Reggae Ambassadors Worldwide (RAW)
Reggae Ambassadors Worldwide (RAW) was officially started on 11 December 1992 by Papa Pilgrim. The name of the organisation was inspired by a Third World song called "Reggae Ambassador" and Papa Pilgrim called this the "divine inspiration" from which the organisation was named although the inspiration for the creation of the organisation came from the Emperor Haile Selassie I. Papa Pilgrim had nursed his idea of having a network of reggae enthusiasts all over the world until receiving vocal encouragement from Roger Lewis of Inner Circle during the course of "many conversations" explains Tom "Jah Son" Pearson, the organisation's executive director.
In 1992, alongside Rastaman Nane, who at the time was a promoter and DJ in Michigan, Papa Pilgrim founded the organisation in order to increase public awareness of Reggae music and "to create more and better opportunities for those who make Reggae music possible" including the artists, managers, promoters and fans. Rastaman Nane is not a fan of cyberspace and so is not very visual or vocal within the organisation. To this end Tom Pearson came on board to become Papa Pilgrim's successor and help push forward the vision for RAW "to be the primary reference for the Reggae industry."
The ability to run the organisation is helped along in terms of funding by memberships dues and donations. All work is created and completed by a "dedicated group of volunteer members," says Tom Pearson, and the organisation gained it's non-profit status in 1999. In order to keep the organisation going, Tom adds, "we are currently organising a team of RAW members to investigate and pursue grants and sponsorship opportunities."
Along with being a central reference point for their members and other Reggae music enthusiasts, RAW also recently released a compilation CD entitled 'RAW 2000.' This was the second in the line of compilation CDs that the organisation has released with the first being 'RAW Vol. 1' released in the organisation's early years in 1993 on Tronic 1 Records. They have hopes that the CD will become an annual venture depending on whether a member from the record label category can come forward and make a proposal for a RAW 2001 CD. The success of RAW 2000 has not yet been fully quantified in terms of sales due to it's recent release and the fact that the organisation do not advertise their recordings nor are they "a money thing." Tom says, "we rely pretty much on word or mouth and email to get the news out." Currently, the CD is getting heavy rotational play on radio stations all over the world including the USA, Europe and Africa.
The organisation also hold annual conferences which commenced from 1992. They have held a conference every year apart from 1998 in various USA locations. Coordination of these conferences can take from 9 to 12 months and they usually stem from member's submitting a proposal for a conference to the Raw board of directors. Due to the length of time it takes to organise a conference as they include the conference and an artist showcase, RAW are thinking of hosting them every two years commencing from 2001.
The conference for 1999 had a dedicated website (http://www.RAW99.com) and due to it's popularity, the site will remain up for a year. Tom hopes there will be another one created for the next conference, but say that is down to the organisers themselves who are Raw members.
So, how did Papa Pilgrim, originally from Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania, USA, get into the whole Reggae music thing? Well, after he chose the name Papa Pilgrim of which he states he only uses his "slave name to deal with Babylon," Papa discovered his love for Reggae "through divine inspiration." He has no favourite sound system or artist and has no specific Reggae song which inspires him. He does not attend any Reggae events on a regular basis and prefers to keep his views on the Reggae industry to himself apart from the one comment on the anti-gay stance of the Reggae music industry he feels is "totally out of sync with the concept of one love."
Tom Pearson on the other hand, grew up in Detroit Michigan and received the nickname Jah Son from one of his Nazerite listeners of his radio show. His listener felt he "needed a Reggae name" for his show and as Tom's last name is Pearson, his listener named him Jah Son. Tom left Michigan as soon as he had finished university and "as an international educator" moved around all over the world living in areas such as the west Indies, East Africa and South America before settling in Guam in 1994. He found his love for Reggae music whilst teaching on the island of St. Vincent during 1976 to 1978. He describes Reggae as "upful music with a positive message that won't let you stand still." He listens to everyone, but is "very partial to roots music" with one of his favourite songs being Tony Rebel's "If Jah Is By My Side." He regularly attends Sunsplash in Jamaica along with Sumfest approximately every 5 years and aims to be there for 2002. His views on the Reggae industry as a whole are captured in the saying "United We Stand, Divided We Fall" and he believes that although anti-gay sentiments are prevalent in Dancehall Reggae music, that we should "judge not."
One of the most important factors of becoming a member of RAW is having 'a desire to help spread the message of Reggae music and the associated lifestyle." Tom explains this lifestyle as being one where you "Live clean and let your works be seen. Judge not. Teach the children the truth." The organisation just recently added their 1453rd member (as of 31/01/2000). They aim to continue the organisation's growth by 'working hard' and letting their works be seen. The immediate future sees the organisation expanding the capabilities and possibilities offered by their website to "provide RAW members greater exposure to the Reggae massive." Tom would also like to see more RAW compilation CDs released and a tour of RAW artists. Tom's ideas do not end there as he states 'personally, I would like to do more for our brothers in Africa who are working hard to forward Reggae music with extremely limited means'.
Tom managed to fulfill his personal goal last year when he coordinated an Africa Care Project whereby "RAW members all over the world donated music in all forms (vinyl, cassettes, CDs), reading materials (magazines and books), Rasta-related merchandise (posters, bumper stickers, buttons, jewelry), etc." These items were sent to various RAW members in African countries such as Zimbabwe, Nigeria and South Africa. He would like RAW to continue helping others who have limited means and hopes the next Africa Care Project will be as successful as the last.
As an organisation, RAW is trying to make Reggae music heard all over the world and with their members' support, they are well on their way to achieving this. They have members all over the world in 49 countries with the bulk being resident in the USA and encourage them to "support Reggae" in their local communities. However, Papa Pilgrim has the last word for all the members, "forward the Reggae Vibe everytime!"
The Dainty Crew would like to thank Nancy Lewis of Entertainment Works (RAW #72) for assisting with this interview. She is also part of the RAW board of directors as the PR & Media Coordinator.
Check out RAW at the following sites: