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Federation and Independence Era – Remembering Our Music

Federation and Independence Era – Remembering Our Music

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The Reggae Month 2022 Secretariat and its sponsors, convened a panel discussion on our music during the Federation and Independence era. Professor Rosalea Hamilton hosted the discussion. Panellists were as follows: Herbie Miller, Institute of Jamaica’s Musical Director, and Curator for the Jamaica Music Museum; Monte Blake, Manager at the Merritone sound system; Vivian Crawford, hailed a national treasure is the Executive Director of the Institute of Jamaica. Other panellists included musician Stranger Cole; Gender & Development practitioner Judith Wedderburn, and Music Producer Trevor ‘Lego Beast’ Douglas the original roots man from downtown Kingston.

What was the Federation

The Federation was established by the British Caribbean Federation Act of 1956. The West Indies Federation aimed to create a political union among its members. Territory members included Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Dominica, Grenada, Jamaica, Montserrat, the then, St Kitts-Nevis-Anguilla, Saint Lucia, St Vincent and Trinidad & Tobago. The Federation however faced several problems such as the governance and administrative structures imposed by the British. Disagreements existed among the territories over policies, particularly with respect to taxation and central planning. In existence at the time was an unwillingness on the part of most Territorial Governments to give up power to the Federal Government; and the location of the Federal Capital. The Federation collapsed in January 1962.

About the Federation, Vivian Crawford shared, “It’s similar to what we know today as Caricom. It had a structure of the parliament,” he responded Mr Crawford went on to explain that the Federation however crumbled shortly after. The structure was built on taxes, hence countries would pay taxes locally as well as within the Caribbean. Jamaica, which at the time was the largest member of the Federation withdrew, which led to the demise of the then Federation. “And as former Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago would say, one from ten is nought, but we have Caricom today,” Mr Crawford said, causing those in attendance to let out a light laugh.

From left Prof. Rosalea Hamilton, Herbie Miller, Monte Blake and Vivian Crawford

What Was the Music Like

Herbie Miller shared on the music during that era. “By 1958, mento was still quite popular, and some calypso’s too, but it was the early periods of Ska. Some of what we call Jamaican jump blues.”
“I brought some music with me,” he said before clicking the play button on his laptop’s keyboard. “This song is called The Federation”. The soothing cultural sounds that came through the speakers were rich and filled with Jamaica in the late 1950s. Mr Miller went on to speak of how the Federation was once politicized, where one side would be saying yes to the Federation, while the other side was against it. He stressed the importance of preserving our music and sports along with the need to create a museum for our music and sports.

Type of Music Played During Federation Era

Merritone Sound owner, as well as the sound system boss of Red Hills Road shares his memories and experience from that era. “We started to play jump blues, mento, country and western and some music from the Dominican Republic, merengue”, Mr Blake’s Merritone sound system came about in 1950 and was a pioneer in the Jamaica sound system culture.

On Being a Musician During That Time

Unable to join the panel in person, Stranger Cole proudly shared, “It was a wonderful time. In 1962 I had the number 1 song on the chart. It was called Rough and Tough. So when Jamaica got independence, I had the number 1 song”. Stranger Cole said “God inspired me to do this song. I have done over a million dubplates” chuckling lightly, undoubtedly reminiscent of the good old days.

Prof. Rosalea Hamilton, Herbie Miller, Judy Wedderburn and Trevor ‘Leggobeast’ Douglas

Personal Meaning of Independence

“The best part was watching the Union Jack go down and seeing our Jamaican flag go up” shared Judith Wedderburn. The flag used by Jamaica before Independence was the Union Jack. Today, this flag is the de facto national flag of the United Kingdom. The road to independence was long and hard but with prominent and instrumental figures such as Sir Alexander Bustamante and Norman Manley, Jamaica gained its freedom for self-governance. Becoming independent, Jamaica’s locally drafted Constitution came into effect on August 6, 1962.

Creativity Pre And Post Independence

During the 1950s “Our music was looked at as dutty rasta music” said stated Producer Trevor ‘Legobeast’ Douglas. This is a reference to how the music was frowned upon. “I am glad we got independence, but the ‘garrisonisation’ after we got independence caused us to be where we are today,” Mr Douglas said expressing his displeasure with how things are present day

The Federation of the West Indies existed from January 1958 to 31 May 1962. It was the Caribbeans’ first attempt at unionizing. This era from 1958 to 1962 was very important in Jamaica’s history since it marked a period in which Jamaica was on the verge of its independence which came into effect in 1962.

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