Sun | Dec 11, 2016

Transforming an open field

Published:Saturday | January 24, 2015 | 12:00 AM

Mel Cooke, Gleaner Writer

I have seen the transformation of an open field into a mini-village for the primary purpose of presenting Jamaican popular music on a big stage over and over again, and still I am amazed at the process, the result and rapid disassembling of extensive infrastructure.

I experienced it most recently at the year-end, start of new year pair of Sting 2014 on Boxing Day and Rebel Salute 2015 last weekend. It is a double I have done more often than not since the early 2000s and cannot remember missing both in the same time period for about 12 years.

end of year schedule

(There was a time when there were more shows. Then, my end of year schedule included Island Explosion in May Pen, East Fest in Morant Bay, Original Dancehall Jam Jam in Hayes and a show in St Catherine which I can't remember. Just goes to show how many events have died.)

Typically, the bulk of the crowd at a stage show arrives well after the music has begun and quite a few people leave about midway the final performer. So, most persons would not see - or care to see - the set-up and tear down. I do not see as much of it as I would like to, but I am fascinated by how an open field is made into a venue and a few hours after the music stops there is no evidence that anything ever happened there.

And while the larger events such as Jamaica Jazz & Blues, Sting, Rebel Salute and Sumfest naturally get the attention, it is the same for every outdoor event from a street dance to a beach party (on a different scale, of course) held in this country. And, as much as I admire the effort put into the process and the efficiency with which it is done, it is symptomatic of the lack of long-term planning put into this thing called Jamaican popular music.

For while music is an intangible asset which has done this country very well - and could do infinitely more - it cannot be so difficult to make some of the places where that music is performed to a primarily Jamaican audience, something we can see and touch in between events.

It is not only a way of having a place with some infrastructure in place, which makes the process of setting up for each event held there less tedious and costly, but also a matter of showing respect, to say here is a permanent place dedicated to the product of our collective intellect, of which we are proud.

open-field mentality

Then we could build a housing of memory around these spaces, with a record of those who performed there and the significance of the artistes and what they did.

Sounds like fantasy? No, just a matter of transforming the open field mentality that we have applied to Jamaican popular music for so many years into one of structure and permanence.

I remember standing outside a pub on King Street, downtown Kingston, listening to King Still telling the persons gathered around the sound system set up on the sidewalk how it was once like a crime to play a sound system, as the police would raid the open spaces where the dances were held with enthusiastic regularity. Despite the lack of help at best and direct opposition at worst of successive governments in Jamaica, the popular music has not only survived but also thrived.

Is it now too hard to ask for a venue for even each county?

melvillecooke@yahoo.ca