Reggae for the homeless

Real life aid not Live Aid

Big-budget benefit concerts are often quaint: thousands of relatively wealthy white fans gather to sing along with ridiculously rich white musicians in order to raise millions of dollars for some obscure but well-marketed social issue in the “developing world.” Chumbawamba put it nicely in their song “How to Get Your Band on Television” in which they criticized Live Aid by singing: “Paul McCartney — come on down / with crocodile tears to irrigate this ground / Make of Ethiopia a fertile paradise / Where everyone sings Beatles songs and buys shares in EMI.”

Thankfully Iwango Jahfire a longtime staple in Calgary’s reggae scene is poised to remind the city of what a real benefit concert looks like raising funds for the Mustard Seed (voted best local not-for-profit this year) at the fourth annual Reggae for the Homeless. Of course the show probably won’t be broadcast to 150 countries and viewed by some two billion viewers but the organizer of the event and lead singer of headliner Strugglah knows full well what oppression looks feels and sounds like giving the event a bit more legitimacy than those headlined by Bono Madonna and Elvis Costello.

Jahfire was born and raised in Nevis a small island in the Caribbean where colonialism and slavery left gaping wounds in the history culture and land. He grew up knowing that his ancestors were stolen out of Africa and scattered throughout the Caribbean and he was forced to live with the political and economic consequences until he moved to Canada in 1991. But as Jahfire points out it was the suffocatingly oppressive conditions in Kingston Jamaica that gave birth to reggae just as hip-hop grew out of the economically impoverished Bronx shortly after.

“Reggae came from a high level of poverty and frustration and very little opportunity yet so much ambition” explains Jahfire exhibiting an encyclopedic knowledge of the genre’s history. “The music would play that humanizing role in many dehumanizing situations. The music itself was a comfort to the people before it became a big entertainment thing. We as Rastafarians always acknowledge the entertainment side of reggae but we more see the music as a tool to build and a vehicle to transport a positive message for humanity. That’s why we chose to do this little event called Reggae for the Homeless. It’s something humanitarian where we can give back to our Calgary community.”

Jahfire appears to live in a perpetual state of gratitude to the artists and bands that have come before him seeing his role as simply “keeping that reggae fire burning.” In fact Jahfire’s so emphatic that all of his musical forefathers are given a shout-out that he mentions them one-by-one — Bunny Wailer Peter Tosh Burning Spear Jacob Miller Culture/Joseph Hill Dennis Brown Bob Marley — and calls back later to add Joe Higgs and Jimmy Cliff to the list. This is a man who humbly knows his place in history. That knowledge combined with his faith has led him to advocate for the oppressed just as the lyrics of reggae have historically done.

“No man is an island” he reflects. “No man stands alone. Every man is a brother every man is a friend. That’s what we’re going to express down at The Blues Can. You may not know me and I may not know you but you’re not alone. Even though you’re homeless you’re special.”

Even though Jahfire has no ambition to turn Reggae for the Homeless into another Live 8 or Live Earth or Live Aid (or some other combination of Live) he does dream of it one day being hosted at the MacEwan Ballroom. “That’s my cause man” he concludes. “It’s not for fame it’s not for popularity it’s just for me considering my life and how I’ve been blessed by the universe.”