Reflections on Rebellion at Rebel Salute

On judgement day I’ll be playing music for the rebels… Roots rock reggae music playing sweet in heaven – Raging Fyah

At the 2011 Edward Baugh Distinguished Lecture¬† which doubled as the Jamaican launch of his latest novel Is Just A Movie, Earl Lovelace argued that rebellion is one of the Caribbean’s greatest resources. Having given us some of our most unforgettable rebels like Fisheye, Bolo and Bee from The Dragon Can’t Dance and The Wine of Astonishment, Lovelace knows what he’s talking about.

Peanut Vendor

The Peanut Vendor is a hallmark of the Jamaican stageshow. And the heat from the braziers was particularly welcome as the temperatures dropped at Rebel Salute

I find myself reflecting upon this talk of rebels and rebellions as the mists, or smoke, I am unable to distinguish between the two, rise about the Port Kaiser Sports Complex, Manchester, at Rebel Salute. My ruminations are also aided by the smell of roast corn and roasting peanuts. I am especially fond of the peanut “trucks” as the heat from the brazier of coal is always welcome when the temperature hits.

Historically, Jamaica is no stranger to rebellion, which is evidenced by the fact that the majority of our national heroes, Nanny, Sam Sharpe, Paul Bogle, George William Gordon were leaders of rebellions. Our other three heroes Garvey, Manley and Bustamante are more aptly called revolutionary, though they were no less rebellious. Additionally when you add Tacky, Cudjoe, Quao and even Jack Mansong (Three Finger Jack) to that list the rebels were many. Lets face it, Emancipation was not given, it was won. The machete struck the first blow and then the pen finished it.

So, Lovelace’s argument is an interesting point of departure, or maybe its a point of arrival, for the commemoration of Jamaica’s 50th year of independence, being popularly styled as Jam50. As Rebel Salute 2012, the 19th staging of the event, is also one of the early major events commemorating the year, the segue is especially easy.

Thinking about rebellion at an event like Rebel Salute is easy because most of the artists are singing about it in one form or the other. I found the line from Raging Fyah which frames this blog particularly intriguing. It suggests that rebellion will either be required in heaven, or that rebels will all get sainthood status.

In many ways rebellion in contemporary Jamaica surrounds Rastafari, and this was particularly acute at Rebel Salute. Rebel Salute gets its name from a very practical place. At its core it is a mega birthday party for veteran DJ Tony Rebel, and is therefore quite literally a salute to a rebel. But in another way, and it has not been accidental, the show has become a salute to rebellion and this points out that in Jamaica today much of that rebellion does not merely rest in Rastafari, but it resides in Reggae, in the strident drum and bass riffs, and most importantly in the songs for cry for social change.

So along with Raging Fyah there was the Marley brothers, Stephen and Damian, Taurus Riley, Gramps Morgan, Queen Ifrika, and Duane Stephenson. Several of the artists on the line up paid particular attention to the now incarcerated Buju Banton. It was clear that Banton, whose music for the past two decades has been especially focused on social change, is being considered one of the fallen rebels, or maybe it is just a stumble and not an actual fall.

Crowd at Rebel Salute

The atmosphere at Rebel Salute is almost ethereal

But rebellion is a strange thing to contemplate on this isle because we are such a people of paradox. Despite the horns blowing and the waves flying for these songs of rebellion, there are many ways in which the status quo remains strictly enforced that it seems that nothing has changed.

Lovelace argued that many of today’s gangsters who plague our communities are would be rebels. The truth behind the statement is disturbing. Have we become rebels without a cause? Is this what happens when rebellion gets hijacked by the need to just get by? It also doesn’t help that sometimes it appears that rebelliousness has transformed to brukbadness. So sometimes I wonder if rebellion has merely become a tune, something to wave a flag¬† to before we ease back into reality and continue to just cut and go through.

Flag Man

The sale of flags have become a major commercial activity at Reggae concerts. But do they signal our willingness to rebel or our complicity.

And maybe that is exactly what has happened, we have become so adept at cutting illegitimate paths through our social obstacles that we don’t really need to rebel any more.

It seems that while we have had a history fraught with rebellions, it is not quite clear whether a revolution has taken place. As we embark upon the end of a fifty year journey, which is also the start of a journey, it is important that we ask ourselves whether all this rebellion has brought a revolution, or whether we’ve merely come 360 degrees.