Live Music Nation – What we have lost and hope to find again

Jamaica’s reverse conlonization of England in the middle of the last century had put a significant dent in the live music scene, which was further complicated by the digitization of the music and the proliferation of

Contributed - sounds from the big band still echoes in Jamaica's music today

Contributed - sounds from the big band still echoes in Jamaica

 dancehall where man and machine copulated to make often scintillating rhythms. Yet in the last several years there have been varying attempts to revive the live music scene as is the case with Griot Music’s Live Music Nation – which hopes to have live music in Jamaica (or more accurately Kingston) every night of the week. 

So it was that I ended up at the performance of Nina Karle backed by PON Fire at the Village Blues Bar (once the Village Cafe). Karle’s performance varied. She is energetic and has a strong melodious voice, and when she selects her song well, such as the piece on which she ended ‘Face Myself’ she is worth a listen. Unfortunately at other times she appeared as uninteresting as the grapefruit “thingy” that Village attempted to pass off as the Ting I had ordered.

And this performance was to be the subject of my post, alas the next morning – at a funeral – I encountered the best live music experience I had had in a long time. With the passing of Johnny ‘Dizzy’ Moore, friends, family and well-wishers gathered at the Ethiopian Orthodox Church to tell him to walk good, as he journeyed to the other side. Included amongst these friends were several horn musicians, bearing their trumpets, saxophones and trombones. The Alpa Boys Band, conducted by Sparrow Martin was also in attendance.

I had come expecting a solemn affair, as funerals tend to be, but this notion was quickly eroded upon entering the church and being greeted by the sounds of ska coming from the Alpha Boys Band. As the ceremony started, my own interest in the nature of the ceremony (having never been in an Ethiopian Orthodox church) soon pushed aside anything but curiosity and it became cleared that I was getting much more than I had bargained for. 

Yet, it was in the tributes that I was swept up in a wonderful experience that had music coming from around the room, as, directed by Sparrow Martin, the musicians stationed in different parts took up their solos. If you have seen the marriage scene of Love Actually – take that and multiply it by three or four and you may understand the impact.

Cedric Brooks, Lester Sterling, Tony Greene, Mickey Hanson and more contributed to this wonderful moment of music history. They were complemented by spoken tributes from Bunny Goodison, Dr. Clinton Hutton and Herbie Miller – whose eulogy should make it to a cultural studies journal.

Contributed Photo - Dizzy Moore's trumpet now blows on the other side of the crossroads

Contributed - Moore's trumpet now plays on the other side of the crossroads, but leaves a great refrain on this one.

The performances and spoken tributes highlight what Jamaica has lost with the disappearance of live music, the absence of a museum of Jamaican music, and the as yet insufficient chronicling of the lives and contributions of our musicians.

So it was that in moving from a performance which left me uninspired on one night, to a brilliant showcase of talent the next morning – I was reminded of what we have lost, and what, through initiatives like Live Music Nation we hope to find again. It cannot, however be found solely through performances, it must be chronicled, sometimes torn apart, sometimes revered. 

From folk, to mento, to ska, to rocksteady, to reggae and dancehall and whatever else may come, our music has been a tremendous part of our developing a sense of self. From the first use of the drum for revolution or revelry our music has been significant to who we have become as a people. The ability to respect that, to look beyond the glamour and the dirt and understand how our music reflects us, will greatly affect our ability to respect ourselves. And yes, it will also make us better able to find that ever elusive mulah, which we need for development. Never mind what they say about piracy, music is still big business – all areas of it.

Through what he has written about Moore since the last stages of Moore’s illness through to his death, Herbie Miller has helped to chronicle Moore’s life in way that needs to be done for so many others. We cannot blame our youth for going astray if we never showed them the path. They will cut and clear their own road (and sometimes they should) if we do not help them find where we have been. Our history is one of greatness, but it is also one of loss – in varying ways we have lost ourselves but we hope to find it again.

