A celebration of Jamaican Music in Paris
written by Claudette Parry Laws
Philharmonie de Paris opens an exposition about the history of Jamaican music
Gotta admit MLP is super excited about the opening of this exhibition. One of the things that stood out to me when I arrived in Paris was how little, the influence of Jamaica featured in the cultural makeup of the city. In my hometown of London, it is so prevalent. So when news of this event came to MLP’s attention, I couldn’t wait to write about it. So this post is personal – hope you enjoy it.
Born to Jamaican immigrants in England and having visited the beautiful ‘island in the sun’ many times, I can tell you that the influence of Jamaica is greater than anyone may suspect. Just larger than a pinprick on the world’s atlas – Jamaica has become an exception in its global impact on music, with its raw talent inspiring generations across genres.
The third largest island in the Caribbean with a population equating to just a quarter of Paris and it’s suburbs. JA (as it is known), is home to just 2.8 million people. many of whom speak Patois, the colloquial language. Dubbed the land of “wood and water” by its first inhabitants and becoming independent in 1964, Jamaica is often referred to as a cultural superpower because the music from this island reached far and beyond expectation.
Anywhere I go in the world and reveal that my heritage is Jamaican, whether I’m in Thailand, Japan or South Africa the response is the same “ahhhhhhh Bob Marley!” Testimony of course, to the Third Worlds first global superstar, who touched millions of people with his music, rhetoric, iconic sound and style, but still, Jamaica has more!
What people don’t know is that since the 1950’s, inventions in Jamaican music have laid the foundation for most modern-day urban musical genres. Even Rap can be attributed to the ‘chat style’ familiar in Reggae! Consider the term Sound System and DJ or Ska, Dub, Lovers Rock genres – the roots of which can be found in the island’s rich musical soil.
Jamaica’s music is anything but one-dimensional. If you look deep enough, you can see it and the Philharmonie de Paris is making sure that the full effect of it on the rest of the world, is explored with no stone left unturned. But this is thanks to Sébastien Carayol, a journalist passionate about music and the man behind this much-awaited event.
The recognition through this exposition in Paris feels heartening to me because Jamaica – although complex – is a fascinating country and of course, my heritage. A hotbed of political and religious passions (there are more churches per square mile here than any other country in the world), it is also a country split by class. The divide is wide and the extremities of rural life versus city-living are clear and evident with poverty rife.
But in spite of all this, Jamaica found its voice through music and has not ceased to inspire, with a unique rhythm and sound that undeniably can only be attributed to this beautiful island.
“….the popular music of Jamaica, the music of the people, is an essentially experiential music, not merely in the sense that the people experience the music, but also in the sense that the music is true to the historical experience. It is the spiritual expression… of the Afro-Jamaican.” Linton Kwesi Johnson, Poet & writer, Jamaica
Last year, I visited the birthplace of my parents with my Mama. It was beautiful, scenic, the landscape stunning, truly lush, surrounded by calm warm waters illuminated by sunlit skies. But there was no escaping the pull of its deep musical heritage. If you didn’t hear it (which is unlikely) you could see it!
En route to the village where my Mama was born we stumbled across the Mausoleum of Peter Tosh a talented but controversial figure in Jamaica’s musical history – who taught himself to play guitar at 15 and became a founding father of Bob Marley’s group – The Wailers.
He always alleged that he taught Bob to play the guitar as well as being the person that truly started the group! He had a successful solo career but his life was violently cut short.
“One good thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain.” Bob Marley
We visited the Bob Marley Museum – his home in the capital city, Kingston! Fraternising with his sons whilst learning parts of his story that had eluded us over the years.
It was Island Records producer Chris Blackwell, that ultimately catapulted Marley’s phenomenal talents onto the world stage. Although he was shaped and influenced by producers such as the famed Jamaican Lee “Scratch” Perry (who will be appearing in Paris), as well as American songwriter Jim Norman who worked with Hendrix! Having sold millions of records worldwide, it was the saddest day when Robert “Nesta” Marley died.
One Love, No woman no Cry, I Shot the Sheriff, I don’t want to Wait in Vain and Is this Love are just a few famous tracks from his discography. When he said “my music will live on forever” he wasn’t wrong! Marley died of cancer at the age of 36.
However, his sons, Julian, Damian, Ziggy and Stephen (to name a few!) have proudly continued his legacy, with the latter winning Best reggae Album at the Grammys just a few years ago for Revelation Pt.1 – The Root of Life and the others consistently producing outstanding and influential artistry.
I’ve got so many fond memories of that trip. Years earlier I got the chance to meet Rita Marley, Bob’s wife and one of his famous backing singers; I also interviewed the then Prime Minister, Michael Manley for my university dissertation!
He recalled the historic moment when Bob Marley united him and his political nemesis, Edward Seaga, together on stage – in a demonstration of Bobs’ message of peace to the inhabitants of the island.
Bob Marley will always be the icon associated with headlining Jamaica’s position on the world stage but there are countless others, equally talented artists and producers who formed the foundations and spread the reggae riddim and lyrics across continents.
Dennis Brown, Gregory Issacs, Toots and the Maytals, Eek-a-Mouse, Jimmy Cliff and Steel Pulse were just a few of the iconic artists that kept pushing the boundaries of the genre, forming part of the soundtrack to my younger days and defining one of the many cultural lessons in my understanding of Jamaica. For this, I have to thank my brother, a walking encyclopaedia of reggae music, who played it loud and proud all through my youth and even now.
There is so much to the story of this country’s musical heritage and thank goodness the Philharmonie de Paris has spent the time and energy curating the multiple factions of this islands gift to the rest of the world.
The music has so much range, the messages often poignant, powerful and insightful about Jamaican life, history and perspective. Get on to iTunes and download a few tracks or watch a few youtube clips, some are on this post – to get an idea of what I mean. Here are some of MLP’s favourites.
In the Press Release about the event the Philharmonie de Paris writes:
“Often placed under the heading “World Music”, it is so popular around the globe that it could be called the Worlds Music”
Jamaica Jamaica, which is the title of this expo, brings together rare memorabilia, photographs, visual art, audio recordings and footage unearthed from private collections and museums in Jamaica, the United States and Great Britain.
“I’m hoping my entire family get the chance to come over from the UK to enjoy this momentous and well overdue celebration of Jamaican Music”
If you are a music lover, don’t miss it! You’ll be surprised at what it will uncover. After the phenomenal success of the Bowie Expo – you can be assured that the Philharmonie de Paris, will certainly put on a show like no other.
Also, to make sure the message of Jamaica’s music is duly heard, there will be a concert weekend packed with live events and workshops for kids (as young as 3 months old!) and teenagers – all of which you can book in advance.
I’m so excited – I cannot wait for this exhibition to open. I’m hoping my entire family get the chance to come over from the UK to enjoy this momentous and well overdue celebration of Jamaican Music. Try not to miss it – you’ll be amazed at what you discover.
Yeh Mon, it will be irie!
Peace & Love
Jamaica Jamaica – Philharmonie de Paris – April 4 until August 13, 2017.
*irie –Irie (I-rie \I ‘ -ree) is the word in Jamaican Patois that means, “alright”. The term can be used to mean 1: powerful and pleasing; 2: excellent, highest; n 3: the state of feeling great. It is commonly used by members of the Rastafari movement.
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