Tue | Mar 31, 2020

‘Jamaica Jamaica’ has come home

Published:Wednesday | February 19, 2020 | 12:16 AMPaul H. Williams - Hospitality Jamaica Writer
Reggae royalty Toots Hibbert (centre) presents one of his earlier guitars to Minister of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport Olivia Grange, while Herbie Miller, director at the Jamaica Music Museum, looks on.
Reggae royalty Toots Hibbert (centre) presents one of his earlier guitars to Minister of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport Olivia Grange, while Herbie Miller, director at the Jamaica Music Museum, looks on.

There is no doubt that Jamaican music has had a significant impact on people’s lives the world over, and, according to Herbie Miller, director of the Jamaican Music Museum (JMM), “the greatest advertisement that we have had for the past 50 years has been our music”.

Miller was speaking as one of three curators at the official opening of the Jamaica leg of ‘Jamaica Jamaica! How Our Music Conquered the World’ exhibition on Sunday, February 2, inside the National Gallery of Jamaica (NGJ), downtown Kingston.

The exhibition had its genesis in Europe in 2015, when La Philharmonie de Paris commissioned Sebastien Carayol to mount an exhibition on the evolution and impact of Jamaican music. For, despite its presence in Europe, not much was known there about Jamaican music.

“It’s a sort of injustice in people not knowing the whole story of Jamaican music,” Carayol, one of the curators, told the capacity audience. The purpose of the exhibition in Europe was to showcase the “beauty” and “the amazing range of the spiritual involvement of Jamaican music”, he said. In referencing Dennis Brown, he declared that “it was important for people to know the second half of the story, which has never been told”.

That second half was told first in Paris in 2017, after which it was narrated in São Paulo for a while, and now it is being related to a Jamaican audience, some of whom definitely have some knowledge about it. It is being curated in a different way, however, to fit into the Jamaican context. There are more local items on show. Many of the pieces exhibited in Paris and São Paulo did not make the trip to Jamaica; only those that were sent from Jamaica have been returned.

It is an audiovisual platform consisting of audio tapes, video footage, posters, photographs, musical equipment and instruments, memorabilia, etc, from private collections, the national collection, and the JMM. When Carayol was approached he, in turn, contacted the NGJ and the JMM with the intention to propose a collaboration. The proposal was accepted, and the show is being staged in association with the Ministry of Culture, the JMM, the NGJ and La Philharmonie de Paris through the French Embassy in Jamaica.

Carayol said the showcase is a prelude to the establishment of a physical building to house the JMM, so some finance has come from France to kick-start the said museum. To the French ambassador, Denys Wibaux, who was in the audience, Minister of Culture Olivia Grange expressed gratitude for his “working tirelessly to ensure, along with the team, that this exhibition come to Jamaica”.


People are happy that it is here, but Herbie Miller used the opportunity to say not enough is being allocated in the national Budget for music, and bemoan the fact that there is “no solid music culture in Jamaica” and no building to host a music museum. Then, he implored the Office of the Prime Minister and the Ministry of Finance to do right by helping the preservation.

“I am going to ask you, please, to endow the Ministry of Culture with such a budget that the prosperity our Government speaks about will be a reality,” Miller said. He also implored musicians and other members of the music industry to make donations to the museum for their posterity. And, in her address, Minister Grange told Miller that the matter of financing of which he spoke was discussed at the Cabinet retreat from which she had come to the opening.

Minister Grange said the exhibition, which took its name from the Brigadier Jerry 1985 hit, Jamaica Jamaica, “celebrates the musical innovations born on this island. It seeks to unveil the story behind the musical genre of kumina, revival, mento, ska, rocksteady, reggae, dub, and dance hall. It also highlights the impact of the local sound system culture, street culture and visual arts”.

The formalities came to a fitting climax as the Mystic Revelation of Rastafari band served up a suite of traditional and contemporary Jamaican tunes, moving people to get up and dance. Then into the space the ever-youthful ‘godfather of dancehall’, Big Youth, stepped, giving a masterclass in vocal ­variety and stage movements, with the band playing to his needs.

Big Youth was joined by another Jamaican music royalty, none other than Toots Hibbert. What a bam bam! After a brief but well-­received stint, Hibbert presented one of his earlier guitars to Miller and Minister Grange to add to the collection at the JMM. Jamaica Jamaica! is open to the public until June 28, Tuesdays to Saturdays at 10 a.m.