'Spontaneous combustion' at downtown Grounation
Mel Cooke, Gleaner Writer
Unexpected turns in dialogue between singer/songwriter Bob Andy and Television Jamaica (TVJ) general manager Kay Osborne, and moments where the audience pitched in with song and query, made for an excellent 'Grounation' on Sunday afternoon.
Andy introduced the term "spontaneous combustion" into the second instalment of the Reggae Month Grounation 2012 lectures at the Institute of Jamaica, Kingston, early. And it proved appropriate for what took place before a large, fully engaged audience at the Jamaica Music Museum event.
'Bob Andy: The Man, The Artist, Discusses Life with Kay Osborne' turned out to be lengthier than expected as well, living up to his reason for the game Andy loves to play. "That's why I love tennis. It is not governed by the clock," Andy said.
And his life and the conversation were not governed by the unstated bedrock of popular music, commercial success, Andy saying that is "indelibly linked to a bank balance", that marker of success Andy confessed to "having not experienced up to now". But the Grounation, Andy said, "is priceless. This is priceless".
"You are not here because you came to witness a successful, rich, Jamaican songwriter," Andy said, but one whose wealth in truth is unending.
The hornsmen started off the evening with renditions of Unchained and I've Got to Go Back Home and, after asking Andy about his tears at last year's 'Unplugged' concert at the Jamaica College Auditorium and at the Grounation ("I don't understand why I cry," Andy said) Osborne soon got to the songwriting process.
"I did not consciously put pen to paper to write these songs. They were spontaneous combustion," Andy said.
Andy traced the lineage of Fire Burning, his highly critical take on especially Jamaican politics, to his family's roots, his great-grandfather being born in 1865, the year of the Morant Bay uprising.
"I observe politics from a very young age," Andy said, marvelling at how his erudite grandfather could define himself as "a Labourite by birth".
Further along in the conversation, Andy said "politics is theatrics. After 50 years, we don't have a dependable water supply, and water is life?"
Osborne stoked a moment of spontaneous singing combustion with the audience, starting "I'm gonna tell you goodbye". Members of the audience picked up on the song. In explaining its genesis, as he tended to do throughout the afternoon, Andy spoke as much around the subject as he did to it, giving personal insight in the process.
"I love folk music, but I am especially fond of American folk music," he said. With his material, Andy said, "I did not have to write them; they were already written."
"Sometimes we get in our own way," he said of the creative process.
When Osborne asked about Too Experienced, Andy replied, "I have to dig deep and see where these songs come from." So he went back to his mother, with whom he said he did not have a relationship but whom he loves.
"A woman is given the privilege and responsibility to define love to the newborn. Whatever that woman projects as love, that child will treat as love," Andy said. Later in the conversation, Andy said his mother had given all she could and it was clear that there is no anger.
With Andy's roots going back to Studio One, the connection with its late producer, Clement 'Coxson' Dodd, naturally came up in the conversation. Andy said he is yet to receive a statement on his landmark album, Bob Andy's Songbook, and stated that he started the conscious songwriting tradition there. There was also a meeting with Chris Blackwell in New Kingston, where he was offered a deal that he did not take - the kind of production deal that the Wailers subsequently went into with Island Records.
But much of the conversation expanded on music to issues, Andy saying, "I have a certain kind of truth and I want the people see my truth and weigh it against other truth." And he wondered at the destructive phenomenon of George Bush, saying, "Here is one man in the world say him going to mash up one region of the world and I say how come?"
In the mix was self-analysis, Andy confessing, "I am really a very shy person to this day." While it is good to be acknowledged for his ability and output, he was clear that it is not a matter of resting on his laurels. "I thank you for all these songwriting honours. Me no go round and say me is the greatest songwriter. Me is a contributor to the thing. No greatness no inna it. We all contribute what we can contribute," Andy said.
In summing up the person that he is, Andy said, "If I knew how to plan I would be a rich man. But I would not be this man. Is a trade-off."
To the end the reference to a spontaneous combustion moment was there, someone in the audience remembering jogging on the beach humming a song and Andy commenting "nice melody".
The Reggae Month Grounation 2012 series continues on Sunday with 'The Songs of Federation and Jamaica Independence' by David Brown.