The quest for a Jamaican Music Hall of FameSunday, March 07, 2010
By Clyde McKenzie
I was indeed heartened by the announcement last week that a hall of fame celebrating the history of our secondary schools athletics championships will soon become a reality. Yes, many who have been associated with athletics in Jamaica would certainly agree that it is about time. Properly funded and managed halls of fame can be sources of revenue. What is sad is to date Jamaica does not have a hall of fame dedicated to the enormous contribution of our music to our national development and international recognition. People would trek from the farthest reaches of the earth to visit a Jamaican Music Hall of Fame showcasing the contribution and achievements of some of our greatest creators and performers. I am happy to say that the work being done by Herbie Miller at the Jamaican Music Museum is worthy of mention since such an institution serves the purpose of preserving our rich heritage. Yet my impression is that this important project which Miller is spearheading has not been given the kind of resources which one of its magnitude and potential deserves.
I doubt we are truly appreciative of the fact that preservation is big business. Museums are raking in huge bucks applying modern technology in the service of preserving and displaying artifacts. Museums are now hip as curators are appropriating technology once deemed to be the bane of such institutions to make them relevant and attractive. Most of us would recall that there was a time in the not too distant past when young people would not be caught dead going into museums, after all what was the point of consorting with relics. We all blamed emergent technology for the declining interests in museums. Yet the curators would strike back using the very technology which was considered responsible for the decrease in museum attendance. This is no different from what took place in the motion picture industry when VCRs were considered to be a threat to film-making as it was believed that they would prompt a decrease in cinema attendance.
The gurus in the industry soon got wise to the fact that what was considered a threat was actually an opportunity and the motion picture business earns a considerable amount of its revenue from video rentals and sales. It is said in Shakespeare's Henry V there is a soul of goodness in things evil, would men observingly distil it out". We should not panic in the face of a perceived crisis. The loss of a job could well be the wake up call to becoming truly wealthy.
There is a great amount of wealth residing in our past yet it seems clear to me that we have very little respect for our history. I am indeed appalled at the way we treat our heritage not just artistic or musical. As a child growing up in what would now be described as the inner-city communities of Denham Town and Jones Town I had access to approximately five health centres which were located in a quarter mile radius from my home (note I did. These included the Comprehensive Clinic on Slipe Pen Road (open for 24 hours), The Trench Town Comprehensive Clinic, The Wellington Street Clinic and the Schools Children's Clinic on King Street. There were a number of others. I will confidently wager that most of these institutions are no longer operational and if they are they are shells of their former selves. All Saints School which produced some of our brightest lights in academia sports and entertainment is a dust bowl and Chetolah Park Primary which boasts some of the leading figures in Jamaican life is hardly operational. We keep creating structures we already destroyed. Does this make any sense?
I could say the same about cinemas. Those of us who grew up in the sixties and seventies would be able to recall the many cinemas (most without tops) dotting the urban landscape. True there is the argument that attendance at these cinemas declined and so it was no longer profitable to keep them going. However sometimes with a little imagination we can turn things around. When Barnes and Noble came up against the Amazon juggernaut it did not roll over and die. Instead it changed the book buying experience providing the customer with the opportunity to sit and enjoy reading material while having coffee and chatting with friends. This is called thinking outside the box.
Too often we believe that our current business models will confer perpetual competitive advantage on us. Many behemoths which have been brought low by nimble competitors can attest to the tragedy that can befall those who become too smug in the way they do business. Succeeding in business requires being paranoid as Andy Groves the founder of micro-processing giant Intel reminds us. One has to keep looking over one's shoulders and at ones feet to see where the next threat to ones existence is coming from. Too often we just did not see it coming. The geniuses at IBM did not see the threat coming from personal computers and stuck to mainframe. Now IBM is a service company providing computing solutions.
I have written about the efforts of the group dubbed Sound and Pressure headed by Julian 'Jingles' Reynolds (and which also includes Herbie Miller among others) which has been trying to get Downtown Kingston declared as a musical heritage site.
As people like Dennis Howard and his father James 'Jimmy Solo' Howard will tell you downtown Kingston is a living music museum. Beeston Street, Orange Street, North Parade and Chancery Lane teem with stories and artifacts relating to the birth and development of our music. Yet enough has not been done to provide the kind of financing necessary to provide Downtown with another opportunity for income generation. I think that the establishment of a musical heritage site in Downtown Kingston should be part of the much ballyhooed development strategy for the area.
The fact is that organisations such as UNESCO would be only too happy to assist us in such a venture were we to present them with the requisite proposal.
Last week Mark Wignall wrote in his column about Headley Jones who had created an electric guitar which was used by that Jamaican genius Ernie Ranglin. What many do not know is that Jones in his own way masterminded the development of modern Jamaican music with its particular emphasis on the rhythm section. Whether what now obtains would have been pleasing to the great man is another issue. The sad fact though is that not many young musicians today know of Headley Jones who is still alive and that he was really the father of the Jamaican sound system building most of the amplifiers and studios. In another capacity Jones served as President of the Jamaica Federation of Musicians for many years. How much have we sought to benefit from the knowledge and experience of this great and largely unsung Jamaican. Yet history is not just about the past it provides us with guidelines on how to navigate our way into the future. Yet with our scant regard for things past no wonder we are repeating with frightening consequences so many of the mistakes others made before us.
Herbie Miller: Work being done at the Jamaican Music Museum is worthy of mention.
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