Four music writers giving their take on the importance of Jamaican music over the last 50 years. The session title is a nod to the music of Don Drummond, the great jazz and ska innovator of the 1960s.
Carolyn Cooper is a committed public intellectual - a woman of formidable intelligence, generosity and humor. She is tough when she needs to be, impatient with foolishness, always encouraging those who don't normally get encouraged and always keeping whatever establishment among whom she finds herself having access on their toes about fairness, about the class and social assumptions they make which could lead to discrimination, and about the complex of ingenuity and daring that constitutes the Jamaican experience. She is nothing if not controversial, and she knows this and has decided to be this if she needs to be this for things to be understood and to happen. It is her work that has been responsible for reclaiming a position of influence and revolutionary defiance in the female's role in dancehall, a site that we normally assume to be sexist and degrading to women. Carolyn Cooper's thesis has been that even in our deepest moments of sympathy for women and the sexist language they must confront in the dancehall, is thick with patronage and sexism in and of itself. Cooper simply asks, "Why do the women go to the dancehall, why is the dancehall increasingly a space dominated by women, why are these women choosing to dress and dance as they do, why are the female deejays choosing to chant the radically sexual lyrics they do today--in other words where is their agency here and what is its source?
On stage she reads an essay that slides between academia, popular folk wisdom, newspaper journalism, and straight comic play. The audience stays with her, laughing at her puns, nodding at her ideas. For Cooper, Jamaican music of the last fifty years cannot be understood without appreciating its history that extends way beyond that, by over two centuries. She demonstrates that dancehall and the constructions of the unruly, sexually assured Jamaican woman have long existed in Jamaican music, long before the advent of Sister Patra and Lady Saw.
Vivien Goldman's giddy, punkish manner, her unabashed strong accent that one imagines is happily cockney shaped, her incredible energy, which causes her to bounce from heel to toe as she speaks to the audience is fittingly distracting. By the time she is through--and she consumes a great deal more of her time that allotted in her enthusiasm and her need to say everything she thinks needs to be said--she has talked about reggae music during the roots era, about the great pioneers of the music, about the incredible influence of reggae music on the world music stage, about her own role in charting that phenomenon. She ends with a series of shout outs and praises that is unending--the kind of shout out list that builds upon itself--who does one leave out?
Colin Grant is a tall, gangly man, clean-shaven and gleamingly bald with a bookish shyness about him--glasses tend to create that clichéd effect--with a posher British accent than Goldman's. He knows the value of wit, which is almost always self-deprecating, but he also understands the necessity of his writing, of the books he has managed to produce on Jamaican culture. It is hard to walk away from his talk without remembering the key framing impetus for his work on Marcus Garvey. The story he tells is of Garvey reading the British papers one day in the late forties only to find his obituary staring in his face. The obituary announcing his death comes after he has had a stroke and is recovering, fully alive, in London, a city that has not been extremely accommodating to his effort to revive his black identity movement, having been essentially run out of the USA and Jamaica in the years before. The story of his passing is picked up by other publications and by other media. According to Grant, this affront is too much for Garvey. He has a heart attack and dies soon after. The news breaks his heart.
Dr. Sonjah Stanley Niaah invokes her ancestors to begin. She quickly points out that she is not the author of her book on Africa's presence in the dancehall--that the authors of the book are the ancestors and she is merely the conduit. Her focus tonight is on dance and Jamaican music. She argues--and this is the only way to use as full of all the implications of academia and scholarship as it invokes here--that it is the dance that drives the music and not necessarily the other way around. With lots of "quote-unquotes", she builds her case, a fascinating one in a style that may have misread the nature of the event.
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