‘Jamaica, Jamaica!: How Jamaican Music Conquered the World‘ is the latest art exhibit being shown at the National Gallery of Jamaica. It opened on February 2 and closes on June 28, 2020. It’s one of the most exciting exhibits ever launched by this gallery and was aptly opened in February, locally observed as Reggae Month. This exhibit was previously shown at Philharmonie de Paris in 2017 and titled “The General” after the 1985 hit song by artiste Brigadier. Renamed Jamaica, Jamaica! after gracing local shores, this exhibit documents how the tiny Caribbean island of Jamaica was able to become a global musical force to be reckoned with. The capital city of Kingston and venue of the exhibition is recognized as the birthplace of six distinct musical genres which led to Kingston being designated official UNESCO creative city status in 2015.
The National Gallery is centrally located in Downtown, Kingston. There’s usually a small fee to enter the gallery but that’s waived on the last Sunday of each month in an event aptly named ‘Last Sundays’, where they’re open from 11am–4pm and entry is free of cost with tours, musical performances and children’s activities. Otherwise, the regular hours are Tuesdays to Thursdays from 10am–4:30pm, Fridays from 10am–4pm and Saturdays from 10am–3pm. That means they’re closed on Mondays and all other Sundays except on last Sundays.
Jamaica, Jamaica! navigates Jamaica’s music through the times, beginning with an era which is often left out of the history books, that is, revival and kumina. This is the musical heritage from the African enslaved and Maroons, those who managed to escape and colonize the inhospitable interior of the island evading British capture. These rhythms went on to shape the 20th century’s sounds of mento and nyabinghi, Jamaica’s “rebel music”, heavy with African drumming.
The 19th century was an exciting and explosive time for our music scene with mento paving the way for its fast-paced cousin, ska. Ska is the music of our independence, the joyous jubilee of freedom echoed in its zealous notes and melodies. Ska and jazz blended together to create rocksteady, another distinct sound to emerge from this little rock.
Kingston’s most oppressed and impoverished continued using music as an escape, much like their ancestors a century ago. The rhythm slowed, the melodies ripened, the lyrical genius intensified, giving rise to a genre which is now synonymous with Jamaica. You think Jamaica, you think reggae and you’d be right. Reggae is Jamaica’s gift to the world. You can’t listen to reggae and feel depressed. Reggae is feel-good music. Due to excellent promotion and dying at the peak of his career, Bob Marley became the face of reggae music across the world and it helps that he has several talented sons and grandsons to keep the Marley name alive. However, Bob is only one of several hundred stars to emerge from Jamaica’s reggae scene from the 70s onwards and the exhibit was fair, paying tribute to dozens of them, highlighting none more than the other.
Finally, reggae gave way for a raunchier cousin, that cousin who’s rachet, whose actions you’re not always proud of but who you can’t help but love: dancehall. Dancehall is a vibe, the music of dance halls (get it?), street dances and fetes. Dancehall is explicit, its lyrics often violent, morally degrading to women and downright lewd and ghastly but the rhythm is dreadfully infectious. Jamaica, Jamaica! celebrates dancehall in all its glory with its skillful acrobatic (and often controversial) dance moves and handpainted billboards of yesteryear, adding a kaleidoscope of colour to the museum’s blank walls.
I can’t even fully capture the beauty of this exhibit. You really need to see it for yourself. I even got my paranoid mother to venture Downtown with me on a Sunday afternoon to view it! 😎 Hats off to the curators of this lovely exhibition, namely Sebastien Carayol, Herbie Miller and O’Neil Lawrence.
Of course I had to check out the 4 permanent galleries again, namely the historic, Edna Manley, A.D. Scott and Kapo galleries. It’s amazing the things you notice on a third trip which you hadn’t appreciated before, and it’s always a delight seeing my favourite pieces again, both of which are sculptures by Edna Manley, often hailed as the Mother of Jamaican Art.
I’ve relocated to another corner of Jamaica but Kingston will always be home, the heartbeat of Jamaica, a boisterous and colourful city (unfortunately also dirty and violent in several parts) which I love dearly. I had a week off this month so I got a chance to fully immerse myself in the city once more, rather than a brief weekend trip to visit my family and friends which always feels like 30 minutes rather than 2 days. Thus, in the next few weeks, look out for some awesome content with events and places highlighting this lovely city of paradoxes. I hope you’ll enjoy reading about and seeing Kingston through my rose-coloured lens.
‘Til next time! ✌🏽
Keep up with the National Gallery and its events through their:
- Website: http://natgalja.org.jm
- Blog: https://nationalgalleryofjamaica.wordpress.com/
- Facebook Page: @NationalGalleryofJamaica