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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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
The Bob Marley Museum was not on my list of places to see on this visit to Kingston but when my other plans fell through, it sounded like the perfect backup.
Located at 56 Hope Road in a 19th-century colonial house that was the home the Reggae superstar, Rastaman and activist was living in when he died in 1981, it was converted into a museum by his widow, Rita Marley, and opened to the public on May 11, 1986.
On the main floor of the Bob Marley Museum is a working recording studio, memorabilia from Marley’s performances, and numerous awards. Included as well are costumes that were worn by the I Threes — Rita Marley, Judy Mowatt and Marcia Griffiths — his backup singers from 1974, and an image of Bob.
On the second floor, Bob’s bedroom with his guitar, looks like he’d be returning any minute to get it. Next to the room is a kitchen, family room turned portrait gallery and a replica of the record shop the Wailers owned. Included is the bicycle they used to deliver their records. The second floor also has memorabilia from Bob’s trips to Africa, including his performance at Zimbabwe’s independence celebration.
The tour includes a visit to the room that gunmen sprayed with bullets in 1976 in an attempt on the singer’s life. Rita, Bob and their manager were wounded. Unfortunately, the bullet that hit Bob in the arm could not be removed. The attack was widely believed to be politically motivated.
Bob had planned a free concert, Smile Jamaica, and been outspoken about the glaring inequities within the Jamaican society. In the tense and violent run-up to the 1976 general election, his comments were perceived to be supportive of the ruling PNP of Michael Manley and against the JLP’s Edward Seaga, had allegedly been receiving backing from the US and the CIA. Graffiti at the time labeled Seaga “CIA-ga.”
Two days following the shooting, Bob performed, as scheduled, at the Smile Jamaica concert which was held at National Heroes Park. However, after the concert, he left the island for England where he spent 18 months. Now the walls of the room are plastered with newspaper accounts of the incident except for a few areas where bullets pierced the brick.
The museum also features Bob’s original mixing board. The tour ends with a 20-minute film, with the pulsating rhythms and unforgettable lyrics playing in the background, and featuring footage of interviews with the reggae artist.
In the courtyard of the Bob Marley Museum are several murals, one with images of Bob and his sons — the daughters’ are to be drawn. Bob had 12 children. Another mural is dedicated to Haile Selassie. Near the entrance, the wall is covered by photos of Bob, the Wailers and the I-Threes. A statue of the singer, in an iconic pose – right fist clenched, reaching above his head, his left clasping his guitar – stands near the entrance to the museum. There’s also a restaurant, Legend Cafe. In the back, a fish pond and a small marijuana plant.
Planning Your Visit to the Bob Marley Museum
Bob Marley Museum, 56 Hope Road, Kingston, 927-5152
Hours: Monday – Saturday, 9:30 first tour, 4:00 last tour
Tour lasts an hour
Cost: US$25 (Non-Resident Adults); US$12 (Non-Resident Children aged 4-12); J$500 (Residents, with proper ID)
No photography is not allowed during the tour however, photos can be taken after.
Singer and producer, Derrick Harriott, has been in and around the music business in Jamaica for well over 50 years. I hadn’t thought about him until a few days ago when I noticed his record shop in Kingston. I was surprised.
Harriott is one of the pioneers of Jamaican music — one of its movers and shakers. He had his own label, Crystal, and produced several well known artists. At one point, he even had a show on one of the local radio stations. Harriott has several albums, including compilations, to his credit.
Approximately 30 minutes before Bacchanal 2012, Jamaica’s Carnival, which had as its theme, Future Shock, made its way to where I was standing near Devon House, the skies opened up. Despite the fact that it had looked ominous all morning, I had left without an umbrella or rain slick.
At first, I tried to stare it back — how could there be rain on carnival day? But as the drops got fatter and began pelting my head and shoulders, with some insistence, I reluctantly admitted defeat — my willpower was no match for a tropical shower — and shamefacedly begged a woman nearby, who had found some thick cardboard, for a piece to cover my head. Then I waited. I didn’t know how long the rain would last, or how soon the parade would appear, but I’d been standing too long to give up and go home. Sometimes, I surprise myself at how pig headed I can be!
