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King Alpha’s Song in a Strange Land: Jamaican Migrant and Canadian Host in Toronto’s Transnational Reggae Music Scene, 1973-1990

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Title: King Alpha’s Song in a Strange Land: Jamaican Migrant and Canadian Host in Toronto’s Transnational Reggae Music Scene, 1973-1990
Author: Wilson, John Jason Collins
Department: Department of History
Program: History
Advisor: Wilson, Catharine
Abstract: Reggae music facilitated a cultural dialogue between Jamaican migrant and Canadian host in Toronto during the 1970s and 1980s. Exchanges flowed across the city’s ethnic frontier, bridging black and white youth together in an ‘oppositional’ and musical movement. While migrants enacted their Jamaican ethnicity in places where reggae was played, many non-Jamaicans satisfied a curiosity in the music of their migrant friends. This study examines the process of migration of people and music as seen from both the migrant and the host’s perspective. It is as much about black Jamaicans as it is about white Torontonians. Twenty Jamaicans and twenty non-Jamaicans were interviewed for this project. Though reggae became an expected part of Toronto’s musical vernacular, the Canadian version meant different things to different people. Indeed, sometimes the only thread that tied the varied experiences together was that Toronto was the place where reggae happened. Still, as a hybrid, reggae had rather evolved outside of place. It was a transnational musical form, constantly updated by influences traversing the ‘Black Atlantic’ in an on-going and triangular musical conversation. While Jamaican migrants carried their music with them wherever they went, radio and sound systems broadcast British and North American musics back to Jamaica, informing new musics being created there. Simultaneously, Jamaican music was reimagined by West Indian immigrants, their children and even non-Jamaicans living in Britain’s urban centres and, later on, in Toronto. Yet, as popular as it may have been, Reggae Canadiana never reached the heights it might have and was not nearly as successful as its British counterpart. Nevertheless, the majority of migrants in this study believe that an association with reggae music gave them a psychological advantage in their own acculturation process. Reggae music also served as a bridge between migrant and host, without which, many non-Jamaicans believe that they would have had little or no contact with the Jamaican-Canadian community in Toronto. The impact of this contact transcended a shared affection for music and engendered a vital multicultural dialogue that is somewhat removed from Canada’s official governmental version of multiculturalism.
Date: 2013-05
Rights: Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 Canada
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Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 Canada Except where otherwise noted, this item's license is described as Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 Canada