Sat | Aug 17, 2019

Band Stand: Those heard but sometimes ... not seen - Shining a light on the vision for band preservation in Jamaica

Published:Sunday | May 20, 2018 | 12:00 AMStephanie Lyew
Stephanie Lyew Photo Magnifcent Troopers Bands
Stephanie Lyew Photo Like most popular bands today, Magnifcent Troopers Bands embrace acrobatics and dance choreography.
File: Members of the St. Michael Steppers Marching Band perform during the preliminary round of the Battle of the Bands Competitionin 2010.

Have you ever been at a stage show that consists of acoustic performances by your favourite recording artistes backed by a band? No prerecorded music, just the sweet melody created by a bass player, drummer, guitarist and saxophonist. Wasn't the music just right?

Today, The Sunday Gleaner begins its journey behind the scenes with these bands in our new series - Band Stand. We will explore the reach of the notes which are far wider than any on paper. The relationship between culture, and the preservation of bands locally, that harbours no illusions of the glamour and rewards of the local music industry but shows the impact on their lives.

In Jamaica, a band's visibility may vary across performances from pop-style bands with no more than five members, marching bands that embrace acrobatics and dance choreography, to concert bands that have as many as 50 members outfitted with a wide range of musical instruments.

Veteran reggae singer, bass player and foundation member of We The People Band, Lloyd Parkes, told The Sunday Gleaner, "There are not enough stages for live performances or the many bands that are present."

Bands have matured to not only provide support for vocal talents, but also play significant roles in community development and the non stop production of the cross-culturally appealing music that other countries have been known to imitate.

"When my career started, five, six, seven bands would be playing on one stage in a single night, but everything has changed. Bands keep the music alive; we need the help to preserve the music," Parkes said.

The reggae musician, who acted as a judge on the recent Jamaica's Best School Band (JBSB) competition, said that while talent is visible and interest in local music has been recognised globally, the bands in Jamaica are "hanging on".




Roger Williams, dean at the Edna Manley College's School of Music, that has produced hit-making bands such as C-Sharp and Raging Fyah, notes that many of the musicians who have natural talent, usually play music by ear.

"While the rising talents will learn about their instruments in schools, a lot of them don't get a chance to take individual lessons before the move forward, which hinders technical development that includes reading music. There is never a lack of talent, just a lack of guidance," said Williams.

Adding to that, the dean said that acquisition of instruments by the schools and the musicians is equally challenging as, although considered tools of trade that under the fiscal incentives act passed in 2014 are exempt from import duties, they still carry a heavy price tag. Instruments if not bought out of pocket, are 'recycled' as a large percentage of funding or physical donations comes from overseas institutions.

"The private sector has been playing a prominent role in helping students from the primary level onwards to get financial support or even instrument donations, but some of this investment (by corporate companies locally) needs to go into providing scholarships for the actual learning; taking into consideration private lessons," he said.

Vinton Haughton, director of bands at the Sam Sharpe Teachers' College in Montego Bay, St James, is of the view that by having active representation, the goal of band preservation could be recognised by a wider audience. He pointed out that currently, there is also limited to no established association (similar to a Jamaica Association of Composers, Authors and Publishers) to build, educate and represent solely on behalf of the varied band types.

"It [the association] would take into consideration the physical, marketing and financial support. Bands are a social investment and we have yet to create a business model that is viable," said Haughton.