by Jerry Beller
Why is Jamaica so important to you? Jamaica became my home away from home in my mid-twenties. Initially, my brothers and I visited one of the major resorts in Negril in the 1980s. While there, I befriended an interesting musician from Massachusetts who shared my desire to view Jamaica beyond the resort. While we took advantage of the all-inclusive arrangement at the resort, we escaped its walls every chance we got. On these excursions, Jamaica came alive before our eyes. I moved there a few years later.
Is Jamaica dangerous? Yes and no. One must be careful there, just as one must in every city in the United States. Certain areas are rougher than others. I feel safe in Jamaica, and my wife, children and I travel there every chance we get. Only having their independence since the sixties, the country has some growing up to do. Until the government and infrastructure produce enough quality jobs, crime, including violent crime, will continue to be a problem, especially in Kingston. I am writing an article on violence in Jamaica that will provide more facts, history, and details of crime in Jamaica.
What are the best places to visit in Jamaica? It depends on what one wants. If one wants to restrict their trip to resorts, go to Negril, Montego Bay, or Ocho Rios. If you want to try a beach on the south coast, go to Treasure Beach. If you want to check out the urban life, go to Kingston. If you want to see the Blue Mountains and the rainforest that falls into the sea, go to Portland Parish. I have visited virtually every square inch of Jamaica. When I lived there, I traveled all over the island. Have been back over most of the places numerous times over the years, and have an individual preference for the non-tourist areas.
Why do you love Portland Parish so much? It is where I lived in Jamaica and wrote my first book. My wife and son were born in Port Antonio. It is where I met and fell in love with my wife. My beloved in-laws live there. Portland Parish is the most beautiful part of Jamaica. It is no coincidence that it is also a setting for several of my books. I love the place and have built genuine friendships, family, and relationships that stretch decades.
Is Jamaica better or worse off since they gained their independence from the British? It depends on who you ask. It is a great debate among Jamaicans. I understand the government has failed the people, failed to produce prosperity, and it lacks the trust and support of the people. However, I believe every people should have their independence. There continue to be growing pains, but I think one day enough progressives will remain in Jamaica to provide real leadership. Jamaicans have the ability, as they show in track, music, and other endeavors. With the right leadership, I have no doubt Jamaica will evolve into a great country. Despite the growing pains, I believe independence was in every Jamaican’s best interests. I have lots of faith in the best Jamaicans. They rank among the best people I have ever known.
Does Dancehall promote violence? At its worse, yes, but at its best, Dancehall is as inspiring and positive as the best Reggae. Honestly, I have a love-hate relationship with Dancehall. I love the positive messages of artists such as Anthony B and Busy Signal (at his most positive), but I hate the same old lyrics that disparage women, bash gays, worship “gangstas” and guns, and otherwise fails to create anything new or positive. People should both honor and protect free speech, while also challenging Dancehall, in general, to be more positive, creative, and humane. It is simply wrong, however, when many try to write off all of Dancehall because of its worse elements. Dancehall at its best is as good as any other music genre.
Is Reggae still relevant? Of course, it is. We don’t have Bob Marley, but we do have several of his children carrying on the torch. There have been two generations of Reggae artists since Bob, and many are excellent. As long as there are injustices in Jamaica and the world, Reggae will remain relevant. Jamaica needs more musical instruments and opportunities for bands. The music industry in Jamaica needs reform. Much of the abuse and corruption illustrated in the Harder They Come movie are still problems today. The music business is tougher today, and economics does not provide many opportunities for actual musicians. Computers produce most the instrumentals, and all you have is a singer or rapper at most performances. Bigger shows will have one band that plays all the music. All reggae needs is to develop more Sly & Robbie, Steel Pulse, Wailers, Black Uhuru, Third World, Foundation, Ziggy Marley, Stephen Marley, and real musicians. I believe the lack of development of new players is the primary reason Jamaica has slipped in the musical genre that they created. All one has to do is ask any of the veteran musicians, and they’ll back up this point. Dancehall can thrive on computer music, but Reggae needs guitarists, bassists, steel drummers, and other musicians the band feels is necessary. With all the injustices remaining in the world, Reggae is the one genre conceived to address every important issue. Right now, it is underperforming.
Does your family consider yourselves American or Jamaican, black or white? We view ourselves Jamericans and humans. My skin is pale, but I have some Cherokee blood. My wife is considered black, but she has a little Scottish blood. Our children are a mix of my wife and me. I claim the human race as my primary race. I never look at my wife and see a black person. Nor do I ever look at my children and see a color. They’re my three favorite people and the part of life that I love most. When you feel that way about people, you don’t think regarding color. Having been in an interracial, multicultural family for most my adult life, I believe racism is stupid. There is no perfect race. Every race has good and horrible people. I choose decent people over horrible people, and could care less about color. Anybody who believes color has anything to do with character has a lot to learn about this world.
Why do you write Jamaican books? Internationally, Jamaicans are typically portrayed in one-dimensional terms. I know Jamaicans are a very diverse population of people. I hope to illustrate the diversity and address real Jamaican issues. While my books are written mostly for an international audience, and thus I avoid using much Patois, I try to develop a broad range of Jamaican personalities that represents the real Jamaica. When I challenge the government, business leaders, music industry, or other aspects of Jamaican society, it is because I love Jamaica. I want a better Jamaica for the hard-working, honest, decent, remarkable Jamaicans that I count as my friends and relatives.
Note: Because of my connection to Jamaica, I constantly receive questions. Above is just a sampling of the questions that I receive about Jamaica. I'll post more answers on Jamaica in later posts.