Essay on Retention and Preservation of African Roots in Jamaican Folk Music

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Retention and Preservation of African Roots in Jamaican Folk Music


Amid tens of thousands of volumes in this library collection at UVM, the "silence" is in fact a low hum issuing from the vents. I read essay upon essay, ideas and histories of ideas, until I pause in a pensive moment. A thick green binding breaks my meditation. A title, The Power of Sound, fills my mind with music. I consider the power of words.

The music issuing from the Caribbean island of Jamaica has for decades — and many contend longer — broadcast a uniquely Jamaican identity. This personality arises from a complex intermingling of diverse cultures, unforgivable power structures, passionate religious expressions, not to mention the late twentieth century pressures of global capitalism. Though many characters both principle and complimentary have passed away amid this cultural evolution, a musical lineage bears witness to the island’s history.

This study will focus on cultural themes in Jamaica’s colonial history which contributed to the retention of distinctively African forms of musical expression. The goal of such an approach is to learn something about the process of change itself, an indomitable fact of life which stands in contradiction to all efforts at preservation. The grandeur of such knowledge is appropriately called out by Romanian scholar Constantin Brailoiu who writes, "each time our studies have as an aim a human fact or one tied to human reality, we are bound to conclude that the understanding of any particular aspect of life is only possible if we understand life itself in its entirety." This statement represents a comment on the then emerging field of sociology as a response to what Brailoiu interprets as a "powerful wish f...

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Nettl, Bruno. "The Concept of Preservation in Ethnomusicology" in More Than Drumming, Essays on African and Afro-Latin American Music and Musicians edited by Irene V. Jackson (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1985).

Rattray, Robert Sutherland. Religion and Art in Ashanti (London: Oxford University Press, Second Impression, 1954).

Rattray, Robert Sutherland. Ashanti (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1923).

Roberts, John Storm. Black Music of Two Worlds (Trivoli, New York: Original Music, 1972).

Stewart, Gary. Rumba on the River, a history of the popular music of the two Congos (London: Verso, 2000).

Waterman, Christopher A. "The Uneven Development of Africanist Ethnomusicology: Three Issues and a Critique" in Comparative Musicology and Antrhropology of Music edited by Bruno Nettl and Philip V. Bohlman (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991), pp. 169-186.

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