Published:Sunday | October 15, 2017 | 12:00 AM Mel Cooke
There are some numbers that stand out about Argentina, one of the perennial football World Cup contenders for many a Jamaican (in addition to that other South American nations). It is home to Ushuaia which, at over 54 degrees south, is widely regarded though not undisputed as the southernmost city in the world. They have won the World Cup twice, 1978 and 1986, and were beaten in the finals in 1930, 1990 and 2014). Their star , Lionel Messi, has been FIFA's World Player of the Year five times.
The website worldpopulationreview.com, puts its 2017 population at 44,290,033, and Argentina's Ambassador to Jamaica, Ariel Fernandez, adds another telling number.
There are over 300 bands playing Jamaican popular music in Argentina.
With a different professional music support system from Jamaica, Fernandez said "not many of them can record. They will organise performances in places like bars. But several bands have managed to record". He has a personal connection, as a family member is in one of those bands. When members of The Wailers came to the embassy, he played a song by the band for them.
Laughing, Fernandez said "They said it was good, but it was not reggae. It was rocksteady."
There is no ambiguity about the Jamaican performers at the first staging of the International Reggae Festival on September 2, 2017, in Argentina's capital; Buenos Aires. Julian Marley and Michael Rose (now spelt Mykal Roze) with Sly and Robbie, recreating the original Black Uhuru sound, were the headlining Jamaicans. They performed alongside Godwana, KLUB, Blackdali, Lively Songs, and DJ Nelson. Argentinian press put the turnout at about 60,000 persons.
Fernandez sees Argentina's intense interest in Jamaican popular music as an economic opportunity that is not being fully utilised. Naming a number of other Jamaican performers who have made the trip there - such as Toots and the Maytals, Israel Vibration, The Skatalites and Alborosie (who is from Italy but has established strong Jamaican roots) Fernandez said "Argentina is very open to foreign culture". There are also prospects, Fernandez saying, Bunny Wailer "is very much interested in travelling there".
The connection has started in Jamaica, as the ambassador said he invited Wailer to be part of Argentina's National Day, which also involved Queen Ifrica.
"I told him about the passion Argentinians have for Jamaican music," Fernandez said. Ifrica was a part of this year's Kingston observation of Argentina's May Revolution in 1810. The Gleaner also reporting that Tony Rebel performed, If Jah Is Standing by My Side, in Spanish and English.
Appreciation and connection
The appreciation and connections go back to a commonality across the Atlantic Ocean, Ambassador Fernandez saying, "there are connections between the countries and they come from Africa. It is unbelievable the number of Africans in Argentina."
Acknowledging the presence and power of the Jamaican music offshoot reggaeton in Argentina, Fernandez also spoke about the bands that fuse Jamaican music with home-grown beats. A classic example is the band, Los Fabulosos Cadillacs.
"Some years ago they were playing in Mexico, and attendance was 100,000 people," Fernandez said. "There are many others," he added.
Language is not a barrier to Jamaican performers connecting with Argentine audiences, with most persons understanding English and fans enthused about comprehending Jamaica's nation language. Along with interest in Jamaican music comes interest in the fashion and food, among other aspects of Jamaican culture.
That leads to some Argentinians travelling to Jamaica, not far from where their famous countryman, Ernesto 'Che' Guevara, fought in the successful Cuban Revolution.
"Some of them have been here. I have not met them, but they come," Fernandez said.
He is determined that the exchange will not only continue, but increase.
"We are talking about clothing, food, the culture industries. There could be cultural connections," Fernandez told The Sunday Gleaner. "For the future, that could be a good business for intellectual-property rights."
However, he is concerned that not enough people understand the importance and impact of Jamaican popular music in Argentina, in order to capitalise on the opportunities.
"It must be known," Ambassador Fernandez said.