The reggae genre has some great representation at the upcoming National Folk Festival, among them is Clinton Fearon. Fearon is an artist and pioneer of reggae music, legendary within his field. Listeners can hear his soul vividly in his art, which he really turns into something more than music alone. Each song weaves a tapestry of what it means to be of Caribbean descent for the listeners.
As a first generation American by way of Jamaica, I can relate to these messages. Fearon’s music makes me reflect on my parent’s experiences, growing up in Jamaica, coming to the United States, and realizing that it didn’t meet up with their expectations. His songs are made to uplift the common man in times of trouble, or when distanced from a first home.
Reggae as genre has become very much tied into to the identity of being Jamaican. This homogenization of reggae and Jamaican culture is regrettable because colorful portions of each have been overshadowed in the blend. Reggae as an art form seeks to represent the underprivileged and give them a voice with which to speak out against injustice. But most people’s knowledge of reggae begins and ends with Bob Marley and The Wailers. There are many artists who had skills on par with Marley’s, but sadly never got their time in the sun. Some may be able to name few other artists like Jimmy Cliff or Peter Tosh, but that still barely cracks the surface. Although Marley helped to establish reggae music on the international level, generally casual listeners are only privy to a handful of acts.
Fearon’s work, however underappreciated outside of Jamaica, was an instrumental piece of reggae’s intertwining with the political outcry on the island. Like my parents, Fearon came of age as a poor country kid. Born in the parish of St. Andrew in 1951, he moved frequently until the age of 16, when his family settled in Kingston. Joining his first band in the early 70’s teaming up with Albert Griffiths and Errol Grandison and calling themselves The Gladiators. Fearon would play bass for them and see the group through several changes in studios and lineup. After receiving minimal recognition and fair pay, he left the band following the Gladiators’ 1987 American tour. Fearon chose to launch his solo career with The Defenders after resettling in Seattle, Washington. They enjoyed some moderate success with the EP “Rock Your Bones” released in 1989, although the collaboration was short-lived and went their separate ways three years later.
Fearon formed the group that he performs with to this day, The Boogie Brown Band, in 1994. The name originates from a fictional character thought up by Fearon, who describes him as an unfettered child with a bewitching smile. The group has its roots in jazz and reggae, a combination that gives their music an almost earthy tone. The size of the group ranges from five to seven members, not including Fearon. Fearon’s crooning voice carries on the genre’s tradition of uplifting, unifying music, especially in their song “What a World”. As a political statement, reggae encourages people to work collectively and to challenge the powers that be. Reggae, along with genres such as rock, hip-hop and jazz, holds an important place in the history of counterculture as a genre that an oppressed people have gravitated to.
Reggae appearing at the National Folk Festival is nothing too surprising. Folk music, as a collection of different types of music, is supposed to be of the people and representative of life in a varying number of surroundings. Fearon, himself having come of age during the first great wave of reggae in Jamaica, is a fabulous choice. The Boogie Brown Band performance promises to be a true delight for those lucky enough to be in attendance, and is sure to entertain many.