Unlike many other Caribbean islands, Jamaica does not have a carnival tradition. However, students from islands where carnival is an annual event who attend the local campus of the University of the West Indies, began staging their own version of carnival long before Byron Lee started it in the island. That carnival, I’m told was bigger and even made it beyond Kingston to Montego Bay. Unfortunately, the music and the revelry stopped after Lee passed away. The current event has been around for 24 years and is now the only vehicle for anyone who wants to jump carnival in Jamaica.
After maybe 15 long minutes, the rain let up. A truck appeared and men began unloading barricades. (Roads are blocked long enough to let the parade through.) I was relieved. The party, though wet, wet, wet (instead of hot, hot, hot) was still on.
Then this SUV arrived and the driver, who was wearing a T-shirt that read ‘Field Crew,’ got out very official-like. He walked to the rear of the vehicle, looked at something, walked back to the front, got into the driver’s seat and drove off.
Another long 15 or so minutes passed before we heard music in the distance. Then I saw the crowd.
Maybe because of the rain, things had become a free for all. Folks in costume who were playing mass, as well as members of the public, a few people on bicycle, and street vendors, some with push carts, were all now part of the road march.
Isn’t he just so regal?
When the last float inched past me I checked my watch. Less than 30 minutes had passed. I was surprised. Surely, this couldn’t be the end? Maybe the rain sent some people home.
I felt cheated. I discarded my makeshift rain hat and decided to follow. I walked for about 10-15 minutes when I felt raindrops again. This time, I had nothing to protect me. I dropped my camera in my bag and headed towards Devon House.
I was soaked by the time I got there. More than getting wet, I was disappointed with Bacchanal 2012. It was smaller that I anticipated and looked disorganized. In fairness, that could have been because of the rain. So next year, I’ll go early and I’ll go to mass camp.
Bacchanal, Jamaica’s carnival parade, takes place the weekend following Easter.
I like happy coincidences. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I had no plans to visit the Bob Marley Museum in Kingston but then there I was. So last Thursday evening when the new Marley documentary premiered at Emancipation Park, I knew I had to be there.
As I walked to the park at around 6 pm, I could hear Bob’s music, specifically the song I had heard at his Museum a few days before, the one I wish now I had asked about. Scores of people had already gathered, some were sitting on the grass, others were milling around. Kids were playing happily. I wondered how many of them really knew why their parents had brought them to the park.
The main stage was draped with the red, green and gold of the Rasta flag and several screens had been placed around the park so that viewers could sit where ever they wished to watch the documentary. The mood was festive.
Wandering around, I bumped into a human chain formed by several young men and women who were wearing Marley T-shirts. They made up part of the VIP entrance. Standing behind the human barrier for a few minutes — they wouldn’t let me cross — I caught the arrival of the Marley girls, a former government minister and a group of people I didn’t recognize. They were ushered into an official area in front of the stage. Later, I would learn that in that group was none other than Kevin Macdonald, the film’s Academy Award-winning director.
But too many people were gathered at the VIP entrance and I couldn’t get clear shots of anything or anyone so I wandered towards the main gate where the officials would arrive.
I thought I knew every song that Bob Marley released. But on a visit to the Bob Marley museum in Kingston, I heard a song I didn’t recognize and heard it again at the premiere on Thursday of the latest documentary on the life of the Rastaman and reggae icon appropriately titled, Marley (more about that later). I kick myself now because I should have asked the name, now I can’t even remember the melody.
But anyway, it prompted me to think of featuring Bob as this week’s Soulful Sunday performer. Surprisingly, I hadn’t done that before though I’ve written about him in previous posts.
I saw Bob once at a concert in Montreal sometime in 1980. I don’t remember much about the evening, except that we had lousy seats — I could hardly see him when he came on stage and we left shortly after so that my boyfriend could make the 2 1/2 hour drive back to Ottawa to get some sleep before going to work the next day. A few months later, we heard that Bob was sick. The next news was that he’d died.
