Friday, February 1, 2019

REGGAE MONTH // Honouring the Passion of Bushman

Every February since 2008, the government of Jamaica formally recognizes the celebration of Reggae Month on the island. Two of the genre's most influential musicians, Bob Marley and Dennis Brown, were both born early in the month, making it a fitting time of year to pay tribute to the music that helps to define Jamaica's identity domestically and internationally. Organized by the Jamaican Recording Industry Organization (JaRIA), Reggae Month features a variety of events from lectures to parties, showcases and documentary screenings, to pay homage to the music and also encourage its continuity.

The best place to be: Kingston, of course. Here reggae lovers can participate in any of the annual special events like the Open University public lecture series, or JaRIA Live a series that presents emerging reggae artists to their potential fan bases. For each Wednesday in the month, Reggae Wednesdays features live concerts, and the following night Vinyl Thursdays is a great way to take in music as well. For the casual patron, the Friday evening after-work Reggae Mixer is always a nice way to end off the Reggae Month weeks. These events, sponsored by JaRIA take place at the Ranny Williams Entertainment Centre.

As long as you're in Kingston for the month of February, it should be easy to find yourself in a sweet reggae music space, from stage shows in Trench Town to the waterfront Downtown Kingston, top artists are sure to stop by and celebrate their love for reggae as well. Also recommended: Weddy Weddy Wednesdays and Dubwize mid-week, or the Kingston Dub Club on Sundays.

A recent trip to Rebel Salute reminded me of just how many powerful reggae artists there are, still in the prime of their career, still making hit songs, and still performing at the top of their game. Jamaica is an island filled with talent, and reggae is subsequently (and quite naturally) a genre that has transcended borders and geographic expectations, and expanded across continents in the style and vibe of its origin.

Favourite artists change and increase in respect over the years, while others become less accessible, or remove themselves from social media and limelight, existing only on old recordings and memories. Each year I am moved to see the creativity and brilliance that comes out of Jamaica, with new artists easily capturing my heart, and adding to the ever-growing list of musicians who have solidified my enjoyment of reggae music. This year in particular, I have been moved by Bushman.

The sound of his baritone voice alone, both in speaking and performance, resonate volumes. Bushman has a rare deep vocal essence that is easily recognizable, and one that communicates his lyrics both forcefully and musically. Some of his memorable classic songs like Call The Hearse, Fire Bun A Weak Heart, and Worries and Problems still heavily influence the roots reggae culture and fans and music aficionados can look forward to the release of his album Conquering Lion at the beginning of February through his independent label Burning Bush Music. The video of the first track being shared from the album: "How You Living" is currently being circulated on line.

Bushman (aka Dwight Duncan) hails from the parish of Saint Thomas, and has been a passionate musician from a young age. Growing up in Prospect Beach, he was recognized both in elementary and high school for his musical talents, and participated in drum cores, choirs, and even played bass organ. Before we knew him as Bushman, his moniker was Junior Melody, where those in Saint Thomas knew him as a selector with Black Star Line sound system, and through voicing dub plates for local sound systems like King Majesty, Lee's Unlimited, and Mello Construction. It was this exposure to producers and the reggae music industry that brought him to meet up with Steely & Cleevy who would then help him record his first tracks.

Bushman's first album, Nyah Man Chant was released in 1997 from Greensleeves/VP records and continues to be a classic in any reggae music collector's lexicon. After Nyan Man Chant, albums Total Commitment (2000) and Higher Ground (2001) were also released from Greensleeves, with production from King Jammy. Subsequent albums followed: My Meditation, Signs (2004, VP), Get it in Your Mind (2008, Burning Bushes), Bushman Sings The Bush Doctor (2011, VP), and his latest project Conquering Lion.

His voice, talent, and contributions to reggae music are evident, but last week Bushman was placed in the forefront of reggae media for poignant statements made to OnStageTV after his performance at Tony Rebel's Rebel Salute music festival. One of the last performers to touch the stage, at the end of an exhilarating two-day event, Bushman expressed his disappointment with the timing of his scheduled appearance, as well as the nature of the style of reggae music that seemed to consistently receive more attention. Shedding tears on camera, the video of Bushman declaring his love and aspirations for the creation of reggae music went viral. His personalized hashtag, #StandWithBushman also made an impact on social media, as he encouraged reggae music lovers to dedicate themselves to preserving the purity and progress of the music he has committed his life to.

Days after Rebel Salute, Bushman sat down with OnStage TV host Wynford Williams and spoke about his journey as an artist, as well as the recent controversy. Evident from the dialogue, as well as Bushman's position throughout his discussions and appearances since Rebel Salute, this artist is not only passionate about his music, but also the genre and future of reggae music as a whole. When changing his stage name from Junior Melody to Bushman, he took heed to the West African definition of "bushman" which described a "medicine man." Bushman told Williams that he considers himself to be a provider of musical healing/medicine, and that his music has the ability to help physical and mental pain subside.

Via Jamaicans Inspired
This is the reputation of reggae music worldwide: it is a music of healing, of blessings, and progress. A music rooted in rebellion, yet focused on the truth: Bushman knows the power of his tool, and despite not releasing any new music as of late, his mission has never changed. At fault: social media, and the emergence of reggae lyrics with less targeted messaging. While Bushman's roots reggae music has what he called "timeless social commentary," he is also very much proud of the integrity and purpose with which he creates.

The discussion of dancehall culture is always a hot topic, and one that attracts not only a variety of tastes, but also a range of perspectives. Bushman voiced his hopes for black women to be wise and smart, and for the youth to grow with self-awareness, self-value, and self-respect. It is his mission to educate, and connect with his fans through performance that had Bushman so full of passion after Rebel Salute.

His manager, Vanessa Barnes-Duncan, noted that he had a strict regime of training, fitness, and rehearsal in the days leading up to his third consecutive Rebel Salute appearance, and Bushman was more than ready to communicate with his fan base. It was nearly 10:00 a.m. when he touched the stage, but his performance left an impression and the misfortune with timing (which has been addressed with Tony Rebel), that has led to this increase in exposure for the artist.

Realizing that his production platform and visibility were not as strong as he would have liked, over the years, Bushman still remains humble and grateful for every opportunity he is given, and for the re-release of his album "Conquering Lion" across all digital platforms.

I will continue to be a Bushman fan, but my attention to his perspectives and my respect for him as a leader in the reggae community have increased. Voices like his are necessary. They need to be amplified. "Where are the morals of the people?" he expressed in his interview. I believe that if we continue to listen to artists like him, we will soon be reminded this year. He personifies what is powerful and needed in the reggae music industry, and the energy and momentum of this month are surely going to work in his favourite. We hear you Bushman, and your messages are reminding us of the truth about the soul of reggae music. We hear your requests for the regulation of lyrics and musical influence over the youth; it is through these public musings that change is conceived.



Written by Stacey Marie Robinson for Kya Publishing's "Urban Toronto Tales" blog.

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