A campaign whose purpose is to elevate the way Jamaica is viewed and the way Jamaicans view themselves has launched – coincidentally just weeks after the tumultuous extradition of accused drug kingpin Christopher “Dudus” Coke.
"I am Jamaica," reads the slogan for the campaign. It asks Jamaicans and friends of Jamaica to sign a declaration of accountability.
The campaign is anchored by a musical recording and video, which features some of Jamaica's most respected reggae artists: Hopeton Lindo, Shaggy, Freddie McGregor, Marcia Griffiths, Courtney John, Peter Gee, Fiona, Sophia Brown and Anthony Cruz.
Since its launch July 17, the “I am Jamaica” song has been playing on Caribbean airwaves and beyond.
During the intermission of a show by reggae artists Inner Circle and Beres Hammond on July 23 at Hard Rock Live at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino near Hollywood, “I am Jamaica” blared through the speakers. More than 3,000 people stood in front of their seats dancing to Inner Circle’s tunes and Hammond’s smooth lyrics. Near the end of his performance, Hammond danced out of his shoe.
For many, Hammonds’ For the Love of It Tour sets the standard for how to be a Jamaican ambassador. Jamaica’s most notable musical exports are ska and roots reggae, broadcast early by Robert “Bob” Nestor Marley.
“I do what people expect of the real Jamaican music and culture,” Hammond said after the performance. “I see myself as the last of the Mohicans. The music that is out there is not going to help.”
Group seeks to unite Jamaican Diaspora
Miami attorney Marlon Hill is a part of the team behind the “I am Jamaica” campaign, and a member of the Jamaican Diaspora organization, which encourages Jamaicans overseas to help develop the island nation. Hill said he considers music to be the glue holding the idea of responsibility, and then action together. He said he hopes the music and the video will inspire and perhaps direct Jamaicans abroad and those who love Jamaica.
“Music is and has always been the common language of our people.” Hill said.
The rollout of the campaign comes less than a month before Jamaica marks the 48th anniversary of its independence from Great Britain. Festivities began July 23 and will continue until Aug. 20, days after the actual independence day of Aug. 6.
At the start of Hammond’s performance at the Hard Rock, he made reference to the previous weeks of standoff between Jamaica and the U.S. government over Coke, and the ensuing violence and loss of life.
Coke was captured in Jamaica on June 22, but not without a fight. After Jamaica's prime minister announced he would agree to a U.S. request that the gang leader be extradited, his armed supporters and government security forces clashed in the streets of Tivoli Gardens for four days, leaving 76 people dead.
The alleged boss of the notorious Shower Posse gang was sent to New York on June 24 under tight security.
Coke entered a not-guilty plea in federal court in New York last month to charges that he ran a massive drug ring in the eastern United States from his Caribbean stronghold.
Music can help Jamaica’s image
Patrons of Hammond’s July 23 concert at the Hard Rock said reggae music can help repair Jamaica’s image on the world’s stage, but it has to be music that has a positive vibe and message.
“It’s a long-term process, and my impression is that it’s harder to try to keep up anything positive because people like to dwell on the negative,” said Ricardo McIntosh, who lives in Coral Springs. “But, with the right motivation, we can change it.”
It is the right motivation Hill hopes the 3.5 million people who make up the Jamaican Diaspora will display when it comes to the campaign. He envisions the campaign as a jumping off point of better linking the 2.5 million Jamaicans on the island and those abroad.
The arts community has been doing its share of reminding people that the behavior of one man and his factions does not represent the wide spectrum of Jamaicans. The Jamaica Arts Development Foundation recently screened the film, Why do Jamaicans Run so Fast? at the Miramar Cultural Center, which features the world’s fastest man, Usain Bolt.
Self-described reggae ambassador Colin Forbes will be taking a reggae delegation to the 17th Annual Rototom Sunsplash in Barcelona, Spain in August. He took Hammond’s tour to St. Petersburg on July 25.
“I have always felt my reason and choice of being an organizer, promoter, entrepreneur was to have a mission and a purpose to spread our culture through music,” said Forbes, president of Class Act Promotion and Production, which is based in Plantation.
Yet some people fear that artists such as Hammond, and those who participated in the “I am Jamaica” recording, are more the exception these days rather than the rule. Some say the songs of freedom, love, unity and peace are being replaced by lyrics that promote violence or degrade women.
“Dance Hall [reggae] is just a whole different quality of music,” said Al Jason, of the genre whose lyrics are sometimes less than positive. “They try to teach the youth the wrong things. Now it’s about how many girls and guns you have. Culture music just has a better influence.”
Photo by Sayre Berman. Beres Hammond
For more information about Jamaica’s Independence celebrations, visit http://www.jamaicacgmiami.org/.
To sign the declaration and hear the music “I am Jamaica,” visit www.iamjamaica.org.