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The Tambourine in Jamaican Culture

The tambourine or timbrel is an important musical instrument in Revival churches in Jamaica. It is also featured in mento, Kumina and Pocomania music.

According to Wikipedia, the tambourine originated in Greece, Rome, Mesopotamia, the Middle East and India.

Tambourine in Jamaican Music

Tambourine

The Tainos, Jamaica’s original people, called it the maguey, and used it in celebrations for their ancestors.

There are several references to the tambourine in Jamaican popular culture. In the Anancy story, Tiger Sheep-Skin Suit, Brer (Brother) Tiger plays the tambourine.  Anancy (or Anansi), a spider and a trickster who outsmarts everyone, came to Jamaica from Ghana’s Ashanti people.

Another reference comes in 1837, when Isaac Belisario (1794-1849), a Jamaican artist of Jewish descent, published several paintings on street life, which included costumed dancers and singers who sang to the music of fife, triangle and tambourine.

The tambourine comes in different shapes. The most popular resembles a small drum with several metal disks placed at intervals in the side. To use it, the player shakes the instrument with one hand then strikes it with the other.

Prince Harry Playing the Tambourine in Jamaica

Last year, when Prince Harry was on his official visit to commemorate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, he played the tambourine with British vocalist Gary Barlow who was also on the island recording music for an album commemorating the Jubilee.

The Rhumba Box

While waiting in the immigration line at the Donald Sangster International Airport in Montego Bay a few years ago, I heard the unmistakable sound of a mento band. They were playing a familiar tune, Take Her to Jamaica, and as I waited, I tapped my feet lightly and hummed along.

The singing got louder as I exited immigration on my way to pick up my luggage from the carousel. By now, I could see the musicians – three or four of them. One was playing a rhumba box, a percussion instrument that I hadn’t seen in years.

Rhumba box, Jamaica

Rhumba box

The rhumba box is a two foot square wooden box. It has a hole in the center to which is attached five metal strips that are tuned to different pitches. At that size, it’s also a seat for the musician and allows him to reach the metal keys.

The rhumba box originated from the African mbira, or thumb piano. It made its way to Cuba, where it’s called the marímbola, then to other countries. In Jamaica, it’s synonymous with mento, the folk music that is a precursor to ska and reggae.

Sitting on the rhumba box, he strummed the metal strips to hold the rhythm for the guitar and the maracas players as they belted out the words to another song, This Long Time Gal.

I watched many stoic faces relax and smile as they heard the music. I was still humming to myself as I walked out of the airport.

Click here to listen to the sound of the rhumba box and here to hear a mento version of Amy Winehouse’s Rehab by the Jolly Boys.

 

I’m linking this post to the weekly photo linkup, Travel Photo Thursday, at Budget Travelers Sandbox. Be sure to head over and check out other photos from locations around the world. Enjoy!

 

Soulful Sundays: Judy Mowatt

Though Judy Mowatt is best known as a member of the I-Threes, Bob Marley’s back up vocalists (Rita Marley and Marcia Griffiths were the other two), she is also an accomplished songwriter who enjoyed a separate career as a solo recording artist.

Born Judith Veronica Mowatt in Kingston around 1952, Mowatt sang in a church choir and as a teen, was part of a dance group that toured the Caribbean. Later, she was a member of the trio, The Gaylettes, which had a major hit with the song, Silent River. Mowatt continued recording following the break up of the group and wrote several tracks for Bunny Wailer. However, because of contractual disputes, she used a number of different pseudonyms. Two of her tracks were on The Wailers’ Burnin album.

In 1974, Mowatt had a second hit with a cover of I Shall Sing, a song recorded originally by Miriam Makeba. When she and Rita Marley backed up Marcia Griffiths, they hit it off and a new group, the I-Threes, was born. They joined Bob in 1975 and continued to back him up until his death in 1981. During that time, Mowatt continued to record on her own. Her first solo album, Mellow Mood, was released in 1975. Her second, Black Woman, the first album recorded at Marley’s Tuff Gong studios, is thought to be the best album by a female reggae artist.

Mowatt followed up with Only a Woman and Working Wonders then took over producing her own music. She even founding her own label. In 1985, she became the first female to be nominated for a Grammy in the reggae music category for her album Working Wonders.

Formerly a member of the Twelve Tribes of Israel, a Rastafarian group, Judy Mowatt converted to Christianity in 1990 and now sings Gospel music.

In 1999, the government of Jamaica awarded her an Order of Distinction for her contribution to reggae music.

Here’s Mowatt’s Many are Called.

 

 

Calabash International Literary Festival Returns this Weekend

This weekend, an estimated 5,000 lovers of literature and poetry will descend on the community of Treasure Beach on Jamaica’s south coast to listen to 30 authors read from their works at the Calabash International Literary Festival. The theme of this year’s festival, which starts this Friday, May 25th and ends on Sunday, is Jubilation! 50.

Started 11 years ago, Calabash was shelved last year because of lack of funding. At the time of the announcement, the organizers, poet Kwame Dawes and novelist Colin Channer, and hotelier Justine Henzell, promised that the festival would be back this year for Jamaica’s 50th anniversary celebration of its independence from Britain.

With a lineup of international and local authors, poets and musicians, from Nigeria, South Africa, Ethiopia, the U.S. and the U.K., this year’s Calabash International Literary Festival resumes its proven format. Gathered under a huge tent that is pitched just steps from the Caribbean Sea, attendees will hear the sound of waves crashing (or rolling) to the shore as they listen to readings interspersed with interviews and open mic performances. Each day’s session ends with music.

The following authors will be heard at the Calabash International Literature Festival this weekend:

Chimamanda Adichie        The Admiral                   Wayne Armond     Jacqueline Bishop    Loretta Collins
Carolyn Cooper                   Michael “Ibo” Cooper   Christine Craig     Fred D’Aguilar           Marcia Douglas
Garfield Ellis                       Carolyn Forche               Steve Golding       Vivien Goldman        Colin Grant
Laura Henzell                     Paul Holdengraber        Melissa Jones        Sadie Jones                Ronnie Kasrils
Victor Lavalle                     Shara McCallum             Alecia McKenzie    Maaza Mengiste        Anis Moigani
Orlando Patterson            Patricia Powell                Claudia Rankine     Olive Senior               Seretse Small
Sonjah Stanley Niaah      Ian Thomson                   Kerry Young             Kevin Young

Despite its funding problems, the Calabash International Literary Festival remains free and open to the public. Donations are welcomed and can be made at their website.

Other literature festivals that take place in the Caribbean:

* Anguilla Literary Festival, May
* BIM Literary Festival & Bookfair (Barbados), May
* Bocas Literary Festival (Trinidad & Tobago), April
* Havana International Book Fair, February
* Nature Island Literary Festival (Dominica), August
* St. Martin Bookfair, May