Say we a come in wid a force
Blessings we a reap pon we course, inna handful
We nuh rise and boast
Yeah, we give thanks like we need it the most
We haffi give thanks like we really supposed to
– Toast by Koffee, young Jamaican star
THIS WEEK, creativity was forced to battle everything from the noise of crashing helicopters to the inexplicable sight of a vehicle reversing around the Savannah, to the rawness of a racist rant against people of African heritage, pungent with the stench of hate and bitterness.
I was therefore thankful for Koffee’s story, her simplicity and appreciation for her gift. I also cheered up somewhat at the news that Mastana Bahar was returning to TTT. The show, founded and hosted by Sham Mohammed in 1970, celebrated East Indian culture on the nation’s only television station at the time.
Mastana Bahar, translated as Joyful Season, emerged as a source of pride and visibility for the East Indian community, with the potential to increase levels of understanding in our multi-cultural nation. Mastana as the show was sometimes called, and Scouting for Talent, were two of the longest running, locally produced talent shows in the Caribbean.
The 70s opened doors to new conversations about media and national identity. For instance, the 1974 movie Bim engaged local audiences with its raw story line, local acting and instantly iconic music score. Two years prior, The Harder They Come starring Jimmy Cliff initiated this new genre of Caribbean film, documenting the struggles of a country boy in the city of Kingston, against the backdrop of intoxicating reggae music.
It may be argued that in 2019, a targeted approach to local content is as crucial for us now as in those post-independence days. Back then, discussions about the imperialism of media centred on the overwhelming amount of North American content on local television screens. TTT was no exception, with the industry claiming then, as it does now, that it was more cost effective to import foreign programmes than invest in promoting our own culture.
In-between her insults and prolific use of the N-word, the woman in the racist rant was clear that she wanted to see her community on television and was upset that the service provider had taken this choice from her.
What then is the real cost of the foreign media diet that we have fed our country for almost two generations? Given the proliferation of social and online media, how will we as a developing nation promote diversity, manage competing ethnic interests and still forge a national identity?
I was pleasantly surprised to read that the Ministry of Communications received an additional $10 million for local content. However, as an artist and a citizen it is important to know how these funds will be allocated, what our priorities will be. In light of the questions raised above, when will we hear a philosophy of media and national development being articulated? With this money, will we finally start producing local content similar to the quality of national broadcast entities like the BBC?
In our complex nation, media must be used very deliberately as a unifying force. Currently, the local content landscape gives the impression of being very corporate driven. That is, someone has a concept, and if the media house or financier likes the idea, the show gets made and airtime is paid for.
Instead, media should be a deliberate and integral component of how we educate and develop our society. With this understanding, we would see the importance of generating content that gives visibility to our indigenous heritage. We would put resources into community radio and empower youth to use technology for national growth.
Further, facing the rapid extinction of species, plastics in our food chain and alarming predictions for our planet, we should have already been using media to campaign against littering and other practices that are damaging our coastlines and threatening our health and livelihood.
So, in the midst of these musings, it was Koffee the 19-year-old who kept it real for me. From the humble Spanish Town in Jamaica, for her, media is a mechanism to disseminate positive messages. Perhaps a philosophy of media is that simple. Perhaps her generation already understands what some of us continue to miss. As she sings it: “Blessings all pon mi life and/ Mi thank God fi di journey, di earnings a jus fi di plus/ And gratitude is a must...”
Dara E Healy is a performance artist, communications specialist and founder of the NGO, the Indigenous Creative Arts Network – ICAN