Putting a price on our musical heritage

JaMM-Grounation-2016

On  Sunday February 21, everybody in the lecture hall at the Institute of Jamaica was on a high, I’m sure. And there was not a spliff in sight. It was the third in the Reggae /  Black History Month ‘Grounation’ series on Don Drummond, hosted by The Jamaica Music Museum. The final session was on February 28, ‘Don Cosmic: Mad With the Madness of a Great Maestro’, featuring Dr Earl McKenzie, Dr Clinton Hutton and Prof Fred Hickling.

Grounation is a word coined by Rastafari to describe a ritual of reasoning. Philosophical conversation, music and dance are all essential elements of the Grounation. And, of course, the holy herb! It’s a gathering that is grounded in African traditions celebrating word, sound and power.

Four brilliant trombonists spoke about Don Drummond’s music and performed their interpretations of his work: Steve Turre of Saturday Night Live fame; jazz master Delfeayo Marsalis; youthful Andre Murchison, the current trombonist with the Skatalites; and our own Romeo Gray.

It was sublime. Or as the young people say, awesome! These days, the word ‘awesome’ has been watered down. In the 16th century, it meant “profoundly reverential”. Now, it’s American slang for just about anything, no matter how ordinary.

That Grounation was truly awesome. It felt like church. You know that moment of transcendence when you forget about everyday reality and enter an elevated space of pure spirituality. So I’m getting carried away. That is exactly what it felt like. Possessed by the spirit!

img_3350I overheard one of my breathless friends telling Herbie Miller, director-curator of the museum, that he didn’t need to do anything else after that programme. I knew what she meant. It’s the kind of thing you say when you’re high. But I couldn’t agree with her at all. There is so much more that needs to be done to make the Jamaica Museum Music what it ought to be.

HIGH-PROFILE SETTING FOR REGGAE

Next year, a major exhibition on Jamaican music will open in Paris. It’s called ‘Jamaica, Jamaica! Innovations and Inventions of Reggae Music’. The exhibition venue is the brand-new Paris Philharmonic, which opened in January 2015. The first concert was a performance of Gabriel Faure’s Requiem by the Paris Orchestra, in honour of the victims of the Charlie Hebdo massacre.

The 2,400-seat concert hall is part of a magnificent cultural complex known as the City of Music. It includes the Music Museum, which houses a collection of about 4,400 musical instruments, some dating from the 16th century. And there’s a temporary exhibition space. This is the high-profile setting for ‘Jamaica, Jamaica!’

12631467_10153828301264098_7768649976598216411_nThe curator is the visionary Sebastien Carayol, a French journalist and documentary director. This is how he describes the project:  “Before anything, this exhibition is a musical exhibition – where the Jamaican music’s journey is used as a starting point and an Ariane’s thread of sorts to broach on the political, social, economic, religious and philosophical history of the island.

“Few other musical genres have generated so many of their own different, on many levels: Jamaica has been at the avant-garde in music (the offbeat rhythm), graphic and visual arts, as well as fashion. Hence the deliberate call in the exhibition to a vast array of non-photographic visuals, memorabilia, illustrations, paintings – all the way to conceptual artworks inspired indirectly by this culture.”

Ariane’s thread is a reference to Greek mythology. Ariane is the French spelling of the name of the Greek princess Ariadne. She fell in love with Theseus and gave him a ball of string to guide him out of the maze in which he was trapped. So, for Carayol, reggae music is the thread that connects all the elements of Jamaica’s complex culture.

WE JUST SALT

Carayol has been collecting artefacts for the exhibition from all over the world. Not surprisingly, Jamaica’s musical heritage is scattered across the globe. We just didn’t take the music seriously so we no longer own our heritage. And we certainly don’t have the money to buy it all back. Now that others have recognised its value, we just salt.

 

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Mural outside Jamaica Music Museum

What is even worse is this. Suppose we were to ask Sebastien Carayol to bring his exhibition to Kingston after Paris and he agreed. Where would we put it? So we don’t have a Philharmonie de Paris. That building cost approximately €386 million! But we certainly couldn’t take the exhibition to our makeshift museum space on Water Lane.

We need a state-of-the-art music museum in downtown Kingston that’s worthy of our UNESCO designation as a Creative City of Music. I suppose we could go and beg the Chinese for the building. But what would we give them in exchange? Cockpit Country? Dunn’s River Falls? The Goat Islands? All of the above?

We must remember the warning of Marcus Garvey: “The Negro who lives on the patronage of philanthropists is the most dangerous member of our society, because he is willing to turn back the clock of progress when his benefactors ask him so to do.”

We can’t depend on philanthropists for our music museum. We have to start building for ourselves. It’s a daunting task. But we can’t fold our hands and wait. We have a new Government that has promised to take us from poverty to prosperity. If only it was as easy as a campaign slogan!

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