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Stabroek News

Music a 'Labour' of love at Calabash
published: Sunday | May 18, 2008

Mel Cooke, Freelance Writer

The members of Chalice are Demar Gayle (left), Stephen Golding (second left), Keith Francis (third left), Desi Jones (centre), Dean Stephens (third right), Alla (second right) and Wayne Armond. - contributed

The closing Sunday afternoon session at the annual Calabash International Literary Festival has long been known for music. Jamaican music. It is not, however, music of the thumping drum and bass kind, although that is the format in which the songs have been known to the public.

Instead a cast of outstanding musicians, including Wayne Armond, Stephen Golding, Seretse Small, Billy Mystic and Ibo Cooper, has given acoustic treatment to the work of Bob Marley, Peter Tosh and Jimmy Cliff, as well as celebrating the 30th anniversary of Third World's 96 Degrees in the Shade and Bunny Wailer's Blackheart Man.

This year, on a long Labour Day weekend, the closing slot where the versatility of verse is explored in acoustic fashion goes to the work of Bob Andy, who will be performing at the festival on Sunday, May 25. It will be the third musical end in a row, as on the 24th, Rootz Underground and Chalice will perform at Calabashment. And on the opening night Squeeze will play at the midnight 'Beach Ravers' party.

As are all the events at Calabash the music is free.

The Sunday Gleaner spoke with Calabash founder Colin Channer about the literary festival's musical connection.

Why has Calabash gone so heavily into music, with the 'Calabashment' concert series on the beach being an early fixture?

Music has always been an important part of Calabash, because music has been the most vital storytelling, poetic and dramatic form in Jamaica for decades. We know our audience very well and we know that they appreciate good music as much as they appreciate good literature. For them and for us, the separation between music and literature is a false one.

So Calabashment was a part of the first Calabash. Believe it or not Voicemail performed at the first Calabashment in 2001. They were a barely known R&B group at the time. Abdel Wright also performed at that concert as well. There was no sense he was going to be a major label artiste at the time. Abijah performed. The Home-T Band performed. One another night Zinc Fence performed. Farenheit performed.

How have you managed to host outstanding performers such as Johnny Clarke, Pam Hall, Tarrus Riley, the Clarendonians, Lloyd Parkes and We the People, Nadine Sutherland, Wayne Armond, Stephen Golding and Ernie Smith free to the public?

Musicians love the experience of playing at Calabash and they love what we stand for as an organisation, so they are happy to be a part of the festival. They understand that we are a not-for-profit and that the donation of their talent is a vital contribution to the festival's mission of public service. Calabash is nothing less than art in the service of the Jamaican public.

But one of the things that musicians often say about the Calabash experience is that they are treated with a level of respect and honour that is unfortunately rare in Jamaica these days. We treat them like the true professionals and artistes that they are. The technical aspects of staging and production are first-class. Our technical director John DaCosta is frankly speaking, one of the best in the world.

The Calabash audience is one that doesn't require them to play the same songs over and over again. It is an open-minded audience that gives them room to do things differently, to perform songs they haven't done onstage in years, to reinterpret some of their songs like true artistes. There is a certain kind of freedom that musicians have when their performance is about art more than money.

Are you especially pleased that Calabash will host two generations of bands, Chalice and Rootz Underground, on one night this year?

We are especially pleased to present two bands from two generations at Calabashment this year. Having Rootz Underground open for Chalice is about simple excitement, about seeing two high-energy bands in a row, but it is also a statement about our commitment to promoting musical diversity in Jamaica. We don't often see two famous bands onstage in Jamaica anymore. What is also interesting is that Wayne Armond from Chalice produced Rootz Underground's latest CD, Movement.

Do you expect to be affected by the enforcement of the Noise Abatement Act?

We have always worked closely with the police so this won't be a problem.

Stephen Newland of Rootz -Underground. file

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