The UN has added reggae music to its list of international cultural treasures worthy of protection and promotion.
Jamaica applied for recognition of its musical tradition at a meeting of the UN in Mauritius this year. “It is a music that we have created that has penetrated all corners of the world,” said the country’s culture minister Olivia Grange.
The reggae music of Jamaica originates in various musical influences: earlier Jamaican mixed with Caribbean, North American and Latin styles, with touches of soul, calypso, jazz and blues. The music appeared in the 1960s, evolving from ska into rock steady, and eventually into reggae.
Reggae began as a voice for the marginalised, but is now enjoyed worldwide. Lyrics address politics and social issues as well as love and everyday life.
UNESCO, the UN’s Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation described the Jamaican music genre as “at once cerebral, socio-political, sensual and spiritual” and recognized its “contribution to international discourse on issues of injustice, resistance, love and humanity”.
“Reggae is unique in Jamaica. It’s a music that we have created, that has penetrated in corners of the world”, said Olivia Grange, Jamaica’s Culture minister. “This is a historic day. We are very, very happy.” She added that support for reggae in the vote was “unprecedented”: “20 of the 23 countries on the committee spoke on our behalf”, she said.
Bob Marley, who died of cancer in 1981 aged only 36, became a reggae icon with his band The Wailers, and a symbol for resistance, love and humanity. Reggae is often associated with Rastafarianism, a spiritual movement born in Jamaica slightly earlier, in the 1930s.
In Jamaican schools, students are taught to play reggae from early childhood. The music is an icon of national pride: “Every pulsing beat pushes forth the creativity and soul of a bold, strong and resilient people”, reads the country’s tourism board website.
Reggae was inscribed on the World Heritage List today alongside cultures and traditions from across the world, including the Thai masked dance Khon, the Moomba dance of Zambia, and the Chakan embroidery art of Tajikistan.