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29th Nov 2018

Reggae music to be protected by the United Nations

Will Lavin

The musical genre is being celebrated for being “a vehicle for social commentary”

The United Nations today deemed reggae music worthy of protecting and promoting when it was added to a list of international cultural treasures.

Growing out of Jamaica in the 1960s thanks to artists like Toots and the Maytals, Peter Tosh and, of course, Bob Marley, the music was added to the collection due to its “intangible cultural heritage.”

Announcing the decision, Unesco (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation) said the music’s “contribution to international discourse on issues of injustice, resistance, love and humanity underscores the dynamics of the element as being at once cerebral, socio-political, sensual and spiritual.”

It added: “The basic social functions of the music – as a vehicle for social commentary, a cathartic practice, and a means of praising God – have not changed, and the music continues to act as a voice for all.”

Emerging from the Caribbean in the late 1960s, growing out of the ska and rocksteady genres, through early pioneers like Lee Scratch Perry, Prince Buster and the Wailers (founded by Marley, Tosh and Bunny Wailer), reggae went on to become popular in the United States but particularly flourished in the UK, which had become home to many Jamaican immigrants post World War II.

“I am delighted, it’s wonderful news,” BBC 1Xtra presenter and reggae aficionado Dave Rodigan told World Service radio. “I’ve loved this music since I first heard it as a teenager.”

Jamaica applied for reggae’s inclusion on the list earlier this year at a meeting with the UN agency on the island of Mauritius.

Aiming to ensure respect for communities, groups and individuals involved in the listed activity and to raise awareness and encourage appreciation of certain activities nationally and internationally, the protected list began in 2008 and grew out of the UN’s convention for the safeguarding of intangible cultural heritage in 2003.

“Reggae is uniquely Jamaican,” said Olivia Grange, Jamaica’s culture minister. “It is a music that we have created that has penetrated all corners of the world.”

Other cultural traditions which made the UN list included a Spanish riding school in Vienna, a Mongolian camel-coaxing ritual and Czech puppetry.