I had just finished recording an album and was working with my ridiculously cool co-producer, Dale Dizzle Virgo, on the final mixes when the airports in Jamaica closed. I wasn’t upset. On the contrary, I was very glad to be here when the walls came down.
I wasn’t stuck in Jamaica: I was saved by Jamaica.
I’ve been a pilgrim, of sorts, for most of my life. It has been my life experience to love many places but not completely belong to any of them. Along the way, I’ve often seen the beauty and wonder of places that many locals have forgotten.
I’ve had friends in Mumbai tell me that they began to love their city again after they saw it through my stranger’s eyes.
When I said that “I love Germany, what a great country,” I’ve had German friends tell me that it was the first time they’d heard those words spoken in their lives: it wasn’t “cool” for Germans to talk about the many wonderful aspects of German life, culture and aspiration or to say that they love their country.
And on my many visits to Jamaica I’ve heard sincere, activist friends tell me in detail about the serious problems facing Jamaican society.
Of course, they’re right in what they say because their knowledge comes from working at the ragged edge of desperate need. The deep fissures they speak of are dire, sometimes deadly, and require cultural shifts to resolve harmoniously and beneficially. I’m grateful to them for their candid honesty about their homeland, because these things are not readily apparent to visitors.
But no country is solely defined by the sum of its problems, or by the privileges of its elites.
For every page of problems there is a facing page of beautiful solutions devised by people, working with and helping other people. But sometimes it’s hard to see any page other than the one marked in suffering, unfairness and despair.
For what it’s worth, I love Jamaica.
Recording music with Jamaican singers, musicians and engineers has been among my life’s most rewarding, joyful and spiritual experiences.
I love Jamaican people, and I defy anyone not to love them.
People everywhere come in all kinds, but each culture defines its own contours of connection with travelers, and with frequent visitors like me.
So, too, the Jamaican experience of connection has unique elements that make for warm, sincere interactions.
For example, you Jamaicans don’t gush; at least, not in my experience. You take your time to share who you are and what you hold dear, but when you open up the friendship garden, it’s full of flowers.
I like and respect it that you take your time. I like and respect it that I should be worthy of knowing you more deeply.
You’re not reserved: in my experience, you’ll talk to a giraffe if one happens to be present. But your private life is a private thing, only revealed by trust, and that’s damn cool in my book.
You’re strong people, both physically and mentally, and maybe stronger than you realize. The world has so many who are tragically thin and malnourished, but everywhere I look in Jamaica I see strong people raised on a diet of superb natural foods. Of course, the fast food industry is advancing, but I wonder if you know how tremendously vital, strong and healthy so many of you Jamaicans still are.
In many places people go along with whatever they’re told, but you Jamaicans think, argue, shout and usually reach a consensus. You’re too independent-minded to let anyone push you around, but if someone takes 1 step toward you, you take 2 steps toward them.
You go along with things because you agree, not just because somebody told you to do it.
The glory of Jamaica is its people, and the glory of its people is Jamaica.
Strong, healthy people in a green nation.
For the most part this is the greenest country I’ve ever lived in, with the cleanest air and water.
That you’ve managed to keep so much of your country green and open is a tribute that few nations can earn.
And you Jamaicans are singers and dancers. Oh, yeah.
And music is everywhere.
There are only 2 places I’ve ever been where men and women will join in right away, without prompting or hesitation, if I start dancing for no reason: India and Jamaica.
Dancing doesn’t need a reason in Jamaica.
Dancing is always happy and always good.
And both India and Jamaica are profoundly spiritual places.
If you talk about a spiritual subject, in much of the world, you’ll find someone looking at their watch or the Exit sign.
In Jamaica everyone and anyone, even the atheists I’ve met, is open to a discussion about the spiritual.
You are the only people I know who routinely reply to the question: How are you? with the response: “Giving thanks!”
I hope you know how rare that is in the world.
There was a time when everyone offered a blessing to everyone else whenever they parted, because we knew the power of such sincere wishes for the health and well-being of others.
You still know that simple spiritual truth in Jamaica, and very often you depart with a smiling: “Bless up!”
It’s just lovely.
And speaking of lovely, you Jamaicans are so beautiful. I mean, truly lovely people. Of course, people are lovely everywhere, but each group of us humans is beautiful in our own ways.
There’s a wonderful dignity in Jamaican beauty.
To me, it’s a survivor’s and transformer’s beauty, coming from a clear-eyed look at an agonizing history, and an unshakeable determination to create a new and better way by Jamaicans, for Jamaicans, from the ashes of brutal empire’s fall.
There’s good, healthy pride without arrogance in Jamaican beauty and astonishing variety of expression. No 2 Jamaicans look alike in your personal dress and grooming: you all allow yourselves to be individual, and you all,superbly, are.
You love to talk, as we all do, and loudly, but you’re also good listeners. Every Jamaican I’ve ever conversed with in depth and in person has followed up with relevant comments or insights.
In this 5-second world it’s so refreshing to meet and talk with you Jamaicans, who have the time and perhaps the distant perspective to really listen. It’s a precious thing, and you still have it.
Not only that, but you pass on wisdom like shortbreads. Most conversations with Jamaicans will involve an exchange of wisdoms learned and tested by time. So many places have forgotten the value of this exchange of proverbial knowledge, but it’s still vivid and vital in your speech.
And maybe because you don’t have to beat your chest like power player nations or those that want to be seen as power players, your view of world affairs is more nuanced and less binary-choice than it is in those nations.
Your official statements are measured and your regional responses and responsibilities are routinely acknowledged and met to the best of your ability.
You rank 6th out of 180 nations on the Reporters Without Borders Index of Press Freedom. With so little resources and so little money available, this is a testament to your determination not only to have a free press but to continually improve. Jamaica recently rose 2 places on the list, and in the midst of a world climate of partisanship, populism and punitive attacks on the press. Well done you.
What this pandemic has done here, as elsewhere, is to expose the real divides. One divide is between Kingston and the rest of the country: more than a third of the people live in one city, and this can shift both people and resources away from the country areas.
Another divide, the greatest, is between those who exist with difficulty from wage to wage, and those who don’t.
It’s dreadful to think how paycheck-to-paycheck workers are faring without paychecks.
In my own small and humble way, I’m doing what I can to help locally. My little company was involved with a local community Police Youth Club soccer team before Covid-19, and now we’re focusing on masks and food instead of football. I know other foreigners like me who’ve been reaching out to help here and there.
It’s not because of the need: the need is everywhere in the world right now.
It’s because of you, Jamaicans. It’s because of you.
Kindness? So many people with so many problems of their own have reached out in concern to me since the curfews began: Have you got enough food? Do you need any help? I’ll leave a fresh fish for you, and a bag of organic weed. There are some plantains that I left for you. You should eat ginger, so I left a bag of fresh ginger for you. My vegetable guy will call by tomorrow with a box of food. Just checking, are you okay? Do you need anything? You’re alone there, so call any time, day or night, if you’d like to talk , or if things get Duppy…
I’m so grateful and humbled by your concern. You guys are just great. You will rise from this anew, and with yourwonderful principles to inspire the world more than ever:
Out of Many, One People
One Love, One Heart
Fate and music have me here, in the haven and heaven of your beautiful island, to ride out the tsunami of fever that sweeps the world. So far, I have no symptoms and my health has been excellent, thanks in great part to the early diligence and advice given out in my local area. I humbly and happily say Thank You, Jamaicans, and right nowthere is nowhere else in the world that I would rather be than here, in your embrace.
Love and Faith,