Raised in the ghettos of Kingstown, Jamaican before the name Bob Marley was a blip on the global radar, Jarrett has been ripped off by the music industry, screwed over by fellow artists, and seen all his possessions burn down in a fire.
Yet, 40 years into his career, he is still performing live music with a fiery passion and conviction that few can equal. He even has a new album,Bushwacker Gangbangers.
Brought up by the late, legendary reggae pioneerAlton Ellis, music became his only home and family while living in an area of Kingstown, Trenchtown, notorious for its violence and slums.
“My mother and father both died when I was young,” Jarrett says in his thick Jamaican accent. “I didn’t have a mother and a father and I had very little education. Music raised me.”
For Jarrett, the current climate of reggae music is a sorry state of affairs compared to his generation.
“The old school is the best,” states Jarrett. “These new singers, we need to pray they learn from the old school. In my time, it was hard to learn. Musicians beat me to learn. You had to listen to their teachings. You couldn’t find it on a computer. You had to listen.”
Jarrett feels this ideal is lost with today’s youth.
“Today’s music doesn’t pay enough respect to the forefathers of reggae music. They don’t want to put their foot on our road and walk our path. They do too much talking and not enough acting. Today’s music needs more social consciousness to inspire the music. It needs to tell stories that unite people not break them apart.”
In Jarrett’s view, life is simple. “Respect all that you see and all that you don’t see,” he says. “Listen to the people who came before you and pay them respect.”
“If we [reggae's pioneers] build a house, we shouldn’t break it down. You must make it last. But today, everything is breaking down. Some people want to mash it down because they have no knowledge and respect for the originals.”
For this, Jarrett offers a simple suggestion. “We need more authentic Jamaican music today, made by Jamaican musicians in Jamaica,” he says. “I represent the music of Jamaica and that’s what means the most to me. It has to come from the heart.”
While this may seem like the rantings of an old curmudgeon unwilling to accept change, reggae, arguably more than any other genre of music outside of hip-hop, has deep and specific cultural roots. With the music’s expanding popularity and undeniable accessibility, some of the founding ideals of reggae music are getting lost in a frenzy of narcissism and profiteering.
“Today’s artists are all about this,” he says pointing to his teeth in reference to the gold-plated grills that inhabit the mouths of many of today’s artists. “And this,” he says, waving about his modest necklace. “It’s not about you, it’s about making the best music with the best message.”
Jarrett is careful to note, however, that the trends he sees are not universal. “It’s not everyone. There are some good ones out there. I’m just seeing it [the lack of respect and knowledge of the roots] more and more.”
Although Jarrett couldn’t come up with any specific names for either case, at the Northwest Reggae Festival, new artists such as Queen Makedah, Dezarie and Madgesdiq brought a strong social message to their music, proving that the rebellious, socially conscious roots of reggae music are still heeded to this day.