Sun | Jul 22, 2018

Integrating Music and Writing

Published:Thursday | March 10, 2016 | 3:03 AMMel Cooke
Don Drummond playing the trombone.
Professor Mervyn Morris

At the end of February and early in March each year, there is a near overlap between extensive celebrations of two elements of Jamaican culture. Reggae Month is marked by four weeks of performance, analysis and awards in February, the first getting the bulk of the attention from the public and media.

Then in the second week of March, the Kingston Book Festival delves into the country's literature, covering prose and poetry. This week-long celebration precedes World Poetry Day, which is marked on March 21 annually and is not a part of the festival's focus.

There are elements of literature within some of the events put on during Reggae Month, notably the Institute of Jamaica's Grounation series put on every Sunday during February by the Jamaica Music Museum at the lecture hall, Institute of Jamaica in Kingston. For example, during this year's series on Don Drummond, there was a poetry session with Prof Mervyn Morris, Bongo Jerry, Raymond Mair, Lorna Goodison and Dr Kwame Dawes. The previous week, Heather Augustyn's book on Don Drummond was launched, Music Museum curator Herbie Miller presented on Drummond and Anita 'Margarita' Mahfood and music capped off the evening.

Then there is a series in February which overlaps with the Kingston Book Festival, at which music performers speak about their lives and art, making for very interesting listening which could form the basis of a book. It is the Reggae Talk series, staged by the Department of Literatures in English, the University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona Campus, and hosted by Prof Carolyn Cooper. The most recent edition was held on Tuesday evening at the Basic Medical Sciences complex on the campus, where singer/songwriter Bob Andy gave an engrossing talk on his life and artistic work and poet Tanya Shirley delivered from her delightful work. Last week it was Mutabaruka, talking about the business of reggae poetry.

Still, although there is the obvious overlap between Jamaican popular music and literature, there is not - as far as I know - an event dedicated to combining the two and I believe it is a gap which needs to be addressed. With the number of people who turn out for literature events, music and academic presentations on each, I have no doubt that an audience exists for a series of events which deliberately fuses the academic analysis, a performer expounding on their life and work and a musical performance, followed by recorded music.

Ideally, it would be in that space between the end of Reggae Month and the beginning of the Kingston Book Festival, publicly and formally acknowledging the connection between the text of song and the text of books. The ideal components would be a poet, a singer/deejay/instrumentalist, an academic who researches literature and/or music and a selector at the sound system's control tower.

This does not mean that it has not happened before or is not currently taking place, but I believe that situating such an event between Reggae Month and the Kingston Book Festival and having that defined structure which says this is a combination of these aspects of Jamaican culture, would go a far way to concretising the linkages between these aspects of Jamaican creative output. It is a formal cross-pollination which could only stimulate an already marvelously creative society.