As much as sun, rainforests, mountains, and beaches Jamaica is a land of music – it’s almost cliché to say you hear it everywhere you go (and yet I’ll say it). As someone who has a deep emotional connection to music, it’s one of the things that appealed to me in choosing Jamaica (or did Jamaica choose me – huh … pondering) for this adventure.
I brought all of my music with me. Thanks to technology, music now travels well. Some songs give me hope, some songs make me feel like taking the world by the tail, and some songs, inevitably, make me cry. Even better than having the music I know with me is discovering some small bit of the variety of music in Jamaica.
This past Friday I had the chance to go with a couple of friends to Redbones, a well-known blues joint here in Kingston. I’m not sure why they define themselves as a blues spot, when they also have jazz, poetry readings, gospel nights, art shows, films – basically, it’s a great place for celebrating Jamaican cultural creators.
One of the opening acts for the night was a fun five piece all-female group called Adahzeh (The King’s Daughters). They are a lot of fun, performed mostly their own songs, and have a very upbeat poprock sound with a typically encouraging reggae message. “One love” is not just a saying from a Bob Marley song, it is a crucial mindset for Rastafari and reggae influenced Jamaicans, and while these women didn’t necessarily look like Rastafari (in their fitted suits and big sunglasses they looked more like women from an MTV video circa 1986, which isn’t a bad thing), the message was still very positive.
The next act was Mystikal Revolution, who might have made more of an impact on me if the sound was balanced. For some reason the sound board was wonky all night, the wireless mic kept cutting out and with both Adahzeh and Mystikal Revolution it was hard to hear the lead singer over the band. It’s unfortunate, and kind of odd considering that Redbones is known for their live music. It seems as though without the lead singer Mystikal Revolution becomes the Redbones house band – at the very least they perform there regularly, and they also backed up the headliner.
Said headliner was Jah Bouks – if I closed my eyes and pictured a reggae singer, Jah Bouks is who I would picture. I really enjoyed the super relaxing and uplifting experience of listening to him live. To be totally honest, I didn’t necessarily pick up on a lot of the words of the songs, but the message was still clear. Jah Bouks had a fairly successful single last year called “Angola” and the crowd particularly responded to it. Three of the only words I picked up on were Africa, Marley, and Malawi (though I didn’t hear Malawi on the video, so maybe I made that up). That and the experience itself was enough to satisfy me – I suppose that’s an example of art communicating on another level than just basic understanding. It was also really great to see the crowd responding so favourably to the message and the music.
None of that those official acts were the highlight of the night for me though. That gold star goes to Gawaine Campbell, the lead guitarist of Mystikal Revolution who also happens to have a fantastic and versatile voice. He totally stole the show with his two solos and final encore. I am trying, without success, to remember what he songs he performed but this video gives you an idea of his sound. It also give you a pretty good idea of the sounds of Kingston – the wind in the leaves is one of my favourite Jamaican sounds. The car alarm not so much, but still pretty typical. You learn to listen around it.
Music is constant in Kingston, but generally it comes from loud sound systems in cars or stores. This was a completely different experience with Jamaican music – intimate, communal, encouraging. Yet another fabulous night out in a city where nights out have yet to disappoint. Thanks to Joy-Anne, Sugi and Karen for the great company – mojitos for everyone!