Drums of Defiance / Jamaica
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Various Artists
Drums of Defiance
Smithsonian Folkways

cd cover The repatriated sounds of the music of Jamaica have had, arguably, as profound an effect on the modern music of Africa as that of Cuba. Reggae's influence in Africa is immeasurable - for example in Harare, the reggae capital of Africa, where phenomenal crowds of teenagers flock on Saturday afternoons to hear reggae sounds from the international scene played on pumping sound systems. One of Africa's biggest selling names in any genre, Lucky Dube, is a reggae artist.

So what of the traditional music of Jamaica, that which we hear so little about? "Drums of Defiance" is a disc of field recordings made in Jamaica in the late 1970s by Kenneth Bilby, and, as the subtitle suggests, documents "Maroon music from the earliest free black communities of Jamaica." The Maroon communities are, in summary, the descendants of the people who escaped the slave plantations during the 17th and 18th centuries and established themselves as free individuals. The slaves were, in the first place, predominantly Ghanaian, and as their descendants became, to a limited extent, autonomous, they could practice their ancestral musical traditions without great fear of dreaded retribution. Therefore, to play this record to an inexperienced ear, the listener would probably deduce that it is actually a set of traditional recordings from Africa.

A large proportion of the recordings are from the Kromanti tradition, a deeply spiritual and ritualistic set of music and dances, presumably chosen as the purest aspect of the Maroon musical tradition. Percussion and vocals predominate, with the latter very often in the typically African format of call and response. Occasionally there is further support supplied by a timeline played on a high-pitched idiophone, another very West African trait. Indeed, anyone who is familiar with traditional Ghanaian dance-drumming should find the timeline on certain tracks vaguely identifiable. An intriguing aspect of Kromanti drumming is its ability to imitate speech, thereby lacking a regular beat, but clearly possessing great powers over those in its presence. Other tracks bear little resemblance to their distant predecessors, or, indeed, to one another. The processional songs, for example, some sung in easily distinguishable Patois with very funky rhythms, are markedly different from the frenzied, trance-inducing rhythms of the more solemn Kromanti songs. Indispensably, the liner notes are interesting and informative, elaborating eloquently on each recording.

Drums of Defiance is a priceless contribution to the field of ethnographical recording. If reggae is the music of the Rastafarian community of Jamaica, who, in fact, represent just 13 percent of the population, then it seems reasonable to have this one decent representation of the music of some of the more traditional communities. - Jennifer Byrne

At cdroots.com


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