We asked artists around the island: “What is your role as an artist in society, your local community, and the world at large?”
Every artist plays a different and necessary part in contributing to the overall health, development, and well-being of our society.
Creative artists provide their communities with joy, interaction, and inspiration, but they also give thoughtful critique to our political, economic and social systems — pushing communities to engage thoughtfully and make steps toward social progress. From documenting human history to expressing collective emotions, Artists from around Jamaica tell us how they view their role as a creative contributor.
Artists are a vehicle for expressing universal emotion
Music is about connecting with people’s emotions. It’s personal and at the same time, universal.
It’s a human urge to express emotion through the medium of music. We all carry with us memories of our past experiences.
An artist has the ability to ‘feel strongly’ to be ‘sensitive’ to things and express this in lyric and melody. The artist ‘absorbs’ the atmosphere of a place or the memory of a feeling. Sometimes, it’s a burden for the artist to carry all this emotion – to be so sensitive.
Most folks block out emotion. Then, suddenly, a song ‘speaks’ to them. At that point, the artist has done their job.It is wonderful to connect with people through music — when people respond to a song and really ‘feel’.
Music is mainly about ones self-expression communicated through songs, but really we think it is everyone’s expression — Artists are a vehicle.
Everybody hurts. Everybody loves. Everybody hopes. And, everybody dies. Mainly, music is about our own sense of mortality.
Artists are responsible for unearthing the truth
We believe that the artist's role, above all things, is to be as true to themselves as they can — within society, the community and the world at large. This sounds like a cliche but is in itself much harder than it seems.
Being an artist involves wearing all sorts of hats, just like any other job, but the difference is we have the lingering responsibility to unearth the truth of things. Sometimes we will seem vulnerable, sometimes we will make mistakes. But the main thing is not to give up. This resonates with people on a personal and global level, because it is not only empowering but starts from inside ourselves.
Artists work to illuminate the margins and make societal changes
Rather than the word "role", we prefer "commitment". Over many years as a music production company, we have helped people and communities find their voices and express their concerns through individual and collaborative music projects. Our own work is rooted in nationalism – where expressing our emotions, goals, and ideas, in the realm of the personal, social and political, is an exercise in communicating our collective experiences. Working with artists and producers has resulted in a beautiful exchanges of ideas –which creates artistic growth, empathy, and new understandings.
All of these acts can illuminate what lies hidden or repressed in the margins or shadows. New ideas can be brought to life. These ideas can lead to small or large changes in attitudes and even society
They tell stories and pass on traditions
Jamaica is a developing country in the Caribbean. Our history is filled with stories of conquest, slavery and piracy honoured by our writers, poets, musicians and painters. Jamaica's original inhabitants the Arawaks, also called Tainos, named the island Xaymaca, which translates "land of wood and water".
Folk is the earliest music form in Jamaica and remains one of the most influential aspects of our heritage. Its beat, heavy with the substance of African rhythms and collective experiences shakes social barriers and unifies our nation with its intensity and ingenuity. Its power to heal, change, inspire and incite makes it an essential part of the Jamaican identity.
Awaiting our Independence during the 1960's, we became saturated with optimism. Filled with high hopes and huge dreams, Ska’s buoyant jazz rhythms, though influenced by American Rhythm and Blues, became Jamaican naturalized. Everywhere you went it was ska, ska, ska! When the sound hit abroad, it spread like wild fire through London’s underground scene, scoring ‘big time’ with Millie Small’s ‘My Boy Lollipop’.
In the 1970’s, the beat slowed and a heavy bass emerged . Social messages were turned into songs, dance moves became languid and ‘rude boys’ found kinship with the new sound that epitomized the times. This was Rock Steady but this epoch was transitory, for it had to make way for the inevitable scorching, rebel music – Reggae!
Artists connect with and inspire people globally
As we live in a global village, we are somehow all connected via some form of social media. Artists are no longer introverts and we are all "out there [in the world]". I hope my role as an artist is to inspire, connect, and collaborate!
Reggae remains popular on the international scene from roots rock to dancehall. It has gained success abroad and has been credited for the birth of the popular American genre, ‘Hip-Hop’. Modern artists continue to fuse the reggae rhythms with other music forms to create new sounds, infusing their messages and spreading cool island vibes.
Artists record and preserve our human history
We live in an ever more intricate society where every individual regardless of its specific role plays an important part in the social biodiversity of the world. Artists have been crucial from the very beginning of our existence and has contributed to expanding human evolution from many different perspectives.
This expansion, much like the universe, is still going on and artists still play an important role. We see ourselves as part of a community whose work as a global force contributes to this human growth. There is a crescent complexity in the way the music world evolves and the myriad of people who orbit around it are intimately interlaced with artists and their production. Although artists typically work alone in their studios, they are part of a much larger community and they play a much larger role than one might anticipate.
Artists offer messages of hope
We take our role as an artist very seriously, although we still have tons of fun and experience great joy in our studio. We try to be very thoughtful, socially and politically aware of our surroundings. Whenever we experience feelings of discomfort in my life, we need to find an answer by transforming those feelings through our music.
An artist's role is almost that of an Alchemist — capable of transforming a few humble materials into objects which are imbued with spiritual and aesthetic value and then possibly also material value.
We prefer to be a bearer of good news and hope, in this increasingly broken world of ours and we find that images have immense power to restore collective emotional pain and lift the spirit.
Because we transform our own anguish concerning the present and also the future into something tangible which is simple, hopeful and beautiful, our role is to offer through our music and without being superficial, a message of hope to society, our community and the world at large.
They are ambassadors of the natural world
We live in Jamaica and feel our role as an artist is to be an ambassador for the natural beauty and way of life that is found here. We write songs out-of-doors as often as we can to get the clearest vision we can of our surroundings. This helps us capture it the most the highest level of truth.
We make our music to capture the parts of our culture that we cherish and find beautiful. In doing so, we are preserving views that may disappear without notice. We put our music out into the world so that people who will never get a chance to come here might still be moved by the views of this place.
Artists create a sense of community
There are many roles that an artist fills. But, in smaller cities, having local artists brings a sense of pride to the community. It also sets examples for young people who might be considering careers in the performing arts. Artists support their communities by teaching their music and craft.
Also, in most communities, there are events that benefit local causes and charities, and donations made by local artists.