Feature Article

Edward Seaga, ‘The Political Maestro’

Profession: Former Prime Minister | Producer | Former Member of Parliament
Born: Boston, Massachusetts | May 28, 1930
Current Residence: Jamaica

Edward Seaga is one of the most influential and accomplished political figures in Jamaica. With his passion for music and tenacity for politics, he advocated for the poor, implemented social and financial programs, and above all orchestrated the framework of Jamaica’s Constitution. With his political positions he harmoniously became one of the most instrumental producers and entrepreneurs in Jamaica. Seaga set the stage for the explosion of reggae music in the 70’s while bringing the nation to independence. His political and musical contribution in Jamaica is recognized worldwide.

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Edward Seaga became a virtuoso in Jamaican politics and music. Seaga was born in Boston Massachusetts to Jamaican parents, Philip George Seaga and Erna. When Seaga was three months old his family returned to Jamaica. His education began at Wolmer’s School and finished in the United States at Harvard University. After graduating Harvard in 1952 with a BA in Social Science he began conducting research at the University of West Indies, sparking his life long interest in music. With his fascination of ethnic Jamaican music and the soulful sound it produced, Seaga rhapsodically began West India Records in the late 1950s. Seaga began producing sessions by Jamaican artists for commercial organizations; among his first singings was Joe Higgs and Roy Wilson, a dynamic Trench Town style duo.

The success of West India Records was profound, becoming the most prosperous record label in the West Indies and Jamaica. Even when the label released their first single in 1959, “Manny O,” they sold over 30,000 copies. Seaga became deeply involved in the music scene and recorded artists of the time including Byron Lee and the Dragonaries. He made sure his musicians were paid for their recordings as well as hit records. In poverty stricken Jamaica, a country experiencing the struggle to obtain independence, Seaga’s successful record company helped him stand out as an entrepreneur.

It was not until 1959 when Edward Seaga was nominated to serve in the Upper House of Jamaican Parliament by Jamaica Labour Party Founder, Sir Alexander Bustamante. At the age of 29 he was the youngest member ever appointed to Legislative Council—formally beginning his life long political career.

Edward Seaga became the key composer in the construction of Jamaica’s constitution, leading to the country’s independence in August 1962. His iron leadership style advocated for the poor and economic development of Jamaica. With his drive he became a Member of Parliament for Western Kingston in April of 1962. Seaga held his seat for the next 43 years until his retirement—becoming the longest severing Member of Parliament in the history of Jamaica.

In his Parliamentary seat, Seaga was immediately appointed as Minister of Development and Welfare from 1967-1972. It was in this position where he helped orchestrate the international exposure of Ska (a Jamaican musical genre) during The New York World’s Fair. Seaga saw The New York World’s Fair as a unique opportunity for Jamaican artists to showcase their work in Manhattan, bringing Ska to several of the city’s most notable night clubs. His pioneering work laid the foundation for the international emergence of Reggae and Ska. Seaga sold his record label following the festival. However, the festival exposure brought a huge boost in tourism, expanding Jamaica’s musical reach immensely. Additionally, he laid the foundation for the interest in Reggae in the United States—making it easier for artists like Bob Marley and Peter Tosh to find an audience in their neighboring country.

Despite Seaga’s new found absence in music production, he set up the Jamaica Festival Commission while he was the Minister of Development and Welfare. The festival became a showcase of Jamaican talent—enabling musicians, artists, as well as culinary prodigies to compete for various titles. The Festival was great exposure for artists and cradled the roots of traditional Jamaican folk culture.

During the mid-60s onward, Edward Seaga was confined to a career in politics. He established and promoted several prominent institutions that contributed to Jamaica’s modernization and development. As the Minister of Finance and Planning in 1967 and then in 1974 assuming the role of leader of Jamaica Labor Party, he focused on the nation’s financial sector, introducing: Jamaica Stock Exchange (1969); Jamaica Unit Trust (1970); Jamaica Mortgage Bank (1973); National Development bank (1981) and the Agricultural Credit Bank (1981). His financial institutions led to successful economic investment and growth. Additionally, he serenaded and promoted the modernization of commercial agriculture including the following: stimulating agricultural enterprises and technological advancements in new crops; implementing a program to plant 1 million trees; and putting unused/underused publicly owned land to work.

His work as the Minister of Finance and the Leader of Jamaican Labour Party set the stage for his elected position of Prime Minister of Jamaica on October 30, 1980. For nine years he promoted the modernization of Jamaica, severed relations with Cuba, promoted close ties with the United States, enhanced cultural development, and constructed free-market policies.

Edward Seaga left a remarkable impact on Jamaica. As a producer turned politician, he left a legacy of reforming and modernizing Jamaica while his musical contributions are featured in virtually every major music store worldwide. Today, at 85, Seaga focuses on his research, teaching, and writing after retiring as the leader of the Jamaican Labour Party in 2005. His role as a political and musical maestro makes him a powerful and influential ambassador of Jamaica.