Words by Jason “J-Rockaz” Orford
A little more than a month ago, I caught a stageshow in my home town of East Flatbush, Brooklyn held at Nazareth High School (Go Kingsmen!) and organized by CPR (The Coalition to Preserve Reggae Music)–a nonprofit that works to preserve the artform and its traditional message of healing and unity. The star of the night was the Legendary Jamaican Deejay Big Youth a.k.a. Jah Youth. I shook hands with the veteran artist and met his son, who is gearing up for his own musical career. In the 1978/79 cult classic film Rockers, which prophetically showcased Rastafarian culture and its musical ambassadors–including the late Gregory Isaacs–Youth has a cameo where, smiling with his golden grill and slapping a soulful five, he delivers these words of encouragement to the protagonist, (Leroy ‘Horsemouth’ Wallace, another legendary talent), “Blow the Big Guy’s mind!” A brief moment, the shot nevertheless conveys the spirit of upliftment–familiarly known as a big up or a bless up–that is at the heart of the film and the movement. (Read more and watch the trailer after the jump).
Almost as cool as linking up with one of the original Rockers that night was hearing some profound words from the late singer Sugar Minott as he spoke from his heart about how his faith in Jah Rastafari kept him on a righteous path. His words were shared in the trailer for Holding Onto Jah–the new documentary that was previewed during intermission and well-received by a sincere audience of Rastas and reggae music lovers including a couple of my new-found friends from Australia (I mention them partly because at age 15 I spent two months down under, seeing more of the continent than most Aussies do and learning early on that reggae music is appreciated worldwide).
Back to the film! Holding Onto Jah is a collaboration between director and cinematographer Roger Landon Hall and Harrison Todd Stafford–lead vocalist and creative force behind the fusion reggae group Groundation. Based on his personal research and travels to Jamaica and Africa, Stafford also developed a college course titled “The History of Reggae Music,” which he taught at Sonoma State University from 1999-2001. The film, not surprisingly, is about the genesis of the Rastafarian movement, its close relationship to the history of Jamaica and the music that continues to contain and sustain the messages and spirit of the culture/religion–in turn providing respite from the everyday troubles that are woven into the fabric of ghetto life on the island. On surface the film seems to be in the vein of another reggae music documentary. Instead, in a candid fashion the viewer is informed about the details of the Rastafarian movement, from the early pan-African ideology and initiatives of Marcus Garvey, to the mysterious 225th Emperor of Ethiopia, His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie I, eventually arriving at the origination of spiritual roots reggae music. I connected these dots years ago while on my spiritual journey and it’s really awesome to know that there is a film that will serve as a central point of reference for others to learn from.
Completed in 2009, the film is already making inroads on the international circuit, further demonstrating the appetite for this particular island culture; thus far it has shown in Jamaica, Australia, Finland, The Netherlands and Israel. I won’t try to sum up the film here but imagine for a second that reggae music and it’s parent culture could literally feed every hungry belly on earth and you’ll get some idea of the power inherent in its subject. For believers and nonbelievers alike, this film offers food for thought, at least. Keep checking LARGE UP, we’ll be one of the first here at to drop you a memo when the film hits a theater near you!