“Where destruction is the motive, unity is dangerous.” ~ Ravi Zacharias.
I may be prejudiced, but there is something special about Jamaica the country and Jamaica the people. When my mother was in the last decade of her life, after she had lost her life partner (married for 66 years, engaged for 3 years before that), she moved into a very nice retirement home. She had her own apartment but could go downstairs to have a communal meal once a day. She had a beautiful view overlooking an estuary; birds nested in the trees outside her window. To the family it seemed as if it was the best possible solution: she was closer to two of her children; there were staff on hand at the pull of an ‘emergency’ pull cord; she was independent yet help was close by.
The management of the home would arrange classes (though they often dwindled through lack of support) and at Christmastime they would have events and entertainment. My mother, who loved and expected quality and excellence in all things (she often despaired as she corrected the grammar and spelling of the various notices around the place), once declared that a function she had attended was very ‘provincial’. I realized that Jamaica had spoiled her. When Jamaicans put on an event, they do so with flair, with elegance, with panache. And it doesn’t matter if you are in an uptown establishment, or the humblest of country churches, the room will be filled with color: sprays of tropical flowers (ginger, bird of paradise, hibiscus). When I think of the annual Harvest Thanksgiving celebrations of my childhood, I can see and smell the church. Tall sticks of sugar cane would be bent to form arches along the center aisle. Fruits would be twined together to form dangling pendants. Piles of more fruits and ground provisions would be designed in symmetrical pyramids at the front of the church. We would salivate as we sang the Harvest hymns, wishing that the Monday night Harvest supper would ‘soon come’ when the fruits, baked goods, curried goat and more would be on sale.
Jamaicans have such a flair for doing thing in style that they even make up words to describe such things. The word ‘stush’ (pronounced ‘stoosh’) is one such word. If something is ‘stush’ you know it is going to be top notch. If a person is ‘stush’ you know their outfit is ‘extra’, they must be going somewhere very elegant. If you go visit Jamaica during Independence, you will be able to attend many such ‘stush’ events. And the decorations will be original and done with artistry and flair. Swashes of cloth in the Jamaican colors of black green and gold will be stretched in diagonal designs, simple yet impactful.
There is another word which has been created to describe this propensity of Jamaicans to take over any arena they enter: they Jaminate. Usain Bolt is of course the exemplification of this tendency. People around the world know the Jamaican flag because of the iconic pose. Yet we were ‘large and abroad’ way before Bolt.
It was the prophet Bob Marley who was one of the first musicians to make reggae an international music form, one which has created reggae fans as far away as Japan and Mozambique. When Zimbabwe reclaimed itself and shed its colonial past along with its European name, it was Marley’s music which motivated them; Bob Marley and the Wailers performed at their independence celebrations.
There is something about a reggae beat which seems to get you at your core. The off -beat, the syncopated bass plucks at your heartstrings; it thuds in the center of your chest, and even those with low rhythmicity find themselves nodding to the beat. The ‘one drop’ resonates through your bloodstream, brings memories of a common ancestry and takes you home to the motherland. There is something about reggae music, and as we all know, even when it hits you, you ‘feel no pain’.
There is a young reggae artist today whose anthem ‘Toast’ has transcended language, culture and geography. Young Koffee is even nominated for a Grammy! I knew she was something special when I first saw a youtube video of a music festival crowd in England (of mostly white people) not only bopping to her beat, but singing the words and doing the official dance moves! Now you know you’ve done your job when a crowd of white people are dancing in rhythm!
Last weekend a group of Jamaican women created an event ‘Stush by Nature’, a brunch held in a beautiful spot (Long Key Nature Reserve in Davie – well worth the visit for a soulful nature stroll). It was the first such event and sold out in no time. Apart from an ample supply of Jamaican food (appetizers, fruit, traditional Sunday breakfast followed by dinner), and of course the music which must attend any Jamaican event, there was a fashion show on display. Not a formal one, just a typical crowd of extremely fashionable, elegant, ‘stush’ Jamaican ladies dressed in an array of bold colors and the latest styles, they were ‘extra’ bold statements of beauty. The hall itself was tastefully decorated, but the ladies stole the show!
I am tempted to believe that people can come together. That we can overcome these divided and divisive times, and perhaps reggae is the answer! Rather than being divided by religions, race and socioeconomic status, perhaps Reggae is the healing of the world! We can’t argue, fuss or fight when we are dancing together in an electric slide! We can be one Rhythm Nation, united in the One Drop, feeling each other’s heart beat in the steady thrum of a reggae song.
This beautiful December Friday morning, I hope you are hearing plenty of reggaefied Christmas Carols. If you are not Jamaican, I hope you can find a Jamaican family who will share some of their Christmas traditions with you. And when that reggae beat hits you, feel free to dance! Have a wonderful weekend, Family!