Thursday, 10 August 2017


The Jamaica Jamaica! exhibition: in Paris but departing soon. (SWAN)
As travellers stream through the Gare du Nord train station in Paris, they can’t help but notice several huge placards featuring musicians in an array of poses and distinctive clothing.

Those who stop to examine the images more closely learn that the posters are ads for the blockbuster Jamaica Jamaica! exhibition, now in its final days at the Philharmonie de Paris, a cultural institution within Paris’ immense Cité de la Musique complex in the northeast of the French capital.

A worker stands before a placard at the train station.
The exhibition is France’s first large-scale presentation on the history and impact of Jamaican music, and it has attracted thousands of visitors since it began in April at the Philharmonie, which focuses on music in all its forms.

As the show winds down and gets ready to move on, it is still pulling in viewers, thanks to ads such as those at the station (including on the monitors showing departures and arrivals) and  to special events such as workshops and meetings.

In fact, on Aug. 8, the exhibition was the venue for a reception hosted by the Embassy of Jamaica, to mark the island’s 55th anniversary of independence from Britain.

“The exhibition not only showcases Jamaica's rich musical heritage from mento to ska to reggae and dancehall, it is also about Jamaica's political history, our journey from colonialism to independence as well as the post-independence period ,” said Ambassador Vilma McNish, who welcomed a group of France-based Jamaicans to the Philharmonie, some of whom were seeing the exhibition for the second or even the third time.

Nyabinghi percussion - some of the instruments on display.
“Each visit teaches you something new, as you take note of some exhibits you hadn’t seen before,” McNish added.

For many visitors, one of the most notable aspects of Jamaica Jamaica! is the care that the organizers have taken to go beyond reggae and to give an overall view of the history of Jamaican music, tracing it back to its African roots.

This is achieved while also highlighting the unquestionable contributions of Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, Bunny Wailer, Jimmy Cliff, the I-Threes and other renowned artists and producers.

“We wanted to show the culture as well as the music and to show that Jamaican music is an important part of the history of the Black Atlantic,” said exhibition project manager Marion Challier, in an interview prior to the opening.

“There are so many stereotypes about the music and so many stigmas attached and we wanted to go beyond that.”
Challier and curator Sébastien Carayol have also focused on the role that art and literature play in portraying the music, with works by master painters such as Kapo and Barrington Watson on display, alongside portraits of musicians by Danny Coxson (see:
Photos of Bob Marley at Jamaica Jamaica!
In the centre’s bookstore, a wide range of books by Jamaican and other writers (in English and French) are also on sale, many of them dealing with various aspects of reggae and Jamaican culture in general.

But the show naturally contains elements that haven’t pleased everyone. Some visitors have questioned the prominence given to dancehall towards the end of the display, wondering if the less-admirable facets of the music should be the image that spectators take with them as they leave the exhibition.

The wording on some of the panels accompanying the exhibits has also caused puzzlement. Island Records founder Chris Blackwell, for instance, is described as seeing The Wailers’ “strong export potential” in the following terms: the “lead singer was, ideally, mixed-race and able to tone down his Jamaican accent when necessary”.

Despite such factors, the exhibition’s unprecedented scope and its impressive assemblage of instruments, records, artwork and film footage have done much to highlight the richness of Jamaican music and its global appeal.

The show ends Aug. 13, and the organizers say they hope parts of it will travel to other major cities ... perhaps even via the Gare du Nord. The dream, too, is that it will one day reach Jamaica.