It is no secret that Jamaica has a rich musical history, the origins of which predate the island’s Independence and even its Emancipation from slavery. Jamaica’s music is one of its most famous attractions, with worldwide recognition of seven genres created between the 1950s and 1980s that have subsequently become popular worldwide.
However, it is also important to note that Jamaican music acts as a time capsule for both major events in the nation’s history, as well as the various subtle cultural shifts that have occurred over the decades. Much of the island’s national identity is encapsulated in the lyrics, melody, rhythms, harmonies, and even technological innovations in our various genres. Consequently, it is appropriate for this extensive musical history to be documented for current and future generations, and disseminated among the wider Jamaican and international public.
The Jamaica Music Museum is instrumental in achieving this objective. The newest division of the Institute of Jamaica was established in 2000 and came into operation in 2009 as the archive, research facility and exhibition space for reggae and other Jamaican musical forms. Its exhibits showcase an array of formats – from rare musical recordings and oral histories of reggae, Jamaican music greats, and the lesser-known figures – to musical scores, photographs, films, research files, business records, personal correspondence, and musical instruments that once belonged to eminent Jamaican musicians.
In addition to its fixed and moving exhibits, the Jamaica Music Museum hosts a number of public lectures and events that are meant to analyse music in relation to the sociological, political, and cultural climate in Jamaica throughout its history. The most prominent of these is our Grounation series which commemorates both Black History Month and Reggae Month. Every February, the series follows the West African tradition of council and Rastafarian philosophy, and comprises weekly lectures that focus on an aspect of Jamaica’s musical and cultural heritage. Through its six stagings the lecture series has covered a variety of areas including:
— the role of the drum in Africa and its Diaspora
— African aesthetic in popular Jamaican culture
— the life and work of Don Drummond, and
— the history, development, and important role that mento music plays within Jamaican culture.
In keeping with these objectives, various exhibitions have been mounted thus far by the museum, including:
• The Music of Jamaica: People, Voice, Song: the theme of the first exhibit mounted by the museum, which highlighted Jamaica’s music history from that of our island’s first inhabitants, the Tainos, to dancehall by our current artistes.
• Equal Rights: Reggae and Social Change: Album Art is the main medium used in this exhibit, which is inspired by Winston “Peter Tosh” McIntosh’s Equal Rightsalbum. Jamaica’s social history is depicted through film, voice and music clips in this collection.
• Call and Response: Masques, Spirits, and Drums: meant as a companion exhibit for the Riddim Across the Atlantic: Di Drum in Africa and Its Diaspora Grounation series of 2015.
• Curating Music: Building a National Collection: The current exhibit delves further into the influence that West African music has on Jamaican traditional and popular music, while still displaying photos, art, and musical instruments that correspond to important music genres and musicians throughout the island’s history.
Through the lecture series as well as its fixed and mobile exhibits, the Jamaica Music Museum fulfils its mandate to preserve the material culture and information that highlights the Jamaican people’s collective identity and the island’s diverse musical forms.
Rita Coore’s piano
The Coore family has contributed greatly to Jamaica’s political growth and rich musical legacy. Matriarch Rita Coore was a renowned pianist and eventually piano teacher who nurtured students at an advanced level, turning out such greats as Orrett Rhoden, Maxine Franklyn, Nerine Barrett, and music Professors Paul Shaw and Grace Francis, all of whom have held aloft the musical diversity of Jamaica.
Her son, Stephen “Cat” Coore is a guitarist/cellist and founding member of the Third World band. Meanwhile, his son Shia Coore is the bassist for Damian “Jr Gong” Marley’s band, while his other son Stephen plays in Chronixx’s Zinc Fence (the name of a performance space formally owned by Third World) Redemption band.
In 2016, the Coore family contributed Mrs Coore’s Yamaha upright piano to the national collection and it serves as an inspiration to others to donate as well as exposes visitors to the quality musicians who have visited Jamaica and interacted with local musicians in professional and social capacities. Most notably among them is the classical pianist and professor Andre Watts who played the piano on a visit to the Coore’s home.
Vernon Moller’s trombone
Vernon “Von Mullo” Moller is counted among Jamaica’s most accomplished trombonists, along with Rico Rodriguez and Don Drummond. An alumnus of Alpha Boys’ School, the late musician performed with the George Moxey Band, the Eric Deans orchestra, and with Roy Coburn’s Blue Flame Orchestra. He was a major player in the success of the ska movement of the early 1960s, as he worked with Prince Buster and was a member of the orchestra, Byron Lee and the Dragonaires.
The trombone belongs to the brass family of instruments, and is played by blowing a buzzing sound into the mouthpiece while using a telescoping slide mechanism to produce particular pitches. Invented in the 1400s, it became a staple in the classical orchestras of the early nineteenth century, and eventually, much like other brass instruments, featured in jazz and Jamaican ska music.
