Montreal’s International Jazz Festival Embraces Jamaican Musical History

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By: Jaide

The 2009 Montreal International Jazz Festival’s historic moments continued this week with a two pronged celebration of Jamaican musical rifts.

On July 6 the festival collaborated with the talented team of Swiss filmmaker Stascha Bader and Montreal based sound producer MossMan to launch the world premier of the documentary, Rocksteady: The Roots of Reggae at the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal. This was followed up with an absolutely amazing reunion with some of Jamaica’s most indomitable singers and musicians who threw a blast of a Rocksteady party on July 7 at the Jazz Festval’s free GM stage.

Nothing like this has ever taken place, neither the formal documenting of Rocksteady’s birth in film nor a reunion of many main Rocksteady ‘players’, performing for a crowd of approximately 150,000 strong.

“From the stage it was like a literal ocean of people,” Deborah Cole, Publisher of Yardflex Inc. stated, as she expressed her amazement at the massive turnout and outpouring of love and appreciation for Jamaica’s top cultural export – its music. “It seemed like the crowd went on for blocks and blocks,” she said.

That crowd was there to witness first hand the great performances of musicians and singers who started this genre some four decades ago. Singers like, Judy Mowatt, Marcia Griffiths, Stranger Cole, Ken Boothe and Leroy Sibbles joined some of the original musicians from that era to unleash a steady and vibrant journey through the golden ages of Jamaican music. From stroller pushing parents, to youth and seniors – the audience was diverse in every way. Many joined in when prompted to sing along, much to the amazement of some artists who finally realized the boundless qualities of Rocksteady and Reggae music.

There was such warmth and a genuine spirit of ‘One Love’ on that Jazz Fest night when the rainstorms eased up to give Rocksteady lovers a chance to rejoice and remember.

Stascha Bader’s documentary carries the joyous momentum on, as it is jam packed with not only vintage tracks in Rocksteady and Ska, but also some previously untold stories from the talented few who ‘built’ the cultural phenomenon embraced by so many today.

Performers in the movie include: Hopeton Lewis who at age 16 became the first man to record a Rocksteady song. His tune “Take It Easy” slowed down the energetic Ska rhythm and marked the beginning of what became the Rocksteady era Lewis is now a Gospel-Reggae singer in New York. Dawn Penn, who is currently a community worker in London, is also featured in the documentary. Her Rocksteady song You Dont Love Me Anymore, No No No, was re-recorded by many other artists and became a world hit time and time again. Wilburn Stranger Cole narrates much of the movie that documents not only the musical changes in Jamaica, but also tells the audience about the 1960s in Jamaica, a roller-coaster decade when the island was transformed politically, socially, economically and culturally. Ken Boothe, Derrick Morgan, Marcia Griffiths and Judy Mowatt are also in the movie.

Musicians featured include: Earnest Ranglin, Sly Dunbar, Jackie Jackson, Gladstone Anderson, Hux Brown, Lloyd Parks and Scully Simms among others.

Rita Marley makes a special appearance in the film; and she speaks candidly about her first experiences with the late great Bob Marley in Trench Town. Some audience members were overheard expressing disappointment however, at Mrs. Marley’s dialogue that included what she described as her experiences as a garbage rummaging child in that poverty stricken ghetto. Jamaican born, Liz Smyth said, “In Jamaica sane people do not eat from the trash as a rule…it is the land of wood and water…and we share with our less fortunate.”

Movie tickets are on sale now through Admission Network and are also available in person at the Musée d'art contemporain or by telephone from Tuesday to Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. at 514-847- 6212. Until July 12, during the film’s run, tickets can be purchased at the Musée until 9 p.m.

4 movie screenings daily from July 4 to 12

2p.m. and 7p.m., with French subtitles
4p.m. and 9p.m., in original English version

Film length: 98 minutes.

Adults: $12
Children (age 13 and under): $8
Seniors (age 65 and over): $8

Free admission into the Museum’s exhibitions until July 12 with the purchase of a ticket to the film.

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