Rototom Sunsplash, since its inception in 1994, has grown to undoubtedly be the largest platform internationally for reggae music. This year’s staging of the eight day festival held in Benicàssim, Spain under the theme ‘Reggae Revival’ saw a record breaking attendance of over 240,000 visitors. The event seeks to not only break records, but also barriers with solidarity, equality, tolerance and respect among its core principles. The great legend Bob Marley would have surely been proud to see both his youngest son Damian ‘Jr. Gong’ Marley and eldest grandchild Donisha ‘Nisha Rebel’ Prendergast representing Jamaica on the world stage. Jr. Gong closed the festival with a bang in front of 35,000 people at the stage show while Donisha delivered a powerful speech at the festival’s “Reggae University”.
The “Reggae University” is a permanent forum established in 2007 for the gathering of academics, artists, producers, authors and filmmakers to discuss the history and culture of reggae. Prendergast examined the idea of a ‘Reggae Revival’ as well as the role of women within the Rastafari community. She elaborated on the need for this generation of reggae musicians to not only continue imparting the philosophy of RasTa on stage but to now become community activists, nation builders and essentially active leaders of change in society.
DSE SHORTS: Was this your first experience at Rototom, and was it what you expected it to be?
I have been to Reggae festivals before as an observer, usually on tour with Ziggy Marley & the Melody Makers. This was my first time as a participant… totally different experience. The production quality of the festival must be applauded. It really gave me some insight into how Reggae Music has highlighted many otherwise sidelined indigineous cultures and expressions.
DSE SHORTS: What was your most memorable experience at the festival?
I would probably have to say turning around and seeing my uncle standing on the side watching my film. It was the first time any of my uncles had seen the film. And not only did he come out, but so did the whole band and entourage to see the entire film. I think I enjoyed the fact that my uncle was humble enought o stand and watch, and people humble enough to allow the moment to be equak, and not overpowered by the flashing cameras.
DSE SHORTS: The festival and the crowd turnout grows year after year, similar to the constantly growing interest in Reggae and Rastafari globally. What would you attribute this to?
The evolution of the minds and souls of people. Rastafari is a movement that is rich in the safe space it creates for people to explore Spirituality and develop their character to be defenders of the Earth and her children. Yeah, people are interested in the music, the sounds, the images, the names. But check dis, just like at Rototom, most of the audience speak a cross-section of languages that are not English or Patois. Something deeper than language sparks their interest. Can’t really explain the feeling of Reggae, you just have to be lost in its essence once to overstand.
DSE SHORTS: What are your feelings about the concept behind the Reggae University ?
I think its a great concept and the way it manifested was also very organic and revolutionary in its staging. Carolyn Cooper has also been doing a Reggae University at UWI every February for Reggae Month Celebrations. I was happy to see the solidarity, with Dr. Cooper also presenting.
Many say ‘ How come Europe has so many Reggae festivals and Reggae Artiste. What do they give back to Jamaica?’ Now, I am not defending an argument, I am proposing a few observations. When there was a mass exodus of our Jamaican people to Europe in the 60’s and 70’s, they carried with them vinyls and records of their history and culture put to music.
In Jamaica, new music is made at a rapid speed. And sometimes, we dont value or gems. In many ways, Europe preserved Reggae and helped to spread the lifestyle to peoples who may have otherwise felt excluded because of certain mis-understandings of Rastafari.
What I will say is… I hope we in Jamaica are observing and learning, not just criticizing.
DSE SHORTS: What was the reception like at the screenings of your documentary at Rototom?
I made an observation during and after the screening that stays with me, and has added to the evolution of my thoughts towards Rastafari… Many of the people who were a part of the audience seemed to me to speak English as a second language…so they definitely may not have been able to follow some parts of the documentary where my Jamaican accent may prove to be heavy.
Still they all made themselves as comfortable as they could within the open walls of the Reggae University, enjoyed a 90 minute documentary journey around the world, and at the end of it, all came to their feet to show their love and respect for the work.
Some cam to me afterwards with tears in their eyes. SHe shared that she was feeling so lost on her journey, and the openness to which we approached the documentary gave her courage to see herself on her own journey. That was special… When tears fall for joy and revelation 🙂
It was an honour for me to have presented on the same stage as some of these Great Thinkers… Carolyn Cooper, Dr. Sonjah Niaah Stanley, Horace Andy, Leroy Sibblies…and my brothers in revolution… Dutty Bookman, Kabaka Pyramid, Protoje, Iba Mahr.
I look forward to screening many more documentaries at Rototom Reggae University and more…