The Constitution of Spatiality in Reggae Music

Department of Geography




The Constitution of Spatiality in Reggae Music

 

From September to May I host a weekly one-hour radio show called Riddim Come Fawaad: Solid Reggae Vibrations on CFBU 103.7FM. The show live-streams Wednesday nights at 9:00 and Saturday afternoons at 4:00.

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Several of my research interests coalesce in a project that investigates how spatiality is theorised, communicated, and used as a tool of expression, in Jamaican reggae music. The term “spatiality” here refers to the socially-produced character of space, and the spatially-constituted nature of society and subjectivity. My intent is to examine reggae music as a way to learn about how poor Black Jamaicans conceptualise and articulate their socio-spatial circumstances, and indeed how they construct particular spatialities through music.


The research focuses on this group of people because of the global significance of their general spatial circumstances, especially their history of forced migration and diaspora, and their current subordinate position in a range of national and transnational economic, social and cultural flows. The group of whom, and to whom, reggae music speaks are exemplary of more general - if less extreme - conditions of diaspora, cultural hybridity, displacement, and “double consciousness,” which according to many scholars characterise the current period of globalisation. A detailed study of how this group understands, expresses and actively creates spatiality will contribute significantly to the geographical understanding of globalisation’s effects on how people understand the world, themselves, and their place in the world. This has the potential to inform policy debates regarding globalisation’s cultural implications.


Reggae is an especially appropriate resource for studying these issues, for four main reasons:

  • first, there is much evidence that music in general has been an especially potent site of cultural expression among diasporic Black cultures;
  • second, reggae music has consistently and explicitly articulated themes of  subordination, suffering, diaspora, migration, displacement and double consciousness. Thus, it offers a rich storehouse of material on the experience of globalisation under conditions of subordination;
  • third, reggae has developed sophisticated techniques for using sound to evoke spatial associations and disjunctures;
  • fourth, due to its status as a local music with a global audience, reggae has had to develop ways of speaking simultaneously (but not identically) to cultural insiders and outsiders. This is a characteristic feature of transcultural representation, which prompts me to conceptualise reggae music as “autoethnographic” representation: i.e., as a way members of subordinate groups represent themselves to their own group, while simultaneously representing themselves to members of dominant groups.

 

As the first detailed geographical examination of reggae music, this study contributes to music scholarship, and to the branch of geography concerned with the spatial attributes of music. It also contributes to current efforts within geography to develop a less visual - and more aural - means of conceiving spatiality. More generally, in tracing the contours of a specific mode of autoethnographic expression, this study will also contribute to the conceptualisation of identity under conditions of transcultural subordination.

Burning Spear - reggae originator
Winston Rodney aka Burning Spear - Reggae originator