Entertainment

Whylie returns for Gerrehbenta

BY DEBORAH GORDON
Observer writer

Sunday, August 18, 2019

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VETERAN musician Marjorie Whylie joins National Dance Theatre Company (NDTC) Singers for a special performance of Gerrehbenta , choreographed by Rex Nettleford in 1983 at Plié for the Arts' Amalgamation, on August 30.

Showtime is 7:30 pm.

Music and dance will come together as top performers at the Little Theatre in Kingston from August 30 to September 1.

Whylie is cognisant of the relevance of Jamaica's history and traditions in today's culture and commends efforts to introduce it to upcoming generations.

“When you know your history, then you will be firm in your identity, and won't allow anyone to take steps with you. It is important for us to know where we are going, yes, but we also need to know where we are coming from,” she told the Jamaica Observer.

That has helped her to have a long-lasting music career in several aspects of the industry. Now she is a veteran who has helped with the preservation and retelling of Jamaica's cultural history.

Whylie spent 12 years at the Jamaica School of Music at the Edna Manley College, where she assisted, then later continued Dr Olive Lewin's research and collection of Jamaican folk songs. The research combined with her experience and training as a composer, music educator, singer, and pianist, helped Whylie choose and arrange the songs for Gerrehbenta.

“I had a depth of knowledge and understanding of the connection between our history, music, and dance, which Dr Rex Nettleford drew on very heavily in putting the dance together,” she said.

The music composition and dance were inspired by traditional Jamaican wakes and dead-yard ceremonies, where Africans would dance to cheer up relatives of those who had passed. The dances usually occurred in the first two days after death until the nine-night, before the funeral and burial ceremonies. Songs Kanda Tone deh blow Maw-ga, O Timothy a Tanga Man, and Wonda Who a Zuzu Fada were chosen as they were frequently used in our ancestors funeral activites, along with Etu song Bambalala Yuwati.

“We worked together like a hand in glove. There is a little debate about which came first, whether it was dance or music, but musicians always say that music had to come first since without music one wouldn't have the feeling to move and dance,” she said.

Gerrehbenta got its name from a combination of the words Gerreh, a traditional folk form found in Westmoreland, Hanover, and to a lesser extent St Elizabeth, and Benta, an instrument popular in St Mary, made with bamboo and string then played with sticks and a calabash.

“I get a kick whenever I see this group of high school young men on television playing the Benta and signing the songs.”

For the younger generation looking on, she gave the following advice.

“Music is a hard task master, so don't choose it if you're not passionate about it and prepared to work hard, because if you're going to be a performer it demands a lot of work and practice and that sort of thing to bring yourself to performance pitch.”

Former NDTC lead singers Karl Bliss and Dawn Fuller-Phillips also return to sing the traditional funeral rites songs with current NDTC Singers.

“Those of us who are from the older set, who are no longer singing with the group, they've probably invited us to bring, perhaps a more authentic feel to it because we have done it so often — all the way back from 1983.”

Whylie's history with the company dates back to 1965, when she joined as a pianist, and went on to become the leader of the NDTC singers, and was Musical Director for 45 years before retiring in 2013. Whylie was inducted into the Jamaica Jazz Hall of Fame in 1997, and in 2004 received the Prime Minister's award for Excellence in Theatre and Music.

 


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