Robert Nesta Marley was born in St. Ann on February 6, 1945 in Nine Miles, St. Ann, Jamaica. Bob was always interested in music and decided to concentrate on his music after a brief stint as a welder’s apprentice. At 16, Desmond Dekker introduced him to Jimmy Cliff who in turn introduced him to producer, Leslie Kong for who Bob recorded his first singles, Judge Not, Terror and One More Cup of Coffee. None of the singles became hits and Bob left Kong, who’d only paid him $2 for his work.
In 1963, Bob and Bunny Livingston (aka Bunny Wailer), his childhood friend, began taking lessons from Joe Higgs who introduced him to Peter McIntosh. The three became good friends and later formed The Wailing Wailers. The group also included Junior Braithwaite (d. 1999), Beverly Kelso and Cherry Smith (d. 2008).
The group’s collaboration with Clement “Coxsone” Dodd produced their first hit, Simmer Down, which sold 80,000 copies. They also recorded an early version of One Love, which was voted Song of the Century in 2009.
Bob, the Rastaman
Bob Marley was, without a doubt, the most well known Rastafarian there is. He became a Rastaman following the visit of His Imperial Majesty, Haile Selassie to Jamaica in 1966. Through his music and his uncompromising stance, he legitimized Rastafarians, and when he sang about the plight of the poor in Jamaica, he touched poor people everywhere. Bob literally and figuratively brought the ghetto (Trench Town, where he grew up) and Rastafarians uptown (Hope Road where he lived and had his studio), to the other side of Jamaican society.
It’s difficult for me to select a Bob song that’s my favorite as I have many. Here are a few: War (from a speech by HIM, Haile Selassie I to the UN in October, 1963 – excerpt below) and Burnin’ and Lootin‘.
Excerpt of HIM’s speech, which Bob used verbatim in War:
“…until the philosophy which holds one race superior and another inferior is finally and permanently discredited and abandoned: That until there are no longer first-class and second class citizens of any nation; That until the color of a man’s skin is of no more significance than the color of his eyes; That until the basic human rights are equally guaranteed to all without regard to race; That until that day, the dream of lasting peace and world citizenship and the rule of international morality will remain but a fleeting illusion, to be pursued but never attained; And until the ignoble and unhappy regimes that hold our brothers in Angola, in Mozambique and in South Africa in subhuman bondage have been toppled and destroyed; Until bigotry and prejudice and malicious and inhuman self-interest have been replaced by understanding and tolerance and good-will; Until all Africans stand and speak as free beings, equal in the eyes of all men, as they are in the eyes of Heaven; Until that day, the African continent will not know peace. We Africans will fight, if necessary, and we know that we shall win, as we are confident in the victory of good over evil…”
Bob not only quoted from Selassie, he borrowed from Marcus Garvey as well as he did in Redemption Songwhen he sang, Emancipate yourself from mental slavery, none but ourselves can free our minds.
We are going to emancipate ourselves from mental slavery because whilst others might free the body, none but ourselves can free the mind. Mind is your only ruler, sovereign. The man who is not able to develop and use his mind is bound to be the slave of the other man who uses his mind. – Marcus Garvey, October, 1937
Bob, the Loverman
Bob wasn’t just about revolution however. His soft side can be heard in two of my favorites, Waiting in Vain and Turn Your Lights Down Low.
Jacob Miller left long before he was able to share with the world all the music he had in him. He died tragically in a car accident in March, 1980.
A prolific musician, Miller was leader singer of the reggae band, Inner Circle (of Bad Boys fame) and worked on several solo projects. He and the band were preparing for an American tour with Bob Marley when he died. He was only 27 years old.
Miller was a fun, playful person, whose onstage performances were always energetic. Despite his heft, he was electrifying on stage, moving around with the agility of someone half his size. He was also known to be always ready with a joke. But there was no joke about his music.
Miller made his first recording in 1968 with well known Jamaican producer, Clement “Coxsone” Dodd and recorded several singles before signing on as lead singer with Inner Circle. Tenement Yard, was his first hit song with the band.