Sun | Mar 18, 2018

Drummond, Skatalites honour Garvey

Published:Sunday | September 4, 2016 | 12:00 AMHerbie Miller
Marcus Garvey
Don Drummond
Don Drummond playing the trombone.

This is the conclusion of a two-part article by Herbie Miller, director-curator of the Jamaica Music Museum (JaMM) on Marcus Garvey's influence on trombonist Don Drummond, along with The Skatalites band he was a part of. Part One was carried in last Sunday's Gleaner.

For this discussion, my focus is on ska instrumentalist Don Drummond, along with The Skatalites. To locate Marcus Garvey as inspiration and muse in their music, I will focus on two Drummond compositions and performances - Reburial (of Marcus Garvey) and Marcus Junior - which signify beauty, celebration, and acknowledgement.

In Reburial, the rest of the rhythm section, the piano prominent, joins the drummer for the introduction that signals the horns to state the melody for Drummond's composition. The introduction commands our attention but doesn't quite prepare the listener for what follows.

Trumpeter Johnny 'Dizzy' Moore's lyrical portrayal of Garvey paints him as an intense cerebral mind. A no-nonsense solo, it is a study in economic choice of notes. It is outstanding, stripped of frills and other show-stopping devices and tricks. Instead, it becomes a solo that is focused and elegant yet, at points, also idiomatically grounded in the timbral and textural quality of rhythm and blues, augmented by the contrasting expressions of the jazz vocabulary.

Moore's cool lyricism sets up Don Drummond's trombone solo.

Always the storyteller and possessing a unique tonal personality, Drummond employs notes, timbre, and texture, which emote a speech-like approach that paints an aural portrait which is intricate though plaintive. It is full of rhythmic pulse and melodic compulsion which is as lucid and lyrical as any of Burning Spear's reflections on Garvey.

Essential to Drummond's lure is his musical astuteness, a sharpness allowing him to establish context. It is a context that conveys history, social dynamics, politics, and, very frequently, is strongly interconnected with spirituality and freedom, which are endemic to the human condition.

But it is as much the semantic authority of tenor (that is, moods and tones) that symbolises the contrast between the social autonomy of the plantation system's benefactors and the liberationist ethic of someone like Marcus Garvey, the victims and descendants of the slave trade and the ethos that defines the most conscious expressionists of contemporary Jamaican popular music.

The sombre majesty of Reburial, as a result, celebrated the life and work of Marcus Garvey. It transformed the occasion of his death and the exhuming of his remains in England for re-interment in Jamaica to a humanly dignified commemoration - a ritual of affirmation.

Through Reburial, Drummond and sectors of the Jamaican public signified the impact of Garvey's nationalist and Pan-Africanist ideology. Because of Garvey's influence on the Jamaican proletariat there was, finally, the willingness of the nation and its leaders to take the decision to break free from British colonial rule and pursue political independence. Reburial is a performance that expressed the reverence in which an oppressed people, at the movement of Jamaica's political independence, held Marcus Garvey as a favourite son and were eager to claim him as their first National Hero.


Marcus Junior


From its percussive announcement to the final note, Marcus Junior is celebration and jubilation. Elaborated on by call and response, Drummond encourages a horn riff that serves as exclamation, while he fills the only solo spot with a coherent commentary devoid of a wasted single note. Rather, he employs playing tone and pitches that were relevant and, as Duke Ellington might have phrased it, in a tone parallel to the image one finds oneself constructing of Garvey.

Drummond's absolutely personal way of playing a melody paints a picture that emotes feelings that Garvey was a man of dignity and extraordinary conviction.

Throughout the performances, the full gravity of The Skatalites drive both these songs and the soloists. As a unit all are united in one of those moments when their muse is as one, each musician in his inimitable style inspired by the philosophy of Marcus Garvey.

Individually and collectively The Skatalites was a band whose aural charisma was based on the idea of commanding respect for the race and, to this end, they maintained an off-stage image that was very deliberate. They dressed, spoke and reasoned in ways that expressed nationalist and Pan-Africanist points of view.

Creatively, they refined and redefined the musical consciousness of youth searching for self-identity. They were extremely versatile and used their virtuosity to compose and record songs that did not necessarily result in the total rejection of the kind of music that was the choice of the so-called upper class. Their music, much like Garvey and the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), redirected, reinforced and reshaped the identity and the mindset of those who paid attention.

These songs encapsulate all the myth and order that occupies black aesthetic and the ideas of Garvey, UNIA and Rastafari philosophy.

Yet, for all Drummond's dexterity, warm - even tender - playing on certain tunes, his virtuoso abilities and playful humour, one is left with the feeling that for him there was more to the composition and performance than aesthetic value and technique. The same goes for The Skatalites.

According to Skatalites trumpeter Dizzy Johnny, "that feeling for the people and for attention to social conditions was meaningful to him. Donald played music for the people and of the people."

There is hardly an area in the broad field of Jamaican popular culture upon which Marcus Garvey, Don Drummond, The Skatalites and musicians in their circles have not profoundly impacted. Ska is a music that resonates confidence and vision. Nothing fazed Garvey and nothing seemed beyond the possibilities of the musicians that created ska.

Like the philosophy of Marcus Garvey, they made music that was open to the entire world. It covered all aspects of life conveying, like Garveyism, and with ingenuity and confidence, notions that idealism could result in blacks taking charge of their own destiny, especially in the areas of social, economic and political reform.

They, like the jazz musician John Coltrane, knew that "this word which so many seem to fear today, 'freedom', has a hell of a lot to do with this music."

- Herbie Miller is a cultural historian with specialised interest in ethnomusicology, slave culture, and Jazz. (c) Siketa 2016