Next weekend will mark 57 years since the heinous Coral Gardens incident, and for members of the Rastafarian community, including singer Keznamdi, it should never be forgotten.
For this reason, Keznamdi is readying to release a film about the massacre, which he spearheaded months ago, to accompany his single Justice.
“Mi grow up in the time when Rasta was considered the filth of society.”— Keznamdi
“It’s a very powerful film about the Coral Gardens incident; there’s not a lot of history and written stuff about it or that time in Jamaica,” he told BUZZ. “In fact, most Jamaicans probably don’t even know about it. I think people and the world need to see it.”
Also referred to as Bad Friday, the Coral Gardens incident began on Holy Thursday in 1963 in the St James community, where three Rastafarians, three civilians and two policemen died. Among the Rastafarians was Rudolph Franklin, the frontman for a Rasta group that had set the Ken Douglas Shell service station ablaze.
Prejudice against Rastafarians was prevalent preceding the incident, and Franklin was shot six times by police in 1962 after being confronted about illegal farming. He was given a six-month sentence for ganja possession and returned to Coral Gardens after his release.
Following the bloody battle at the gas station, then prime minister, Sir Alexander Bustamante, went to St James with the commissioner of police and head of the Jamaica Defence Force. It is reported that more than 150 Rastafarians were arrested as ordered by Bustamante. Some of them were never seen again.
“When I show certain people even internationally, dem cya believe that these kind of things did actually happen in Jamaica where dem love Rasta so much,” said Keznamdi. “Bustamante did really bring in all of the Rastas in prison for no reason and trim off dem locks and all those things. I can’t wait fi drop this one. The time is now for more people to learn about it.”
Personal experience with prejudice
The inspiration for the film extends beyond that Holy Thursday years ago. Keznamdi revealed that he, too, has faced discrimination for being a Rasta.
“Mi born Rasta, mi grow up in the time when Rasta was considered the filth of society. It’s not like Rasta today where it’s a commercial thing, and it’s a cool thing to be Rasta,” he said.
“I remember when I was supposed to start first form at Wolmer’s and Wolmer’s never mek mi go school for a week or two cause dem want me cut mi hair and conform to dem ting. My mother had to go down Ministry of Education and plead to them cause this is our religion, and a learn we want fi learn.”
The time is now
The discrimination continued outside of school.
“Kids weren’t really allowed to come to our house because ‘yuh fada a bun ganja up deh’. Me couldn’t go over other kids’ homes too because of those things,” Keznamdi said. “The reason why Jamaica is so special is because of the culture which is Rasta, ganja and reggae. It’s not the jerked chicken or beaches, and I just feel the government could have done a better job at handling the whole thing. Even with the legalisation of marijuana, a nuff trauma dem put Rastas through because of marijuana, and we’ve captured all these stories in the film.”
Keznamdi added that he initially wanted to stage a viewing event but will have to make adjustments to his plans due to the quarantine measures in place to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus.
“I can’t let because of corona[virus] that we stop certain projects. The time is now for a lot of these things. People can expect this film anytime soon,” he said.