Making music tourism work in Kingston
A few weeks ago, when the One World Ska & Rocksteady Festival was officially launched at The Knutsford Courts hotel by the Sound & Pressure organisation (which takes its name from the Hopeton Lewis song). Julian 'Jingles' Reynolds of Sound & Pressure and government ministers Ed Bartlett and Olivia Grange, who have responsibility for tourism and culture, respectively, all spoke about the intention to pull visitors to the birthplace of Jamaican popular music.
The first annual One World Ska & Rocksteady Festival will be held on November 26 at the Ranny Williams centre on Old Hope Road, St Andrew. There are targets for local (like any other music event, the domestic support is critical to the festival's success) and tourist attendance as it develops, and I hope that they are not only realised, but exceeded.
It is great to have a festival celebrating the roots of Jamaican popular music in the city where they were created and, at the launch, Grange told a few tales about Chocomo Lawn in west Kingston and ska. However, as much as I am hopeful for the event to endure and prosper, I could not help feeling a little sad about the neglect of Jamaican popular music's physical origins which the event will operate in.
I work in downtown Kingston on North Street. The Gleaner's building is on the same street grid layout as hallowed names in Jamaican popular music. A famed dance space, Forester's Hall, is also on North Street. Hanover Street, where Stanley Motta established his studio to record early Jamaican songs, intersects with North Street.
These important places do not resonate in the popular imagination, not least of all because they do not have physical presences. There is not an official designation that tells the public this place is important.
There are many like them. A short walk away from The Gleaner's offices is Orange Street, which I initially did not know as the famed music roadway 'Beat Street', but part of the bus route from downtown Kingston to Papine. I could see Techniques close to Parade and the Prince Buster's sign, among a few other indications of what was once there, but as a youngster I did not know they were part of extensive music activity. That came later when I started writing about music and reading more.
On Orange Street, Dennis Brown's image outside Big Yard is one of the few graphically vivid testaments to Jamaican popular music. Why Orange Street - and other places like North Parade where Randy's that became VP was - is not liberally marked with permanent signage about the music activities which took place there is unfathomable.
It is not only there. Whenever I pass the Bournemouth bath facility on Michael Manley Boulevard I feel some sadness. The sessions with The Skatalites there are legendary, but the place is desolate. When I attend Marley celebrations in Trench Town, I wonder why the streets with the homes of so many early Jamaican popular music standouts are not community landmarks.
From Studio One on Studio One Boulevard (formerly Brentford Road) to Duke Reid's former Treasure Isle set-up on Bond Street (I once went to Horace Andy's studio on the location) there is a lot to make music heritage sites of, but it is not being done in an organised way. Dynamic and Sonic sounds, Channel One on Maxfield Avenue - the list goes on.
It is a consistent, woeful tale of us not making our music history tangible. So while One World is welcome, it would have been so much better to have the Jamaican residents and visitors who attend the festival be also able to visit, see and touch something tangible from the history the music sprang from and has left behind. A sign programme is a start. I think this should be a state-level initiative, giving the required legitimacy and (hopefully) unity that a private project might have to battle harder for.
I once went on a bus trip organised by Sounds & Pressure (if I recall correctly) identifying many of these sites in downtown Kingston. The knowledge is there; what remains is the state-level will and the wallet. Of course, urban blight cannot be ignored, and the places where the music came from cannot be part of a tourism experience without rehabilitation of the surrounding areas. So there is the matter of which comes first - fixing the areas first to prepare for visitors, or generating funds from early music tourism initiatives to plough back into the communities.
Tune of the week: This week we go retro. I saw Shinehead perform on last year's Welcome to Jamrock cruise and it left an indelible impression. Take a listen to Know How Fe Chat - not the remix on the Unity album but the cut on the Sleng Teng riddim from the Rough & Rugged album at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Gd8T7uUVtg. As the man deejays "cause if a dub even ben' up or a dub even scratch/Wid 19 pothole or a million crack/A jus' me dat same way siddung pon top."