Herbie Miller talks a decade of Grounation
Ten years ago, not many persons could articulate what exactly was a ‘Grounation’, nor could they boast of having had such an experience. But, Grounation is now an integral part of that Reggae and Black History Month experience, courtesy of the Jamaica Music Museum (JaMM), a division of the Institute of Jamaica. In 2021, director Herbie Miller sounded his drums to summon attention to the institute’s 10 East Street home for an invigorating, eye-opening, ‘hearty’ discussion, which included panellists, presenters and performers, paying tribute to the cultural synergy between the arts, the creators and the artefacts.
“Grounation is that talk about the plantation period and the maladies and how we use that to create music and dance and song in a positive way. Grounation is a reference to the Rasta ceremonial event in which verbal exchange, reasoning, and artistic expression is the core of ‘overstanding’, Miller told The Sunday Gleaner.
Miller said he took a trip back in time to his boyhood to craft the message of the future. “For those artefacts that depict our musical journey, it is important to have that discussion about the social history of the people who created these artefacts. I linked that to my boyhood experience of hearing those Rastas up in Warieka Hills drumming. There was no Norman Range then, it was all cactus and macka bush and we could hear the sounds clearly. It was frightening at first, because of how society made you afraid of your culture and the drums, but it was also captivating,” he recounted.
As a student of the Windward Road Primary School, he met Brother Peanut, who was one of Count Ossie’s drummers and there were boys at school who were a part of that drumming. “I knew they [the Rastafarians] were up there reasoning, talking about local and colonial politics. I wanted to continue that discussion in an environment in which there is a new dawn, a new morning, culturally and spiritually, and from a historical point of view and look at topics like Marcus Garvey as a muse for the cultural and creative industries,” he explained.
SUBSTANCE AND LONGEVITY
The JaMM director is so enthusiastic that he even has a name for the faithfuls who turn up religiously every Sunday in February for Grounation. They are his ‘Jammers’. “When we produced the first Grounation series the dream for it to be a programme of substance and longevity was at the forefront of our minds, so to see where we are today is no surprise and we are grateful for all the support received from all benefactors and devoted ‘Jammers’ over the years,” Miller said.
For Miller, the years have flown by and he is ready to evaluate, while keeping hope alive for the longed-for building to house the music museum. “We started out quite modest. If we got 60 people we were happy, until it germinated and we are now able to completely fill a 300-seat auditorium and still have people standing. We have lost Jammers along the way, but we feel their support, and we have had the total support of the IOJ and Vivan Crawford, and also the Ministry of Culture through Olivia Grange. We haven’t seen the building yet, but it is in the process. We are meeting with the right people and looking for the funding and once the monied people are convinced that it is a reality, then they will be ready to provide Jamaica and the world with a beautiful space,” he said.
Grounation has presented themes including: African Aesthetics in Jamaican Popular Culture; The Drum in Africa and its Diasporas; Dancehall a Liberating Ethic and Ungle Malungu Man: Musings on Don Drummond, and for its 2020 celebrations – Blackhead Chiney Man: The Chinese Contribution to Jamaican Popular Music.
Participants in the many lectures, panel discussions and concerts include: artistes Big Youth, Jah 9, Carlos Malcolm, Derrick Morgan, and Mystic Revelation of Rastafari; poet laureates Lorna Goodison and Professor Marvyn Morris; authors Colin Channer and Kwame Dawes, and other personalities such as professors Clinton Huton, Maureen Warner-Lewis, and Rupert Lewis; Ernie Smith, ‘Toots’ Hibbert, L’Acadco, Dionne Jackson-Miller, Elaine Wint, Kay Osbourne, Dennis Alcapone, and many more.
The celebration of Grounation’s 10-year anniversary will be done virtually, but the experience is promised to be only too real. Reggae Month will come alive every Sunday in February with a slew of exciting programmes including a visual exhibition, panel discussions, live music through a virtual presentation and more. Alpha Boys’ School takes the spotlight in 2021, the year which marks 140 years of that august institution. Upward and Onward: Alpha, Sister Ignatius, and Music will commemorate the journey.