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Fyah Inna Babylon – A Marxist in the Media

I woke up one morning with a three-hour weekly radio show. The show was to be in the evening ‘specialist’ slot on Fridays and was called ‘Roots, Rock, Reggae’. I’ve always loved Jamaican music and for a Socialist ‘Roots Reggae’ is a perfect genre with its 100 percent political lyrics. Made in the ghettos of Kingston, these are songs of liberation: as I used to say, ‘the conscious thunder of righteous rhythms’. On the death of Bob Marley there was a slow drift back to ‘gangster ragga’, as Jamaican music lost its way in the eighties. After joining a reggae collective in 2000 I was relieved to find that not only ‘old school’ roots was back in favour, but a whole new generation of conscious musicians were rocking to the sound of liberation once again. I had not really expected to get the job as I had explicitly stated that my show would have to have a high political content. I was not interested in the usual ‘pick and mix’ entertainment genre.

Don’t get me wrong – I had a lot of respect for some of the other DJ’s with their in-depth knowledge of specific music genres. I just wanted to discuss the ideas that the lyrics and rhythms of roots reggae provoke – liberation, righteousness, Zion and the Babylon System, etc. Truth be told, it was a great opportunity to air some socialist ideas on live radio (a rare thing these days).

Everything started pretty well and I even got away with not playing ’The News’ in the middle of my show on the grounds that Murdochian propaganda would not go down well with my ‘audience’. My idea was to pick a theme or two from the lyrics and discuss the political implications. There’s something called ‘dub reggae’ (an enhanced instrumental track) that would keep the rhythm going as I pontificated. One such deliberation concerned the vexed subject of the reactionary and progressive elements within Rastafarianism. I have been called a hypocrite by some Rastas because I play the Roots but reject the spiritual part of its message. I attempted to point out that, as in most religions, because of its absence on earth, the need for justice is projected into another supernatural or spiritual realm. The yearning for righteousness is a very human ideal born of the suffering endemic within the exploitation of Capitalism (the Babylon System) and is shared by Socialists. Once you relegate political action to the mystical caprice of a deity (Jah) you inevitably produce an authoritarian social structure, with God and his prophets on top and the rest of us somewhere below – always anti-democratic and reactionary. Such was the polemical nature of my broadcasts. When I started, the ‘boss’ had taken me to one side and said: ’make the show you would want to listen to’ – and this is precisely what I did.

Before finding myself on the other side of the microphone I had nursed a contempt for local radio. The blandness, let’s be honest, is mind numbing. The mindless repetition of ‘petit bourgeois’ propaganda masquerading as community radio is politically laughable. And yet, as I learned, the people involved are normal human beings, totally oblivious to their role in perpetuating the values of the capitalist obscenity. They are obsessed with something they call ‘professionalism’. Any minor technical mistake or, much to my amusement, the use of inappropriate language is anathema. Turf wars with other radio stations is another obsession that feeds the fragile egos of those who are terrified by the endless ‘rules and regulations’ of broadcasting. It is this atmosphere that produces the blandness which so disfigures local radio and renders it politically impotent – and is, of course, the very intention of this kind of broadcasting censorship. To many broadcasters and consumers alike, music has become just another commodity with beautiful people singing beautiful songs with beautiful voices 24/7. Perfect nonsense fills the airwaves to feed the sick romance of lifestyle consumerism. And yet a show like mine found its way through the cracks for a while. What it so obviously lacked in ‘professionalism’ it made up for in ‘novelty’. I tried, as the rastas say, to ‘keep it real’ and forbad any political cynicism for three hours a week. So, I hear you ask, what could possibly go wrong and why is this great gift to radio no longer broadcasting?

The cost of running even a modest local radio station, even staffed with volunteers like me is prohibitive, and without advertising revenue it became impossible for the individuals involved to continue financing it themselves. Licences for FM, DAB and online broadcasting are astronomical and serve the dual purpose of financing the treasury and keeping those without money off the airwaves. Just for a while there, I was able to indulge two of my great passions in life, reggae music and socialism. The Devil doesn’t have all the best tunes and I’m sure conscious reggae roots will once again provoke revolutionary vibes on local radio somewhere. I’m just relieved my comrades didn’t hear me utter the phrase ‘Jah Rastafari’ at the conclusion of one of my more emotionally intense broadcasts – love is a funny thing.