Wanted: Frank Gehry for Reggae Hall of Fame

An exhibit featuring a selection of the 2012 First International Reggae Poster Contest’s winning posters opens at the National Gallery of Jamaica on Sept 30, 2012 unveiling an ambitious agenda to build a Frank Gehry-designed building on the Kingston Waterfront to showcase Jamaica’s globally renowned music.

5 | Taj Francis | Jamaica

Taj Francis, a Jamaican designer, came fifth in the the 2012 First International Reggae Poster Contest with the poster directly above, depicting Lee Scratch Perry.

In my last post i decried the shambolic music museum that has been created in Jamaica to honour its world historical musical tradition. I also mentioned the National Gallery of Jamaica, an almost first world facility created to showcase the visual arts tradition of Jamaica. I could never understand why I rarely got a sense from the art displayed at the Gallery that there was any cross-fertilization between the powerful music scene here and the visual art scene. I also thought it strange that there was no reference to the fact that the Gallery was situated on Orange Street which in the 60s and 70s was known informally as Beat Street because it was the throbbing centre of musical activity in Jamaica. The passage quoted below will give you an idea of what I mean:

Junior Byles & Friends
129 Beat Street

Like Bourbon Street in New Orleans, Beale Street in Memphis, 42nd Street in New York or Music Row in Nashville, Orange Street in Kingston, Jamaica is the prototypical ‘Music Street’. As indicated by its unofficial name, Beat Street, the area around Orange Street in central Kingston had been a centre for sound system activity since the 1950s. By the 1960s Orange Street itself was the subject of numerous songs – the great Prince Buster’s “Shaking Up Orange Street” being merely the most famous [and versioned]. Many producers rented shops in and around Orange Street, including Bunny Lee at number 101, Sir JJ Johnson at number 133, and perhaps most celebrated, Prince Buster’s legendary Record Shack at number 127. Sonia Pottinger’s pressing plant was also in Orange Street, at the bottom; just around the corner was Randy’s Studio, above the shop on North Parade. The area continued as a centre for music into the seventies and beyond, although on a much smaller scale. Prince Buster still operates his shop there, as does Augustus Pablo. Producer Trevor ‘Leggo’ Douglas was one who came to Music Street in the late seventies, opening Cash & Carry Records at 125 Orange Street, just down the street from Prince Buster; like Buster, he’s still there today, running his own studio. Right next door to the Prince was the address that gives title to this compilation; Dudley ‘Manzie’ Swaby and his then-partner in music the late Leroy ‘Bunny’ Hollett moved into premises on the music street late in 1975, having previously operated from Manzie’s family home in Love Lane nearby. From the House of Music at 129 Beat Street they issued a series of recordings – both in roots style and love songs – that have easily stood the test of time. Most of this music has never been issued outside of Jamaica; this compilation is hopefully the first of several to chronicle Manzie Swaby’s underground roots legacy.

By the end of the eighties when i first came to Jamaica you could see little sign of the former life of this historic street and today very few are aware of its rich musical connection. It’s fitting that finally the National Gallery is putting on a show which directly references the globally renowned music of the counry–Reggae. Tomorrow, an exhibition featuring some of the winning designs in the 2012 International Reggae Poster Competition–World-a-Reggae–will open at the Gallery. The brainchild of Michael Thompson, graphic designer extraordinaire who was trained at the Edna Manley College and exposed to the great graphic tradition in Cuba, the Reggae Poster contest was truly global in scope. To quote the contest website:

The 2012 First International Reggae Poster Contest (RPC) began in December 27, 2011 with the goal of discovering fresh Reggae Poster designs from around the world. Interest in the contest grew significantly over the 4-month run with a total of 1,142 submissions from 80 countries. The contest winners were chosen from 370 finalists by a distinguished panel of judges known for their creativity and commitment to design.

Thoroughly impressed with the outcome of the competition, the RPC organizers are excited to announce that the international jury committee has selected the three finalist and the 100 best posters.

The winners are:

1st Place: Alon Braier, of Israel, for his “Roots Of Dub” poster
2nd Place: Zafer Lehimler, of Turkey, for his “Reggae Star” poster
3rd Place: Rosario Nocera, of Italy, for his “Riddim is Freedom” design

Please note that the top 3 winners are all from outside the Caribbean, a sign that local designers faced stiff competition from abroad. The contest also highlights the extraordinary reach of Jamaican music and popular culture, so inadequately honoured at home. Well Michael Thompson aims to change all that (for an interview with him on Jamaican TV go here). Along with Carolyn Cooper and others he’s all set to lobby for a world-class museum facility to be built on the Kingston Waterfront designed by none other than Frank Gehry, the architect who built the Bilbao Museum and so many other world-renowned art facilities. If he can find enough investors with the vision to see how this would add value to Jamaica’s rather limited tourism product–which does little more than capitalize on the country’s sun, sand and sea–the project could get on its feet. Some may think this is an absurdly grand project but to do justice to Jamaica’s music you do have to reach for the stars. I mean can you imagine how fabulous something like the building below would look squatting on the Kingston Waterfront? It could spearhead the long overdue revival of downtown Kingston. So what’re we waiting for? Let’s do it!

A Frank Gehry-designed building

World-a-Reggae, the exhibit of the 100 best entries opens tomorrow at the National Gallery of Jamaica at 11 am. The winning designer, Alon Braier, from Israel, will be there. Carolyn Cooper will be the guest speaker and the best part: The Alpha Boys Band will be performing all afternoon till 4 pm. So come on down! See you there!

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.