Reggae music, whose cold, singing grooves have gained international fame thanks to artists like Bob Marley, on Thursday claimed a spot on the United Nations list of world cultural treasures.
UNESCO, the cultural and scientific agency of the world body, has added the genre originating in Jamaica to its collection of âintangible cultural heritageâ deemed worthy of protection and promotion.
The “contribution of reggae music to the international discourse on issues of injustice, resistance, love and humanity underscores the dynamics of the element as being at the same time cerebral, socio-political, sensual and spiritual,” said UNESCO.
âWhile in its embryonic state reggae music was the voice of the marginalized, music is now played and adopted by a wide range of society, including various genres, ethnic groups and religions. “
The musical style has joined a list of cultural traditions that includes horse riding from the Spanish Riding School in Vienna, a Mongolian ritual of cajoling camels and Czech puppets, as well as over 300 other traditional practices ranging from building from boats and pilgrimages to the kitchen and dance.
Jamaica asked for reggae to be on the list this year at a meeting of the United Nations agency in Mauritius, where 40 proposals were under consideration.
Reggae was competing for inclusion alongside Bahamian Straw, South Korean wrestling, Irish hurling and fragrance making in the town of Grasse in southern France.
Hope for the oppressed
Reggae emerged in the late 1960s from Jamaican ska and rocksteady styles, also drawing inspiration from American jazz and blues.
It quickly became popular in the United States as well as in Britain, where many Jamaican immigrants had settled in the years following World War II.
The style is often championed as music of the oppressed, with lyrics addressing socio-political issues, imprisonment and inequality.
Reggae also became associated with Rastafarianism, which deified former Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie and promoted the sacramental use of ganja, or marijuana.
The 1968 single, Do the Reggay, by Toots and the Maytals was the first popular song to use this name.
Marley and his band the Wailers then rose to fame on classic hits like No Woman, No Cry and Stir It Up.
Peter Tosh, a key member of the Wailers, established a successful solo career with hits such as Legalize It, while Desmond Dekker also enjoyed international success with song Israelites.
Toots and the Maytals rose to prominence with Pressure Drop and Jimmy Cliff became an international sensation with The Harder They Come, also the title of a 1972 film he starred in.
The reggae sound, with its heavy bass lines and drums, has influenced countless artists and inspired many genres, including reggaeton, dub and dancehall.
Regular beats and flowing grooves have also proven to be essential in hip-hop: Sister Nancy’s anthem, Bam Bam, for example, has been heavily sampled by superstars like Kanye West, Lauryn Hill, Chris Brown, and Jay-Z. .
Although largely symbolic, inclusion on the UNESCO Cultural Heritage List can serve to raise the profile of the country and of the practice.
âReggae is uniquely Jamaican,â said Olivia Grange, the Caribbean island nation’s culture minister, before the vote.
“It’s music that we created and that has penetrated all corners of the world.”