Reggae, alive and kicking


Sabina Elago

Windhoek-Reggae music has its roots in Jamaica, dating back to the 1960s. While sometimes used in a broad sense to refer to most types of popular Jamaican dance music, the term reggae more properly denotes a particular music style that evolved out of the earlier genres, like ‘ska’ and ‘rocksteady’.

However, there are also reports that Bob Marley claimed that the word reggae came from a Spanish term for the “king’s music”. Also, the liner notes of ‘To the King’, a compilation of Christian gospel reggae, suggests that the word reggae was derived from the Latin regi meaning “to the king”.

The shift from ‘rocksteady’ to reggae was illustrated by the organ shuffle pioneered by Jamaican musicians like Jackie Mittoo and Winston Wright and featured in transitional singles, Say What You’re Saying in 1967 by Clancy Eccles, and People Funny Boy in 1968 by Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry. The Pioneers 1968 track Long Shot (bus’ me bet) has been identified as the earliest recorded example of the new rhythm sound that became known as reggae.

In Namibia, Reggae music also comes a long way dating back to the years before Independence and has slightly evolved over the years, with some artists opting to combine it with other genres such as shambo. The early years after Namibia’s independence, more and more reggae musicians started taking the reggae platform by storm. These included the likes of Ras Sheehama (whose reggae career started in 1986), Petu and Ngatu. But that is not where reggae started in Namibia. According to history, in the early eighties, a band called, We Culture, was formed in Katutura and this turned out to be Namibia’s first reggae band.

Another band, Roots Rebels, also based in Katutura was born. After Independence, bands like Young Dreads later renamed Mighty Dreads, Ras Sheehama, Los Amadeus, Omidi D’ Afrique, Shem Yetu, Organised Crime and 40 Thieves emerged. Most of them faded or merged with another group of young Namibian reggae musicians coming to the fore. Most of the Mighty Dread band members left and formed the Formula band or went solo.

Dancehall, Reggae and Dub was gaining popularity and singers like Ngatu (from the Mighty Dread), Doren, Iron Roots, Ras Kasera came up with a new blend of ragga dancehall. Buju Bantuan, also known as Katjoko (not to be confused with Jamaica’s Buju Banton), the late La Chox and Kamasutra are some of the youngest reggae artists. In addition, the current ‘Male Artist’ of the year winner, Gazza who is known for kwaito has also associated himself with the reggae genre.

Reggae market in Namibia
Ras Sheehama, who is also a celebrated musician, says Namibia has no market for reggae music as artists of this genre struggle financially to continue the reggae legacy.
“This does not mean that Reggae is dead in Namibia,” he adds.

Ras, amongst others, has won the ‘Lifetime achievement’ award and says it is very expensive to stage a concert.

“One must have a seven or eight piece band, instruments and also involve people that must be paid for their work,” Ras highlights.

Reggae artists that are not yet popular find it hard to get around because this type of music is not just about the sound system “where one puts on a play bag and sings”.

In addition, Ras notes that for any artist to be active, she/he needs a good reaction from the fans and the nation at large. Reggae artists Gerry Dread echoes Ras’ view that money is the main problem in reggae music, and the main factor behind the slow growth of reggae music.

“Reggae artists are working hard and they are still busy in the studio, but because reggae music is not just computer music, a lot of effort and money needs to be applied for an artist to produce good reggae songs,” Gerry Dread maintains.

Meanwhile, Set-Son of the Set-Son and the Mighty Dreads band is optimistic that reggae music is here to stay. “Reggae music will never die, only artists die (but not the music),” Set-son says.

He believes that reggae musicians are struggling to commercialise the music for the people to enjoy it. This, he adds, makes it hard to re-organise reggae music in Namibia. He adds that artists in Namibia do not appreciate reggae music and thus do not stick to it.

“The problem with reggae music is not the genre but the artists themselves who struggle to understand the type of reggae music they want to follow. We lack concentration on which trade we are following. It should be either strictly reggae or mixed,” he feels.

Meanwhile, Ras points out that the lack of a market is not the only hold-back but the failure to collaborate with other artists equally contributes to this problem.

“We are busy locking ourselves in the closet where everyone is trying to be this philosopher, then the other, but music is not like that, we need to work together and do good music for the people, because the music will only be more alive and easy if we collaborate,” Ras says.

“Imagine setting up a concert where you bring in Mighty Dread, Ngatu, Omidi D’Afrique just to mention a few, and to top it up all with their fans, that concert will be epic,” Ras enthuses.

He encourages reggae artists to learn to write timeless songs “as a reggae artist you don’t just write songs that you will sing today and forget tomorrow, if songs are timeless they are unstoppable by the new or old generation”.


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