Jolly Boys’ Rumba Box
The Jolly Boys are a mento group originally from Port Antonio, formed in 1945. First starting as part of a group that played at Errol Flynn’s parties, the band established itself as one of Jamaica’s enduring mento bands. Over seven decades they have won mento band competitions, toured across the island and around the world, and released ten albums. They also appeared in the 1989 film The Mighty Quinn, which featured Denzel Washington. The band’s most recent line-up included the late Albert Minnott, Derrick “Johnny” Henry, Allan Swymmer, and Egbert Watson. With their 2010 cover of Amy Winehouse’s Rehab, the group facilitated a mento revival that has attracted music scholars and enthusiasts from around the world.
The marímbula emerged as a descendant of the kalimba and is similar in construction with a lamellophone component. It originated in the Oriente in Cuba during the 19th century, and was carried to other Caribbean countries. In Jamaica it became known as the rumba box, an important part of the typical mento band. It is played by sitting on the instrument and plucking its metal tines while also striking the box to keep time.
Adina Edwards’ Accordion
Adina Edwards was a blind musician who was both a gifted gospel inspiration singer and an accomplished accordion player. During the 1960s and 1970s she could be heard singing on the corner of King Street and Barry Street during the days.
After a number of years as a street performer, Miss Edwards was “discovered” by Tommy Cowan and taken to Dynamic Sounds Studio. Her first recording and local chart hit, Don’t Forget to Remember Me, was both her album’s title track and its lead single.
Miss Edwards also appeared on stage shows including the popular charity concert Nuggets for the Needy. Her love for children led her to adopt a few, one of whom said, “A blind woman taught me to read.”
Pictured above is her piano accordion. An accordion is a complex musical instrument that is classified as a free-reed aerophone, meaning that it produces sound when air passes through a vibrating strip of material in a frame. In the case of this particular model, one plays musical notes by pressing the piano keys, all while expanding and compressing a bag within the instrument itself (the accordion’s bellows) Johnny “Dizzy” Moore’s Stradivarius Model 37 Trumpet
Master musician Dizzy Johnny is best known as one of the founding members of the Skatalites. John Arlington “Dizzy” Moore was a prodigious Jamaican musician who was trained at Alpha Boys’ School as both a trumpeter and composer. Having started his career with the Mapletoft Poulle Orchestra in the mid-1950s, he went on to become a first-call session musician for many artistes in the 1960s. In addition, he was a member the seminal pre-ska group Clu J and the Blues Blasters, and later a member of the Cavaliers. Dizzy Johnny was also renowned for his connection to the Rastafari community, as he often frequented Count Ossie’s camp at Wareika Hill – a relationship that was significant for its ideological, cultural, and subsequently musical effect on the artiste. Dizzy Johnny is arguably the most frequently recorded instrumentalist of his generation.
The modern B flat trumpet is from the brass family of instruments, and is played by blowing a buzzing sound into the mouthpiece while pressing on metal keys to produce particular pitches. Originally heard as a battle or hunting signal, this instrument was first used as a musical instrument in the late 14th and early 15th centuries, and subsequently found its way into classical orchestras, jazz ensembles, and our own Jamaican blues and ska music.
Sugar Belly’s Bamboo Saxophone
Mento is Jamaica’s first recorded popular music, and William “Sugar Belly” Walker was an important figure in its modern development. Starting in the late 1950s, the musician both built and played bamboo saxophones heard on his mento recordings. As the use of cruder woodwinds and brass instruments had decreased significantly very soon after Independence, Walker’s decision to use this instrument lent a distinct sound to his performances.
The musical instrument he made (one of which is pictured here) is actually closer to a chalumeau (keyless woodwind instrument) than a true saxophone. The main part of the body is constructed from a bamboo reed, with holes bored into the top that are fingered to change the pitch. To this, a mouthpiece constructed from a smaller piece of bamboo is securely held by masking tape, instead of the cork used traditionally for the same reason in commercial saxophones. Sugar Belly then attached an empty thread spool and a tin funnel at the other end of the body to act as a resonator for the warm, distinct tone from the bamboo instrument.
Sugar Belly’s creation of a new instrument is a prime example of the resourcefulness and innovation of many Jamaican musicians in our history.
Hedley Jones and the first Solid Body Electric Guitar
This resourcefulness can also be seen in the late Hedley Jones’s legacy to Jamaican music. Not only was Jones a musician, but he was also an audio engineer and inventor. A prodigious talent, Jones built a cello and banjo by the age of 14, and formed his own sextets. His talent was further boosted during his service in the British Royal Air Force, where he trained as an engineer in Glasgow. Upon moving to Kingston he worked in various professions, but was most renowned as a sound system pioneer. Jones was able to build amplifiers, including a sound system for Coxsone Dodd of Studio One Records. He also owned his own record shop, Bop Records, and imported jazz recordings from the United States – important contributions to the Jamaican entertainment industry at the time.
Most notably, Hedley Jones’s experience allowed him to invent one of the world’s first solid body guitars circa 1940. Although Jones’s contributions in this regard are not widely known, research shows that his guitar was built a full year before American musician Lester Polsfuss (Les Paul) more famously built his version of the instrument in 1941. Pictured above, the solid body electric guitar is ideal for preventing the feedback that acoustic guitars produce in certain situations. It relies more heavily on the electric pickup system to receive the vibrations from the strings, rather than a traditional sound box. Hedley Jones made quite a few of these, including a double-necked model.
Publicado en JamaicaObserver