The Birthing of Reggae Wednesdays
Coleen Douglas, Marketing Director, Jamaica Reggae Industry Association
It was a Wednesday night, but no one seemed to care that there was work the next day. No one seemed to mind that the space was small and we were almost stepping on each other. Reggae Nights 2011, under the theme from the “Root to the World”, took on a new life at the Ampitheatre, at the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts.
One year later, Jamaica would celebrate its 50th year of independence, and Reggae Month adopted the theme “Reggae 50: Jamaica’s Heart and Soul” under its new moniker Reggae Wednesdays. The weekly free shows were to become a Reggae Month staple, and highlighted the main genres of music created and performed by Jamaican musicians since the dawn of our nation. The concerts were produced to educate, while entertaining, and the hosts, led by Ibo Cooper of Third World Band, then Chairman of JaRIA, led this charge with information chronicling the evolution and versatility of our musical art forms, history, and practice, in carefully crafted scripts.
The concept of “Reggae Nights”, now “Reggae Wednesdays”, was born from the creative geniuses of some gentle giants in the industry as Charles Campbell, Junior Lincoln, Ibo Cooper, Stephen Stewart, Sam Clayton, Abishai Hoilett, Mary Isaacs, Duane McDonald, George Golding, Paul Love, Joan Webley, Tashan Hendricks, Marjorie Scott-Anderson, Hope McNish, and many volunteers, with tremendous support from the Minister of Culture, the Hon. Olivia Grange.
The Ampitheatre at the Edna Manley College was again the venue for the showcase, and the vibe was spirit-filled from the very first week, highlighting our musical heritage – Folk, Mento, Jazz, Classical, and Drumming, featuring Nexxus, Jolly Boys, Dennis Rushton, Ashes (Peter Ashbourne Ensemble) and Calvin Mitchell, the master drummer of Pantomime fame. The energies of the audience fed that of the artistes on stage, and week after week, it was a beautiful exchange, with students from the Edna Manley College leading the audience in dance to songs made before their time.
The second week, labelled Classical Rhythms, was a demonstration of the versatility of the music, with performances from The Nambo Robinson Workshop, Chinna Smith and Inna Di Yaad, Horsemouth and Crew, Grace Thrillers, Carlene Davis, and dancers from the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts.
Reggae Wednesdays experienced another growth spurt at the closure of its 2012 showcase, and so a shift was made to Emancipation Park for the next level of its life under the theme ‘Reggae 50…A New Dawn’. As the series continued to mature, JaRIA experimented with stagings at Ranny Williams Entertainment Centre and Mandela Park in subsequent years, continuing the tradition of showcasing Reggae’s best, from Sly & Robbie and the Taxi Gang, Chalice, Errol Lee, and Bare Essentials, Fab 5, Dubtonic Kru, Uprising Roots, Raging Fyah, C Sharp, Oku Onoura, Mutabaruka, Historyman, Capleton, Freddie McGregor, Beres Hammond, Jah Cure, Marcia Griffiths, Sis. Judy Mowatt, Shaggy, Carrot Jarrett, Chronixx, Protoje, Kabaka Pyramid and countless others. Reggae Wednesdays came full circle in 2018, with the Ministry of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport assuming leadership of Reggae Month activities, and supporting JaRIA to stage its signature events. Reggae Wednesdays returned to Emancipation Park in 2020, expanding its audience with a streaming platform, which serendipitously prepared us for the ‘new normal’ of online activity. Reggae Wednesdays 2020 became the place where Toots played his last live show, and Denver “Feluke” Smith lit up the stage with a powerful performance of his hit song – “Soul Alive” before they both transitioned.
Reggae Wednesdays is now at full maturity at 12 years, and opens the 2021 series with a special tribute show to honour our colleagues in the music and entertainment industry who left us in 2020 and early 2021. The lineup includes performances by Sarina Constantine, Droop Lion, Roots Percussionist, Duane Stephenson, Tony Curtis, Pam Hall, Dubwise, Cassanova, led by Dean Fraser and the All Star Band, with a DJ segment by Kurt Riley and Delano. The virtual staging will maintain the tradition of showcasing the development of Reggae with performances from young, upcoming and established artistes.