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Originally published on December 2, 2018 5:44 pm
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Finally today, how about a little reggae?


BOB MARLEY AND THE WAILERS: (Singing) Play I some music, this a reggae music.

MARTIN: It is probably Jamaica's most recognizable and influential musical genre, and now it has been recognized by the United Nations. Reggae has earned an entry on UNESCO's representative list of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, joining hundreds of other traditions from embroidery art in Tajikistan to bobbin lace making in Slovenia. And one of the people pushing to recognize reggae on this list was Augustus Clarke, known as Gussie. He's been a leading reggae producer and music publisher since the 1970s and has many hits to his name. He's also the founder of Music Works studio in Kingston, and he was tapped by the Ministry of Culture to help make the case for reggae. And he's with us now from his office in Kingston, the capital.

Gussie Clarke, thank you so much for joining us. Congratulations.

GUSSIE CLARKE: Thank you for the opportunity to spread the word to the world. You said it well.

MARTIN: Well, thank you for that. But the world already knows about reggae. So why was it important for reggae to get this official recognition?

CLARKE: As with any innovation, recognition needs to be placed at the head of those who created it. So, as a country, we are somewhat of a cultural powerhouse. So we felt that it was appropriate for it to be, you know, recognized, as with many other things we do, that we were the innovators of this genre of music.

MARTIN: So, for the three people who might not be familiar with reggae already, could you tell us a little bit about what makes reggae reggae?

CLARKE: The most known factor about reggae is about the message in the music. And that message has resonated with people on the lower socio-economic base.


JUNIOR MURVIN: (Singing) Police and thieves in the streets, oh, yeah, fighting the nation with their guns and ammunitions.

CLARKE: You know, it tells you something about trouble and hold on, keep good and have faith. And that, you know, love your brother and be a good guy.


PETER TOSH: (Singing) I need equal rights and justice. I've got to get it. Equal rights and justice...

CLARKE: So it's the message in a music mold. A lot of people who learned of reggae just don't even sometimes understand. But it's the beat is very infectious, and it catches you.


BOB MARLEY AND THE WAILERS: (Singing) I shot the sheriff, but I didn't shoot the deputy.

CLARKE: I mean, reggae is so much an individual culture, and it can extend to the wider culture. For example, if we have the same set of musicians today playing a same song, and tomorrow, they are playing the same song but feel in a different mood, you will get a different song and not the same.


BOB MARLEY AND THE WAILERS: (Singing) They're trying to track me down. They say they want to bring I in guilty.

CLARKE: So it is subject to the feel, the mood of the individuals at the time of which they are creating what they are creating.

MARTIN: The UNESCO page about reggae states that the music is a contribution to international discourse on issues of injustice, resistance, love and humanity, which are all just, you know, deeply important aspects of the human condition. But isn't there something a little strange about the fact that something that arises from people who are on the margins, right - who do not have a voice - and then now to have it kind of brought into these elite spaces - is there something a little weird about that?

CLARKE: No. It just simply means it has crossed borders, boundaries, cultures. There are persons who, for example, extremely well-off, might be one of the richest person in the world, they might not be happy. But there are reggae songs that carry that kind of message that makes them feel good. There might be persons who are pretty poor, and reggae gives them the vibe, the feeling to work hard, to rise up to the occasion and be better than what they are. So getting to the world front - it mean it has crossed so many boundaries of social, economical, cultural, political. And it has a space in every different weird lands...

MARTIN: (Laughter).

CLARKE: ...Because it's not a one-dimensional message. It could be love. It could be defend yourself. It could be stand up for your right. It could be don't be stupid. It has so many different messages. It resonates for nearly everyone who gets the opportunity to listen to it properly.

MARTIN: So, Mr. Clarke, can you pick a song to play us out?

CLARKE: "One Love." It's the order of the day by Bob Marley. "One Love" is good enough for me.

MARTIN: (Laughter) All right. That's Gussie Clarke, legendary reggae producer. Thank you so much for talking with us.

CLARKE: Thank you, too. Bye.


BOB MARLEY AND THE WAILERS: (Singing) One love, one heart. Let's get together and feel all right. Hear the children crying - one love - hear the children crying - one heart - saying, give thanks and praise to the Lord, and I will feel all right - saying, let's get together and feel all right. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.