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UNESCO Designates Reggae As 'Intangible Cultural Heritage'


Earlier today, UNESCO - that's the United Nations Cultural Organization - designated reggae music as an intangible cultural heritage.


BOB MARLEY: (Singing) One love...

DEREK SCOTT: This is a very historic day.

KELLY: That is Derek Scott. He's a spokesperson for the Jamaican Embassy here in D.C.

SCOTT: For us as a little country to have our music being recognized all over the world and now recognized by UNESCO - this is just awesome.


Jamaica submitted a massive application to convince UNESCO that reggae is a cultural phenomenon worth protecting and honoring. Plus it can't hurt economically.

SCOTT: Yes, I think this will help with tourism. Come to Jamaica. Visit the places where reggae music originated.

CHANG: The idea of intangible cultural heritage was born out of UNESCO's long-running World Heritage site program which protects and preserves physical sites around the world.

DOYUN LEE: But they realized that there's also a huge array of tradition that will also - required a little bit of safeguarding as well, a bit of protection.

KELLY: Doyun Lee is a program specialist with UNESCO. We reached her in Mauritius, where representatives from around the world are still going through applications from other countries for help preserving their traditions. Many are in danger of disappearing - not necessarily the case for reggae.


ROGER STEFFENS: Reggae has reached so many corners of the world that local versions of reggae have taken over as the advance guard of reggae music.

CHANG: Roger Steffens is a preeminent reggae historian and author of multiple books about Bob Marley.

STEFFENS: It is the chosen rhythm of rebellion. Even if people don't understand the language, they know that this is rebel music, and they adapt their own local forms into a reggae style to make their own protest music.

CHANG: He says that even though it's ubiquitous, it does need preserving, at least the original root forms of reggae which haven't dominated the genre for a while.

STEFFENS: Reggae did stray from its roots in the '80s, so it is important for people to know where it came from, what it stood for and what it continues to stand for in the New World.

KELLY: So what does it stand for? Well, someone who knows a thing or two about reggae once told him.

STEFFENS: Bob Marley told me that reggae music was not just for jollification. And he tapped his forehead, and he said, it is for headucation. It is music that calls us to a higher overstanding of our lives and the purpose of our being here on this planet.


JIMMY CLIFF: (Singing) My share now what's mine, and then the harder they come, the harder they'll fall, one and all. Oh, the harder they come, harder they'll fall. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.