My trip to Kingston, Jamaica to research Early Caribbean Folk Music for my musical is fast approaching (courtesy of some funding from the Jerwood Foundation).
The musical idea I am developing explores the themes of freedom, love, religious and spiritual beliefs such as Myal and Obeah and is set in Jamaica at the cusp of emancipation during slavery times. I am keen to research the history of Jamaican music during the period of 1820-1950’s. The period is so great because I would like the music to show the development of jamaican music history as an undercurrent that develops the characters within the musical. I would particularly like to know more about Early Jamaican Negro Spirituals, Kumina, Mento, Calypso, Jonkanoo, Nyabinghee, and the music that the British colonialists may have listened to during this time as well as specific African musical influences. I plan to pay close attention to instrumentation, rhythm, vocal harmony and use of storytelling within the Caribbean music.
I have been in contact with many different people that are experts in Jamaican music, history, culture and language. I am particularly excited to meet Ms Marjorie Whylie who is an expert in Jamaican Folk Music. We met briefly 10 years ago, in the UK, at a workshop she conducted with the Tomorrow’s Warriors organisation. Our initial correspondence was very insightful. Her email informed me that she will be able to perform many of rhythms that I am interested in hearing. She also gave me some direction as to which publications to source (many of which are now out of print but not completely impossible to find). It was saddening to hear that some rare cylinder recordings of the works from the period I am interested in, were destroyed in a fire in recent years. From her email it became clear that there are few educators of this music left.
Although I have had the pleasure of visiting Jamaica many times, Kingston is a place I have never ever been to as my family are from the opposite side of the island, in Hanover. Whatever information I can collect on this trip it is sure to be an adventure. My trip will be short and I have lots that I would like to cram in (interviewing various people, visiting various museums/libraries, music centres and historical “Great Houses”) but I am confident that I will come away with a mind full of musical ideas as well as a wider knowledge of my jamaican heritage to channel into this musical.