March 4, 2010
Gerald Levy, a Jamaican dancehall sensation more commonly known as ‘Bogle’ (a name taken from Jamaican national hero Paul Bogle), was murdered in a motorcycle drive-by at a gas station on January 20 2005. His untimely death was most likely the result of tall poppy syndrome; his creative rivals John Hype and Bruce Golding thought to be the killers.
This is the backdrop against which the history and current climate of both reggae and dancehall music are set in Jerome Laperrousaz’s brilliant documentary Made in Jamaica (2006). Infinitely more than just a bit of bump’n’grind, Made in Jamaica examines a continued history of oppression and resistance as experienced through musical and lyrical revolution. Exploring the origins of both the music and the people who make it, Made in Jamaica considers everyone involved, from Bob Marley to Elephant Man who describes Levy’s murder as “a breakdown for Jamaica and the world”. Laperrousaz introduces one hero to the movement after another, including; Lady Saw, Bunny Wailer, Gregory Isaacs, Bounty Killer, Third World, Capleton, Toots and Tanya Stephens. Through their vocal militancy the spirit of resistance and a hope for freedom overwhelmingly resounds.
It is Elephant Man who explains the real meaning of the music in relation to its origins in Jamaican ghettos, describing it as a “saviour” for living persistently with ambition but no money. The experiences shared by Bounty Killer and Lady Saw reiterate strongly the tiresomeness and frustration that comes with being born into poverty, but it is this same frustration that lead their clear path to fame and fortune. The struggle however is in no uncertain terms over. Third World are resolute in their commitment to the continued fight for freedom, “We don’t have total control… but we have made some progress”, their insistence upon the absolute importance of making music with a message, something Tanya Stephens certainly shares in her own lyrical struggle against the oppression of women in Jamaica who undeniably suffer more than their male counterparts. But no one’s understanding of the gravity of the continual struggle that ensues is sounder than Bunny Wailer’s, his assertion that the chains of slavery have merely been replaced by metal guns sat all too comfortably upon the hips of a generation of hungry Jamaicans, “A hungry man is an angry man. You can’t put guns in the hands of a hungry man, because if everybody have guns and no food, then you’ve got to bite the bullet.”
Both vehement and eloquent in its forward trajectory, the musical revolution continues to impress upon new generations the importance of educating, emancipating and re-educating themselves to continually build upon the successes of their forefathers. So recent as August 1962, the moment of Independence still tastes bittersweet, for many revolution is not yet won. Capleton knows as well as Bunny Wailer that the new struggle presents itself through slavery of a different kind: mental slavery, something that only an individual can free him/herself from, “Only the Fire they can’t take from us. The Fire burns from within.” And it is from within that the power and passion expressed through music and dancing starts, spreading far and wide beyond the confines of Kingston and Trench Town into the farthest places in the world, strong and determined.
An absorbing and affecting documentary regardless of your attitudes to reggae and dancehall music, Made in Jamaica is more than a colourful vision of a nation and a culture, ultimately, it’s an education.
Made in Jamaica is released on DVD March 8th 2010 through Network Releasing.