The Jamaican Nation and its Music

Two shows at the Institute of Jamaica reveal the disinterest in archiving the nation’s valuable collection of musical artefacts and safeguarding the history of this iconic popular music.

A rather strange table donated to the nation by Chen’s Furniture company at Independence
Curator of Jamaica 50: Constructing a Nation, Dr. Shani Roper, displaying a gift given by Trinidad to Jamaica in 1962
The flag of the short-lived Federation of the West Indies and a wooden bust of Queen Elizabeth carved by a Jamaican sculptor

Visited two very poignant exhibits last week at the Institute of Jamaica…Jamaica 50: Constructing a Nation and Equal Rights: Reggae and Social Change, a show of historic Reggae album covers. The first of these actually opened today and will be open till February 2013. Equal Rights opened a few weeks ago and is a gem of an exhibit offering visitors a chance to see some rare Reggae album covers; it should also stay up into 2013 so try and catch it. The LP sized catalogue should be a keeper with texts about the raison d’etre of the exhibit and information about the various periods in Jamaican music that are featured in the show. What struck me as immeasurably sad was the cramped space made available to archive, document and display the vast portfolio of music this country has produced. There is a whole alternative history contained in Jamaican music which really deserves better treatment by the state than it currently receives.

I always find myself shaking my head when i contrast the resources made available to house Jamaica’s rather slender visual art tradition in comparison to the slender resources made available to showcase Jamaica’s internationally renowned popular music. Mi cyaan believe it indeed, to echo Mikey Smith. Is this really what the nation thinks of the extraordinary music generated by its people? Is it because Jamaican music comes from the underprivileged segments of society that it gets such shoddy treatment? For a previous post on the subject go here.

Director of the Music Museum, Herbie Miller who curated Equal Rights
Miller surveying the tiny storeroom available to house the rich artefacts of Jamaica’s world famous music scene
These beautiful album covers from the Dermot Hussey collection donated to the Music Museum are at risk if not properly stored.


This faded, ragged poster of Usain Bolt draped in the nation’s flag is symbolic of the neglect of both downtown Kingston and the popular culture of its people

For more photos go here.

Author: ap

writer, editor and avid tweeter

10 thoughts on “The Jamaican Nation and its Music”

    1. It is…not just a matter of opinion…it has very little purchase outside Jamaica, not even the art establishment would disagree with that. This is an area i specialize in, i wouldn’t make such a claim without being sure of what i’m saying. Even within the Caribbean compared to Cuba, Dom Rep and Haiti its slight…

      1. Now think again. I started taking concert promotional posters off telephone poles etc in JA since the 1980’s. That was great art! They are lost amidst divorce etc, but it would have been a wonderful collection with serious ethnographic and artistic implications. I wish I was more diligent!

      2. oh boy! that would have been worth collecting! in fact there’s an exhibit of dancehall posters doing the round collected by Maxine Walters…thanks for leaving a comment!

  1. Well said Annie. Jamaican music is of enormous world historical significance. I’d go further and suggest that no other small nation has contributed so disproportionately to global culture. The creativity of Jamaican musicians has been extraordinary in terms of both quantity and quality. It is strange then that state seems to hold to an antiquated, even colonial, set of values in which high culture is privileged over the popular music recordings which are Jamaica’s jewels.

    1. Thanks Jason, so pleased to hear from you here…yes, the music is so undervalued here its tragic…talk about misplaced priorities in the constructing of a nation. Visual Art was part of the colonial template many postcolonial countries were bequeathed. But 50 years later when your people have shown where their strength is and shown it in such spectacular fashion isn’t it time to re-orient national priorities?

  2. Glad you posted this Annie. Herbie Miller has a wealth of knowledge and personal experience with the story of reggae. And it’s very sad he has been given so few resources to work with. What can be done to further not just the collection of album covers, but the whole history of reggae. It’s a legacy worth preserving and promoting.

  3. Why doesn’t the IOJ just capture the whole block. Just next to the music exhibit there is a burnt out shell that seemed ideal spacewise.
    Apart of that staff were most helpful and friendly

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