Jamaica is world renowned for its protest art. This statement may seem strange to those who have yet to embrace the fact that Reggae music, born from the oppression of the Jamaican black majority, is one of the most popular forms of protest art internationally. Who can forget such popular anthemic protest songs like “Get Up, Stand Up” from the powerhouse song writing duo of Bob Marley and Peter Tosh or the powerful lyrics of Dennis Brown’s famous song “Revolution””?
Aptly so, the poster child of the Jamaican Reggae movement, Bob Marley, is known for his universally themed music which speaks specifically to the hardships of various peoples across the world, specifically his denouncement of racism, classism and prejudices being poignant themes in his music.
From Black Uhuru to Garnett Silk to Chronixx, Marley’s contemporaries and the Reggae voices that emerged even after his death have held true to reggae’s central notion of music as protest art. Reggae artist Protoje and his 2013 hit “Kingston Be Wise” provides us with a profound example in recent years of the power of Jamaica’s protest art and music born out of systemic oppression.
Never know the government woulda run up inna them garrison//
Without no sorry, without excuse//
Soldier man inna them lorry, everybody get abused//
And everybody have them views now
speak specifically to the events of the 2010 Tivoli Incursion. Protoje, being the musical advocate that he is, spoke specifically to this issue in his 2013 live concert “Live from the Capital” and his intentions when writing this song. Who can forget that infamous tweet where he threatened to make St Elizabeth an enclave of Jamaica. Not sure about you, but I was packed and ready to go start anew in the land of St. Elizabeth aka New Jamaica.
On a serious note, however, it would be preposterous to posit that this one song could have single-handedly led to eventual outcomes stemming from the police and military activities in Tivoli Gardens, including the resignation of former Prime Minister, Bruce Golding and convening of the Tivoli Inquiry. However, what “Kingston Be Wise” did was much more meaningful. It kept the issue of the Tivoli Incursion on the tongues and in the minds of the Jamaican people. For the first time my generation saw in live and living colour what could happen when we collectively refuse to settle an act of violence against our people as another 9-day Wonder. Simply put, the Tivoli Incursion and its aftermath was everywhere and it just wouldn’t go away.
Now we hear the gruesome stories being re-lived by the victims from the comforts of our living rooms and I would hope they make us feel less comfortable and more driven to action. If only we could find a way to generate social commentary in the form of protest songs for every crisis and scandal we experience as Jamaicans. Maybe then we would be closer to a true and transparent democratic society with accountable government officials. So how about a song for the Senate and the constant politicising of the Caribbean Court of Justice or how about we get Chronixx to do a tune about those 19 dead babies from 2015 and maybe, just maybe the Health Ministry will get the idea that we don’t want an apology, what we want is a better healthcare system, and even bigger than that, a better Jamaica.