Olivia “Babsy” Grange, Championing Jamaican Culture Across the Globe
There are more than one reasons Jamaica celebrates Reggae Month during February, despite it being the shortest month of each year. First there is Bob Marley, who was born on the sixth, Dennis Brown, born on the first, and the only survivor in this limited trio, Derrick Harriott, the 81-year old balladeer, whose music still strums the arteries of reggae’s music loving women, who are the real pillars of the variety of trends, which has developed from this versatile genre.
You could add that February also marks the annual Black History Month recognition, which fits so neatly into the programme, it could be mistaken for a virtual pistil in a sweet pea awaiting pollination. Jamaican female entertainers have never been given a fair chance to hold the handle and ensure that the blade cuts both ways. But, but they have persisted nonetheless and the results of their perseverance, may have started with Millie Smalls huge Ska hit, “My Boy Lollipop”, which topped the U.K. chart in 1964,while the Beatles were leading the “British Invasion” of the United States’ pop market.
It may have taken some 50 years too long for the Jamaican women to even build on Small’s early example, but nowadays they could end up in the shoes of the country’s popular Minister of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport, Olivia “Babsy” Grange, who has been muscling her way through the weight of worldwide neglect and envy, to attract maximum attention to a music she has helped to build.
Grange, who has been a lifetime cultural caregiver, actually produced records on her own Orange label in 1984 after she returned from a politically motivated exile in Canada with her family during the 1976 State of emergency in Jamaica.
Her best known album was “Paradise”, featuring Carlene Davis singing gospel flavoured reggae covers of songs like “It Must Be Love’, “The Way Old Friends Do”, “Stealing Love on the Side” and the title show, “Going Down to Paradise”.
Since the 1970s, she had been focusing on youth who easily fall for her natural motherly nature, as well as her stubborn social ethos. Being involved with the co-ordination of activities to rescue youth, mainly in volatile western Kingston, through cultural activities like dancing, singing and sports, she has evolved into the main voice for championing their development, as well as, burnishing Jamaica’s image as the leader in recognising its cultural and social roots.
In the 1980s, she became more intensively involved with the lives of Jamaican youth and the recovery and development of the country’s cultural roots through the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission (JCDC). In 2007 she was made Minister of Information, Sports, Youth and Culture, inheriting the rich cultural base created by her mentor, the late Prime Minister Edward Seaga. Since 2016, she has been Minister of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport, Last November, as if it was necessary, she gave the commitment of her ministry and the Government of Jamaica to working with a wide selection of stakeholders and collaborators to expand and enhance the creation, use and preservation of audio-visual content in Jamaica.
According to her, with the COVID-19 global pandemic, and all its restrictions on social and in-person gatherings and interactions, “we are even more reminded of the power of audio-visual content creation, preservation and promotion”.
She pointed out that as more people are forced to shelter at home over long periods, the challenge to provide recreational and socially uplifting content as a conduit to improving social and mental health, has led the country to take on more and more audio-visual creation.
“When UNESCO announced that “the reggae music of Jamaica” had been added to its list of cultural products considered worthy of recognition, it was a reflection on the fact that reggae, which grew from its roots in the backstreets and dance halls of Jamaica, is more than just popular music, but an important social and political phenomenon,” she noted.
After persuading UNESCO to make the declaration of the music as a “global treasure that must be safeguarded” in 2018, she said that the next goal is to ensure that the Grammys show some respect for the music by increasing its visibility in the annual awards. This is one area in which she holds much hope.
“For a while, we are heartened by the increasing visibility the music enjoys in the performances at the annual awards show. But, I have a vision that one day soon, the Grammy Award in the reggae category will be handed out on the main stage,” she predicted.