'Heart of Ska' entertains, educates
Marcia Rowe, Gleaner Writer
Last Saturday's Heart of Ska Festival was filled with energy from an impressive line-up. Held at the Independence Village, Ranny Williams Entertainment Centre, Hope Road, St Andrew, it was also a history lesson in the infectious beat.
"You know why we call it the Heart of Ska?" asked the night's emcee, Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts (EMCVPA) lecturer, Ibo Cooper. He promptly provided the answer. "Because it looks like the lungs of ska deh a Europe and the kidney of ska deh a Japan and the liver of ska deh a India. So wi have to come where the rhythm start to beat first, so this is the Heart of Ska," Cooper said.
Historical facts on the genre and performances from Yaad Beat, Ska Rebirth and Ska-La-Reg bands, as well as guest performer, American jazz trombonist Delfeayo Marsalis, served as veins which led the audience to the heart of a Jamaican indigenous music which is more than 50 years old.
Prior to Marsalis joining the 10-man Ska-La-Reg, the band entertained with Scamper Down (a piece they credited an audience member for naming) and Sweet Ride. They also played tribute to the legendary Don Drummond with his song Guns of Navarone, which was named after a movie.
After a scintillating performance and dazzling display of horn instruments by the Alpha alumni, Marsalis joined them onstage. Marsalis' trombone is an extension of his personality, said Cooper, and so it was. Standing centrestage with his sparkling instrument, Marsalis commenced his fine performance with Drummond's Occupation.
But it was with Confucius (another Drummond composition) that he was most effective, eliciting strong applause. The trombonist ended his set with an encore performance of his favourite Drummond piece, the popular Eastern Standard Time.
But if the bands were the veins to the Heart of Ska, then original vocalist of The Skatalites, Eric 'Monty' Morris, along with Bunny and Scully, Strange Jah (formerly Stranger) Cole and ska king Derrick Morgan were the blood in those vessels.
After a relatively short band change, Fab 5 got the party going with a medley that included Jamaican Ska. Bunny and Scully took the stage and continued the musical palpitations with Feel So Good. The duo took the tempo down as they paid tribute to Alton Ellis with Muriel.
On Strange Jah Cole's entrance, the tempo went up once more with When I Call Your Name, followed by Ruff and Tuff, which was a hit during the time of Independence.
Derrick Morgan also took some history notes on ska to the stage. He expressed delight in finally attending and performing at a ska festival in Jamaica, especially since, during the past 12 years, he has performed at ska festivals in the United States, England, and Mexico. Morgan commenced his set with Should Be Ashamed and the dapperly dressed vocalist also paid tribute to one-time rival Prince Buster, before closing with Time Longer Than Rope.
The energetic Morris, dancing to the beat of his songs during the bridges, was just as entertaining with Money Can't Buy Life, a medley of children nursery rhymes, and the popular Oil In My Lamp.
Interestingly, each performer's set included gospel, folk and love songs. Cole said it was once the norm to include the three categories of music in a performance. Also of note is that the music of Drummond and Tommy McCook will soon be studied in schools, according to Cooper.
Heart of Ska was produced by the Jamaica Reggae Industry Association.