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Hurricane Gustav and and the Politics of Hot Air

house covered in sand

house covered in sand

 

 

So Earth tun pressure cooker
A mek hurricane like rice an’ peas
an we in Columbus West Indies
Quake in de breeze
of dese WMDs

Weather of Mass Destruction

Mel Cooke

Tropical Storm/Hurricane Gustav has left the island behind and while some of us have minimal damage and others have none, many Jamaicans, Haitians and Dominicans have been left picking up, hosing down and drying out the pieces of their lives. As the news chronicles the devastation it becomes clear that living “on the gully side” is not the romantic dream chronicled in dancehall as gully side denizens (even those on the uptown side) watched their lives wash down the famed gully bank.

And we wonder, faced with the continuously rising WMDs: why do so many Jamaicans continue to live on the gully side? Why do they perch precariously on pieces of mountainside? But where else would they live – and not get bulldosed from the land on which they squat? On the gullysides and hillsides (at least the undesirable ones) and in the river beds, you remain safe from development’s tractor that will brush you and your family aside turning out the contents of your life and dismantling the walls you called home – even on the eve of a storm. 

As chronicled in Mel Cooke’ poem as quoted above, the weather is clearly changing for the worse. Hurricanes have become more furious and more frequent. For the past several years it has been said at the start of each season that we are expecting more activity than normal, and nobody notices that this has therefore become normal. And so the cries of ‘we need help’ that echo from our poorest regions when storms blow, rise once more. The tales of desolation and vistas of destruction once again make the news and all the usual suspects from politicians to the toothless come out for their few minutes of fame, hopefully with a muddy raging river as the backdrop. 

 

two men sit amongst the desolation in Gordon Town, a rubble filled version of its former self

two men sit amongst the desolation in Gordon Town, a rubble filled version of its former self

And yet, the real gust behind these massive winds – the rising temperature of the world is left out of the picture, is hardly if ever mentioned in the story. We blame the destruction on the rain, blowing away any signs of our own culpability.  The streets remain bloated with SUVs though in the aftermath of Cashplus and Olint it seems that many have opted for the smaller models like the Vitara and the RAV4. 

Yet no initiative has been announced to encourage the use of hybrid vehicles – and of course if you have attempted to buy a bag of rice recently you know that bio-fuel and bio-fuel only as the solution is not a good plan. Certainly not when that biofuel is being generated from the same foods we eat, and certainly not if we intend to plant it on the arable lands we currently need for food.

Can we explore how a really legitimate and strong recycling policy can help to declog our gullies?  And before we start to lament that it is the people living on the edge of these gullies who clog them, maybe we should ask about the structure for getting rid of garbage, the methods to eradicate poverty at the level that still makes bagging a way of life. There is currently a plan afoot to turn waste into energy, a good plan if done right but likely to be hampered by the fact that the island has not yet quite figured out how to collect its garbage, and too many Jamaicans still do not see it as their personal responsibility.

So the hot air blows about the work that will be done to piece together the lives of those affected. Of course, they will be pieced in a manner similar to what they had before the gushing waters and slipping land took away the bedrock of their lives. And what remains fascinating is the way the weather is reported. So it was said:

1) The mountains of Haiti and Jamaica “tore up” Hurricane Gustav

2) Hurricane Gustave “struggled” over Haiti

That speaks of a very twisted vision. Because when you think of it, it was our islands which were “torn up” under Gustav and we “struggled” under what became clearly a “bad-mind” storm that just wouldn’t move on. It lingered and lingered as though it had not seen Usain Bolt’s dance and realized that we are the land of “no-linger”.

And that we truly are, so that it will be easy to forget the devastation that we have faced so far. It is easy to forget that some of the roads destroyed by Hurricane Ivan (2004) have not yet been properly fixed. We will look and we will wonder but these memories will not linger, we will move on as though nothing truly devastating has happened. With the awesome survival spirit that I think works to our benefit and doom we will simply say “A so life go” and others will simply see it as another that we are at the end of days. And so there is no need to fix anything. It is after all just a natural disaster, it is not as though we had anything to do with it. 

 

These streets have been covered by mud and rubble

These streets have been covered by mud and rubble

Some of the greatest devastation to the island took place in the usually sleepy Gordon Town area, nestling in the foothills of the Blue Mountains. The main street that passes through the town became a bed of rocks and rubble and shop owners found their place of business filled to the brim with sand, washed down from the ‘Cut Throat Gully’ above it. “In the fifty-odd years of my life, I have never seen anything like this,” says my father.