News  Culture Shock 2008

Caribbean writer asseses West Indian Revolution

“Reggae music was revolution music,” explained professor and author Brian Meeks, as he described the history of the Caribbean political revolution’s abysmal failure in the 1960s and 1970s at Culture Shock Tuesday.

His talk marked the 40th anniversary of the 1968 Congress of Black Writers at McGill – an assembly of black liberation activists that drew a crowd of 10,000 students.

Meeks said the Congress was an essential element in the development of Caribbean revolutionary movements. Recounting his involvement as a high school student in the Jamaican revolution in 1968, Meaks remarked, “The Jamaican revolution wasn’t about mass demonstrations in the streets, but rather about the raising of consciousness. Popular music defined the times.”

In 1970, Meaks moved to Trinidad in the midst of its revolution – a dangerous time when government officials were hostile to radical organization.

“Within two weeks of arriving in Trinidad, I had been introduced to the anarchist cookbook. People told me there were guns in the hills, and later, I would realize they were serious,” he said, adding that officials issued violent warnings to organizers involved in protests.

After he was fired from his job at the Jamaican Broadcasting Company for partisanship, revolutionaries in Grenada recruited him in 1979 to help disseminate information.

“Salary wasn’t a question, terms of employment weren’t an issue. I arrived not sure if I would be paid or have somewhere to live. I just landed,” he said.

He went on to criticize the Grenada revolution for subscribing to a mechanical Marxism, that attempted to create a proletariat by opening factories in order to set the necessary pre-conditions for a revolution.

“This Lego approach spread the doom of the nascent revolution,” he noted.

He concluded his talk by discussing the development of popular music in the West Indies in tandem with the revolution – crucial to reconstructing historical perspectives on social change.

Explaining music’s importance in creating a healthy society and economy, he said, “Music is what is at the heart of whatever we can rescue from the period [of revolution]. It isn’t a matter of just song and dance, but it is about a sense of self.”

– Text by Shannon Kiely, image by Stephen Davis