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
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.
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.