Jamaican Folk Songs – A Concert At Bell House

January 23, 2019

Reposted from the Bell House blog, written by Quailyn Gayadeen
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When I received the Bell House newsletter, Jamaican Folk Songs immediately jumped out at me. Being Trinidadian I was rather excited; it would remind me of home. Although I wondered if it would be too Jamaican for me, my curiosity won and I am quite pleased it did. I even roped another Trini friend to go with me.

Adwoa Dickson performed a range of folklore rhymes and stories, which had lovingly been translated into song. Her voice was beautifully haunting as we were all temporarily transported to the island of Jamaica. It was easy to believe we were sitting under a Banyan tree listening to granny or the village elders. Lorraine Liyanage provided the mood music on the piano. The language was Jamaican patois as I expected it to be, and although I understood everything sung, Adwoa introduced every piece with translations for those less familiar with the vernacular – duppy being a malevolent ghost, pickney being children, eye water being tears to name a few. The concert began with a story of Moonlit Dances, which kept “de duppy” at bay. 

Lorraine Liyanage on piano

Themes ranged from folklore to working the land (planter), to girls exhibiting undesirable behaviour (dutty gyal), to those who gossiped and interfered in the lives of others (too fass), to Christianity, and black magic (obeah). Recognisable across all lands as familiar subject matter, with varied content. There were many similarities with the topics covered, although the language varied. From folklore characters who roamed the land at night, to love under the coconut tree, and the hummingbird, they all had been part of my Trinidadian childhood. Some songs such as Island in the Sun, were known across all Caribbean islands, not just Jamaica and Trinidad.

During the interval Bell House volunteers served us complimentary Port Royal mini patties, of which the jerk chicken was nice and spicy – I had 4!  To wash it all down, there was Wray & Nephew rum punch which had quite a kick. It was a lovely intimate evening, that included Adwoa’s mother, husband and children. Audience participation was encouraged; my friend and I swayed to the music and joined in. The children who attended also enthusiastically clapped and sang along. It ended with an encore everyone could join in with, to then head home on a likkle high, feeling quite happy.

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Yet another wonderful event hosted by the recently discovered Bell House, who keep surprising me with their range of activities. When Adwoa and Lorraine return in March I will again be in the audience, this time accompanied by more friends.

Text written by Quailyn Gayadeen

Photographs by John Yabrifa