UNESCO declares Reggae Music global cultural treasure

UNESCO HQ. [Photo credit: Unesco]
UNESCO HQ. [Photo credit: Unesco]

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has declared Reggae music a cultural treasure worth protecting.

The Paris-based UNESCO, the cultural agency of the United Nations, made its ruling at a meeting this week.

The popular genre which developed in the early 60s from the streets of Jamaica was added to the UN’s collection of cultural treasures due to its “intangible cultural heritage”.

Reggae music’s “contribution to international discourse on issues of injustice, resistance, love and humanity underscores the dynamics of the element as being at once cerebral, socio-political, sensual and spiritual,” UNESCO said.

The musical style joined a list of cultural traditions that includes the horsemanship of the Spanish Riding School in Vienna and Mongolian camel-coaxing ritual. Czech puppetry, and more than 300 other traditional practices that range from boat-building, pilgrimages and cooking also made it to the list.

Other cultural treasures to make this year’s list include traditional hand puppetry in Egypt, bobbin lace making in Slovenia, pottery skills in Tunisia, and Ireland’s hurling.

Reggae emerged in the late 1960s out of Jamaica’s ska and rock steady genres, also drawing influence from American jazz and blues.

The style quickly became popular in the United States as well as in Britain, where many Jamaican immigrants had moved, in the post-WWII years.

Jamaica applied for reggae’s inclusion on the list at a meeting of the UN agency on the island of Mauritius in 2018, where 40 proposals were under consideration.

“Reggae is uniquely Jamaican,” said Olivia Grange, the Caribbean island nation’s culture minister, before the vote.

“It is a music that we have created that has penetrated all corners of the world.”

The protected list began in 2008 and grew out of the UN’s convention for the safeguarding of intangible cultural heritage in 2003.

Its aims are to ensure respect for communities, groups and individuals involved in the listed activity, to raise awareness and encourage appreciation of those activities nationally and internationally.

UNESCO is best known for its World Heritage List of outstanding cultural and natural sites, which include the Grand Canyon, the Great Wall of China and the Old City of Jerusalem.

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