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Interview: Edward Seaga

Interview: Edward Seaga

Interview: Edward Seaga

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"I'm partial to beautiful melodies, so I've to say my favorites are She's Royal by Tarrus Riley and Jimmy Cliff's The Harder They Come"


Edward Seaga

Former Jamaican Prime Minister Edward Seaga knows music and politics

Former Jamaican Prime Minister Edward Seaga (JLP) started his career as a record company owner and producer, but soon turned to politics. Now he’s back where it all started, and he has compiled the historical and genre-comprehensive box set 'Reggae Golden Jubilee – Origins of Jamaican Music'. United Reggae got a chat with a man that has been a public servant in Jamaica for most of his adult life.

In Jamaica music and politics have ever since the island’s independence in 1962 been tightly intertwined with artists publically taking stand as advocates for either Jamaican Labour Party (JLP) or People’s National Party (PNP). This has been manifested through song lyrics and concerts over the years, and has sometimes lead to violence against artists.

One of the most well-recognized such being the murder attempt against Bob Marley in late 1976 when political thugs came to his home on Hope Road in Kingston.

A major pioneering force

Edward Seaga – a significant and somewhat controversial figure in Jamaican politics – served as Prime Minister between 1980 and 1989 and was also leader of the conservative JLP for more than 30 years. He should know a thing or two about music and politics, since he was also a major pioneering force in shaping the Jamaican music business and the promotion of ska.

Edward Seaga – pronounced see-ah-gah – was born in the U.S. 82 years ago to Jamaican parents, but moved to Jamaica only three months old. In the mid 50’s he took interest in Jamaican music after he had supervised a recording of an album with ethnic Jamaican music.

After a few years he set up his own label West Indies Records Limited (WIRL) releasing early recordings from artists such as Byron Lee & The Dragonaires and Higgs & Wilson, a duo that scored a hit song with Manny Oh for him in 1959.

When he became a Member of the Parliament in 1962 he sold the company to Byron Lee and ventured into politics full-time.

Campaign music

Over the years he has managed to create several institutions and he has also carried out many social reforms. And during his time in politics he used music on several occasions, especially in political campaigns.

“We used locally composed songs and had lots of tunes to use,” says Edward Seaga over the phone from his home in Kingston, Jamaica, and continues:

“We used all kinds of music, and it depended on the period. Rastafari, Jamaican standards, Jamaican popular music, rock steady. Meaningful tunes, tunes that represented the times and were powerful.”

In the 1980 elections he succeeded Michael Manley (PNP) as Prime Minister after years of economic decline.

“The 1980’s was a time of recovery and Jamaica went through a lot of hardship. We had to spend more and use a new and different plan for development. It was about modernization and democracy,” explains Edward Seaga.

Reflects Jamaican society

Edward SeagaOn the four disc compilation 'Reggae Golden Jubilee – Origins of Jamaican Music' Edward Seaga has together with VP Records put together some of the most significant songs to emerge from Jamaica in order to celebrate the island’s half-century turn of independence from British rule. Several of these tracks also serve as reflections on the Jamaican society of the time when they were released.

Edward Seaga explains that Lord Creator’s classic Independent Jamaica was loved at the time of its release in 1962, and that Alton Ellis’ rock steady hit Rock Steady was an early piece of slow and beautiful music. He also reveals the story behind the birth of rock steady.

“A singer [Hopeton Lewis] recorded a track called Take it Easy, but the riddim was too fast for him, so he asked the musicians to slow it down, and they did, and it was rock steady,” he discloses.

According to Edward Seaga Culture’s apocalyptical smash hit Two Sevens Clash was released at time of anxiety in Jamaica and that it became very popular in the Rastafarians communities.

In the 80’s when he had taken chair in Jamaica a new sub genre emerged on the island – digital dancehall. And the earliest track was Wayne Smith’s game-changer Under Me Sleng Teng.

“It was about technology and technical equipment. It was a new way of producing and it became very popular, and the producers were able to come up with a number of new riddims,” says Edward Seaga, and continues to give his view on Damian Marley’s Welcome to Jamrock released 20 years later:

“It’s versatile and tells of the condition of the country. About the economy and about the violence. It’s a true reflection of what was taking place.”

Music versus politics

Edward Seaga seems certain that reggae is no fad and that it will not fade away.

“It’s such versatile music. Both reggae and dancehall, but dancehall is under some pressure now and it’s a return to the reggae riddim,” he explains, and discloses some of his personal favorites on the 100 track compilation:

“I’m partial to beautiful melodies, so I’ve to say She’s Royal by Tarrus Riley and Jimmy Cliff’s The Harder They Come.”

Even though Edward Seaga is back in the business where he started his career, he doesn’t regret his choice turning to politics. And if he had to chose music or politics the answer comes quick.

“I’ve to chose politics. It’s a catalyst for the entire country and the music is just a part of that.”

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