As we are about to enter the month of February which is not only celebrated as Black History Month but also as Reggae Month, there is the usual heightened awareness of culture here in Jamaica. The month is packed with cultural activities commemorating the respective themes. Discussions surrounding Marcus Garvey often focus on his political involvement, however he also contributed significantly to the cultural development of Jamaica.

Garvey and the Universal Improvement Negro Association (U.N.I.A) were very significant to cultural development in Jamaica because Black people were not given the opportunity to perform in the mainstream artistic community before Garvey came along. So, Garvey was a forerunner, in this regard, as he used his movement to not only train Black people as artistes, but to give them a sense of purpose and direction.

Garvey supported or launched the careers of several performers or artistes. These persons included:

  • Ranny Williams – Dancer, actor, composer and singer
  • Ernest Cupidon – Comedian and impersonator
  • Miss Myrtle Bennett – Soprano

Garvey, himself, was quite talented.  He wrote seven plays and directed several more. He wrote poetry; most of which were written while he was in prison in the U.S.  He wrote songs; the most popular being Keep Cool which he also wrote while in prison in the U.S. Garvey was also an exceptional orator.  

Long after his death in 1940, Garvey continues to influence the Arts. Artists use him as inspiration for art and craft pieces, likewise poets for their poetry. Musicians such as Peter Tosh, Burning Spear and Fred Locks, among others, compose lyrics about him or use his philosophies in their songs. One of the most popular musicians who was influenced by Garvey was Bob Marley. Many of his songs included Garvey’s views on Africa, unity and the upliftment of Black people. Songs like Africa Unite and Redemption Song with the popular lyrics, “Emancipate yourself from mental slavery. None but ourselves can free our minds.”

Finally, Garvey influenced the Rastafari Movement. The movement was founded on Garvey’s philosophy and opinions of a united Black race and repatriation to Africa. This was probably because the founders of Rastafari were Garveyites, Leonard Howell, Joseph Hibbert, Archibald Dunkley and Robert Hinds. Rastas revere Garvey as a prophet and the movement has become one of the most iconic representations of Jamaica’s culture, boasting worldwide recognition and influence.  

Marcus Garvey was a cultured man who had great ideas to empower Black people and build their character, and, he used the Arts extensively to help achieve this.


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