Adjunct lecturer and reggae music aficionado, Alpha Obika, presented the challenge to the students enrolled in Producing Culture: Music, Events and Festivals at the University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona, to plan and execute an event with meaning. And that they did.
A group of outstanding reggae artistes were billed for Kulcha: Roots, Rock, Reggae live show, who all offered their talents for free, acknowledging the cause – to raise funds for the Maia Chung Autism and Disabilities Foundation.
“When the students proposed the idea to me, I was very excited. Over the past five years of teaching the course, each class has produced different types of events from fashion shows to video game tournaments. This is the second class to choose a reggae concept, but the first to donate to a charity in line with the month of its awareness (April is Autism Awarness Month),” said Obika.
There is always new information to help advance autism awareness, which is what the event was all about, and entertainment value aside, the audience clearly wanted to learn. There were posters around the venue, and vendors selling a variety of art who at the end of the night would donate their profits to the foundation.
As Catherine Reid, a member of the student body hosting the event, entered the stage with her contemporary dance piece to a moving dub poem titled, ‘The Blue Moment’, and the sound of a conga drum, it quickly hinted that it was time for all eyes to be front and centre. Singer Adiel ‘Diel’ Thomas was the night’s first recording artiste, and did a superb job, being the kindle for the flame of performances ahead.
Reggae artistes Kelissa, Meleku, Iba Mahr and Dre Island had patrons’ hands in the air with illuminated cellular phones as a sign of support. Other entertainers and industry professionals, including Professor Donna Hope, up-and-coming female reggae artistes In.Digg.Nation, Lila Ike and Keznamdi, were also observed rocking in the audience.
The entertainment package was more than enough to satisfy the ears of the patrons who converged on the lawns of the UWI Founder’s Park, which was an intimate and almost perfect venue (spoilt only by patrons’ continued complaint about the ants) for the live show.
When veteran entertainer Sizzla Kalonji took to the stage he could barely perform his own singles as the audience joined in at full volume to sing along with the Rise to the Occasion artiste. Patrons left the park fully entertained and with enlightening information on autism.
Autism speaks into artistes’ performance
“These are the people in society who do not have a voice,” Kelissa told The Sunday Gleaner.
The Spellbound reggae singer says that although she does not have a full understanding of autism, she has family and friends who have children who are autistic.
“When we are able to offer to be the voice and agent of awareness, it is always a great thing; so I try to align music with events like Kulcha: Roots, Rock, Reggae, because it makes the work I do more fulfilling,” she said.
Other artistes like Iba Mahr and Meleku noted that the information on autism and various disabilities that affect the development of children in Jamaica is not fully available.
“I can only say that I have been around children who are autistic, and seeing the stress that it puts on their parents to understand and give them the love they need is touching,” said Meleku.
He became emotional on stage speaking about dealing with the pain and loss, as well as the injustice in society (reflecting on the recent murder of his cousin, France Nooks, who was killed over a $100 taxi fare).
Meleku added, “Whatever we can do to raise awareness on issues, crime and charity projects I see where it is best to contribute my efforts willingly.”
Meanwhile, Iba Mahr, who had the audience mesmerised during his performance of Great is Him before transitioning to dance with the single ‘Diamond Sox’, told the Sunday Gleaner that music is the way he knows to connect with the people, that the art is one way children who are autistic have been able to learn.
“The vibes plus the fact that Kulcha: Roots, Rock, Reggae live show is creating the awareness on the disability is good. Salute to the students who put it on, the patrons that showed their support, and every single artiste that add to make this possible,” Iba Mahr said.