riddim that revolutionized dancehall (Sleng Teng). Still, this producer deserves credit for the creation of EDM. These are some of the footnotes that an adequately organized Reggae Hall of Fame would include for fans to enjoy.
Jamaica, please don’t allow more years to go by and continue to accept that your last inductee into the Rock and Roll Hall of fame was back in 2009. You control the narrative and dictate the terms. No other entity should be responsible for choosing which of your sons and daughters get to represent your culture, roots, essence, and struggle. We saw it happen again this year with the Grammys. How long will you stand on the sidelines and watch others tell you how, when and who gets to honour your creation?