Sun | Mar 29, 2020

Imani Duncan-Price's passion for uplifting Jamaica

Published:Sunday | September 9, 2018 | 12:00 AM
Everything seems on point!
Imani Duncan-Price (right) interacts with a young lady at the first teacher and facilitator training session to introduce MusiQuest to schools in Jamaica.
The dedicated MusiQuest team (From left) - Jacob Zax, CEO and founder; Janelle Solomon, project coordinator, Ibo Cooper, distinguished educator; Imani Duncan-Price, senior strategic advisor; and Mitchell Korn, vice president.


Imani Duncan-Price has become a household name, synonymous in many ways with public service and support. A former senator, co-founder and co-executive director of Jamaica's leading think tank, the Caribbean Policy Research Institute (CaPRI), as well as group strategy officer for the JMMB Group; she is currently the Chief of Staff in the Office of the Leader of the Opposition in policy and political strategy. Duncan-Price, has made it her life's mission to positively impact those around her, her community and nation.

Her most recent endeavour is MusiQuest in Jamaica, a pilot music education programme that launched this month in schools across Jamaica. The online software allows students to learn about the fundamentals of music and write songs, in any location.


Passion and Plans


So we sat down to talk to Imani about her passion and plans to uplift Jamaica through music education and other avenues of social and economic development.

"I grew up in a household where with my mother, Grace Duncan, who was a social activist and leader in the field of 'Persons with Disabilities' and my father, D.K. Duncan, who was a politician. We continuously debated ideas, potential solutions and how we would contribute to making a difference. So public service is a part of my DNA," she explained.

But there is a definitive experience, which shaped her decision to choose this field of expertise as her vocation. At age 11, she became keenly aware of systemic issues around race, class and privilege in Jamaica. In response, her father had her reading Martin Luther King's Eyes on the Prize, watching Malcolm X, understanding the story of Nelson Mandela's fight against apartheid and the reason for black consciousness and power.


'A man-made system'


"I understood that it is a man-made system that holds so many of us back. Public service and politics are where the system is maintained or can be changed. So I knew from then that I wanted to change the Jamaican system."

She decided to focus on music education in Jamaica, because it was an area of entertainment that the nation naturally excelled in. The matter was made a priority for Duncan-Price two years ago, when she went on an executive education course at Oxford and learnt the extensiveness of the trend of automation and the potential impact of Artificial Intelligence (AI). These two factors are going to significantly create a negative impact in countries like Jamaica whose economies are concentrated in low skill and low wage jobs.

"So I began to think, 'What Jamaica could effectively compete in, that would not be easily replaced by automation or AI?' That was music and sports!"

During her Eisenhower Fellowship in April 2018, she focused on how to grow a thriving, holistic and consistently successful music industry, looking at birthing individual stars, generating composers, songwriters, sound engineers, production managers, music-business managers and other professions for a more complete and successful music industry.

"Music education is missing in the majority of our schools. It was during my fellowship, that I met with the leadership of MusiQuest - Jacob Zax and Mitchell Korn, and the 'MusiQuest in Jamaica' pilot was agreed," she added.

MusiQuest, she says, is a modern approach to music education that leverages technology to unlock children's creativity. Through its high quality and affordable software, students from ages five to 14, can access over 40 instruments and 200-plus interactive and interdisciplinary lessons that cover 25 musical genres, history and notation, and integrate literacy, emotional intelligence, science, history, and other aspects of the field. It provides a great solution for the majority of our 762 primary schools that don't have music teachers. It is also a great fit for Jamaica, as the Ministry of Education has been focused on delivering technology-enabled education, through the 'Tablets in Schools' programme.

Ibo Cooper, formerly of the Third World band, has come on board to create reggae, ska and mento lessons, that will complement the 200-plus interactive music lessons that are already a part of the MusiQuest software. That is key for authentic education of our Jamaican people and also important in effectively sharing our culture with others.

"I want a Jamaica where the system works for everyone and I want an education system where every school is a good school and the education system teaches our people how to create jobs for themselves. I have a vision of a Jamaica where the natural talents and energies of our young people and the experience and wisdom of older generations, can work in partnership to create an effective path to a higher level for Jamaica - a truly economically independent country," she shared.