Travel to do Good’s Inside Reggae trip provides travelers with an immersive experience of Jamaica’s reggae culture and historical legacy. This year’s group took part in a unique performance at the Jessie Ripoll Primary School in Kingston. Group leader Matt Jenson shares his reflection on the most memorable day of Inside Reggae 2019.
Children are the light of this world and it’s too bad that we cannot find a way to help them become adults in such a way that also fully includes this light of innocence along side all the other often innocence killing behaviors, fears and abuses we have to negotiate to become ‘well adjusted.’
Today our INSIDE REGGAE crew, as part of our ‘giving back’ mission with Travel To Do Good (lead by Roslyn Parker), presented a shared performance at the Jesse Ripoll primary school in Kingston, JA. We prepared 5 tunes including Smile Jamaica (Chronixx), The Heathen, One Drop (Bob), They Gonna Talk (Beres Hammond) and the traditional nayabinghi mash up of Bongo Man a Come (Jimmy Cliff) and Rivers of Babylon (traditional). We did two performances in the school library where the awesome student band lead by music director Wayne Davis performed a couple of songs followed by us playing ours.
This photo captures the vibe of the experience. That’s Jaimie Jimenez in the middle of the massive hug crowd. Yes, as soon as I walked into the school area I was (and we all were) receiving not just high 5’s and traditional Jamaican hand shakes but enthusiastic hugs by these absolutely fun-loving you’ts. (And in one case one of our group members was tackled by a mob of hugging kids!) I’ve experienced this a number of times from Ghana, to South Africa, to Puerto Rico, to places in the USA and I’m always a bit taken aback, kind of shocked out of my ‘well adjusted’ adult self. You know the experience, the feeling; just boundless joy and absolutely no fear about expressing connection and fun and breaking through the shells we all must erect around ourselves to function in this crazy world of ours. It’s simultaneously awesome to be so viscerally reminded of this innocence that we all have and deeply frustrating that society beats it out of us. And here in Jamaica that contrast is deep as nearly the second we leave the school property the hustle and survival vibe hits hard. The shell goes back up and ya gotta watch out.
Call me crazy but I spend time taking quite seriously the vision of a world where this innocence, this pure love actually rules. Where the pressure drop that we ‘adult’ humans seem to think is so important, so ‘real,’ so part of our ‘nature,’ is put to the side, only paying attention to the bits of it that are necessary for truly healthy development. We all know so damn much of it is downright toxic!
Mr. Davis’ music students are awesome and very talented! They started off their set with a solo performance by a girl (I cannot remember her name) playing guitar and singing Marley’s ‘Redemption Song’ with such soul, heart and fantastic intonation that you could only melt. Then the band joined and hit us with and old school ska tune and one of my favorite traditional reggae songs “Dreamland,” and a few other songs. The rhythm section and especially the wikked bassie you’t, all of 10 years old, delivered the feel of this music, BIG. That’s the thing about the music here: FEEL. It’s all about that and not about often soul killing over intellectualization and obsession with technique. To some ‘highly educated’ musicians, simplicity equals some kind of lesser form of music and expression. (I remember when I was in grad school studying piano, and was beginning to discover roots blues. As I walked the erudite halls of New England Conservatory looking for a room to practice in, I actually pulled the shade down and looked up and down the hallway to make sure no one heard me practicing this simplistic music!) Here in Jamaica the vast majority of popular music is simplistic when looking at it purely from a theoretical/technical standpoint but if you don’t got the feel right, you don’t got nothing. If it’s not coming from the heart, it carries absolutely no meaning.
Photo credit: Kevin Paris
Just like the children we were hugged by, breaking me out of my protective ‘adult’ shell, coming down here to Jamaica puts front and center this crucial tenant of meaning which is the feel of the music, and to be reminded that all of our technical/theoretical training ain’t worth a damn thing without feel. Interesting, just now, as I write this, a quote from the Indian spiritual leader and mystic Sadhguru arrived in my in box: “Life is a far larger phenomenon than thought.” Reggae music and its off shoots keep a direct connection to this larger phenomenon that is in all of us. AND IT’S DONE THROUGH THE DRUM, REPETITIVE TRANCE STATE RHYTHM, WHICH IS OUR DIRECT, ALL ENCOMPASING LINK TO AFRICA AND HIGHER UNIVERSAL TRUTHS! Maroghini, my co-leader adds another element to it by saying, “The drum IS our revolution.”
Our band, which we now call the “Dub-a-Rub” band took the stage and our performance was more like a community jam session with everyone singing and dancing OUT LOUD with us. The finale was a joint performance of One Drop. Absolutely amazing.
As we departed walking through the front area of the school, we were mobbed; an utter chaos of love and hugs!
Matt Jenson is a reggae musician and faculty at Bererklee College of Music. As a child he fell in love with the musical styles of the African diaspora: Jazz, Blues, Afro-Latin and Reggae, leading him to completing a master’s degree in jazz studies at the New England Conservatory of Music (Boston) and many immersive trips to areas where these styles originated, most notably, Jamaica and Cuba. Included in Matt’s artistic persona is a deep concern for the socio-political-psychological-
The Jessie Ripoll Primary School’s mission is to create an atmosphere that will encourage the continuous growth of each student in the community. For more information, visit https://jessieripollprimary.com/.
Special thanks to the master drum maker and ceramicist Phillip Supersad for loaning us a full set of nayabinghi drums and for the performance as well as making his drums available to our group for purchase. The maker and bringer of THE DRUM….of critical importance. No drum, no life!
Also special thanks to Jesse Ripoll school principal O’Neil Stephens for opening up the school to us and allowing this incredible experience to take place!
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