Calabash 2009: Reflections
For the four days that I was in Treasure Beach for Calabash 09, I saw two Jamaicas. The first greeted me in the warmth of the people of people of St. Elizabeth--which extended to the festival--and the second announced itself in the bold headlines of the newspapers reporting yet more murders in Kingston and the efforts of the government to curb crime.
Two realities in stark contrast emerged with the sunrise and sank into the Caribbean Sea at sunset. And the dissimilarity cannot be merely attributed to the difference between urban and rural Jamaica. Rather, like all social phenomena, they exist by individual and/or collective consent.
So, on the one hand, there were the organizers, audience, and participants who came together to create an environment where a community could share and define themselves, as Pico Iyer suggested, by their values. In the case of Calabash 09, the values were annunciated by the tags: Peace & Love.
This is not a coincidence. Peace & Love were the principles that guided Rastafari in Jamaica during the seventies—one of the most creative periods of our history. Then came the unofficial civil war (of which we’re still seeing the effects) and the exodus.
Calabash 09 had that seventies feeling—that vibe of serious play between the audience and participants. For those four days, I witnessed the natural graciousness of Jamaicans (like Anthony Bourdain’s welcome by a Jamaican matriarch even as he warned about crime in Jamaica) and got a glimpse of pre-diaspora Jamaica without the internal contradictions that led to the mass immigration.
And the vibe was important. It started, as always with the music—reggae--which was omnipresent throughout the festival. Peace and Love was encoded in reggae. Peace and Love was present even in midst of the most apocalyptic choons by Bob Marley and the Wailers, whose lyrics led Kwame Dawes to coin the term “reggae aesthetic” to describe the influence of reggae on Jamaican culture. According to Dawes, the “reggae aesthetic” combines music, identity. community, politics, economics, and spirituality. Sounds like Calabash to me—which began with music and ended with music and benediction. This should not come as a surprise to anyone. For Jamaicans are, as Kwame once said to me in an e-mail, “a spiritual people engaged in matters of faith rooted in experience.”
In other words, Calabash demonstrated a model for social interaction in Jamaica which is based on indigenous values that are part of our history and culture. We know this. And if we could allow for the kind of tolerance that used to be part of our cultural life and is still practiced in the countryside, we could be on to something. For it is when we are most open that we are most beautiful.
For me, it was a glimpse of what heaven should be: a lover by your side, sky, beach, books, Red Stripe, and great conversations with interesting people. For I-ver.
Our politicians instead of spending time trying to curb crime should be stressing, especially in the face of globalization and the creation of niche markets, the positives aspects of Jamaica culture. It’s like Mother Teresa said when she was invited to an anti-war rally, “I will never attend an anti-war rally. If you have a peace rally, invite me." But attitudes like that can only come from leaders who are committed to and who will embody our highest ideals.
Calabash began with the commitment of a few idealists, but as a another strong woman, Margaret Mead, said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.” I don’t want to see worldwide change. I’d just like to return to a place that doesn’t have 1,611 murders in one year. I don’t want two Jamaicas. I’d just like a Jamaica of One Love.