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Kingston Be Wise: Three Reggae Artists Share Their View of the City

Protoje, Sevana and Sheldon Shepherd share their views on Kingston

Depending on your view, Jamaica’s capital city, Kingston is either a place to avoid or to be celebrated. Three of Kingston’s reggae artists were asked to speak on the topic, ‘What Does Kingson Mean to Me’, at the recently concluded Imagine Kingston conference. The panel chaired by Dr. Sonjah Stanley Niaah featured Protoje, Sevana and Sheldon Sheperd of Nomaddz.

“A lot of my songs I’ve written while looking at all of Kingston,” said Protoje who reveals a conflicted relationship with the city. 

“'Kingston Be Wise' I wrote while looking down from Jacks Hill and watching Kingston burn. 'Blood Money' while looking at Cherry Gardens,” Protoje continued. 

Protoje seems to have no affection for the physical elements of the city and he and Sevana noted that their first impressions of Kingston coming in from rural Jamaica, was the pollution and grime. 

Even though he was the only Kingston born and bred member of the panel, Sheldon Shepherd was no less conflicted about the city. He opened his delivery with a poem that contrasted the violence and pollution of Kingston with a romanticized view of the idyllic countryside. And yet, he realized that the city has great potential and was responsible for much of what he has become.

“Kingston is the fertile soil in which a seed is planted to grow into a tree and bear fruits of possibility,” Shepherd said, ending his intro. 

In a similar vein Protoje remarked that regardless of how one feels about the physical space, the intangible elements of the city are its saving grace.

“Kingston is the people.” Protoje said remarking on the creative energy that fuels the city. “Kingston is a rough place, but at the end of the day there’s a soul and enery that you just cannot get around.”

All three expressed great hope for what a future Kingston had to offer. 

“The future of Kingston looks to me - I might be a little idealistic - is a greater sense of community,” said Savanah. “Growing up in Sav [Savannah la Mar], I knew I was poor, but you know somebody would come with a bag or mangoes or something and you wouldn’t be hungry for long,” she explained.

She noted that she hoped this greater sense of community would come to Kingston. It wasn’t surprising that she had this hope as she had earlier revealed that being robbed was one of her earlier and more traumatic experiences on moving to Kingston.

“I see more of a sense of community and less selfishness,” Sevana said. “We can do so much with what we have. And it’s people first not money first.”

For Protoje, there were two elements that needed to be fixed in a future Kingston. The first is the transportation system, one in which all citizens would use the system regardless of wealth.

“Any country that the rich and elite don’t use the public transport system, that country is done,” Protoje said.

He then turned his attention to the state of performance venues, or rather the absence of them, in Kingston. 

“Kingston don’t have one up to the art live music facility,” Protoje lamented. While he at first stated that he couldn’t understand why that was, he quickly reversed his position and noted that he knew the reason.

“The people in power don’t check for culture,” he said. 

He noted that for himself, and his colleagues such as Chronixx, when they are putting on shows they go to great lengths and extensive out-of-pocket expenditure to ensure that their shows were of a high calibre.

“We don’t want to put on no jing bang thing,” he said.

Protoje questioned the rational that could have lead a city with such a rich musical heritage to be without a single state-of-the-art performance facility. 

“How we fi no have no venue?” he asked. “How?”. 

In keeping with the tone of the panel, which did not find itself wallowing into despair, Protoje remarked that it was therefore for the artists to continue to be the change that was required, not merely through the music they created but in the ways in which they invested in the infrastructure required to boost the industry to the levels it deserves. 

“As artists, we have to do what we must do,” Protoje said. “Until the wagonists come on board.”

The Imagine Kingston conference was staged by the University of the West Indies and the Institute of Jamaica under the patronage of the Mayor, His Worship Delroy Williams. Imagine Kingston was held November 9-12, 2017 at the University of the West Indies.