Wed | Dec 12, 2018

Beyond church halls into the dance - Influence of revival music in reggae

Published:Friday | October 12, 2018 | 12:00 AMStephanie Lyew/Gleaner Writer
Revivalists dancing and singing at last year's Revival Time Music Festival.
Marjorie Whylie, ethnomusicologist, shows off some dance moves during the seminar hosted by the Mount Carmel Revival Mission Church.
Sabrina Thomas, coordinator of the Revival Time Music Festival.
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When Minister Joan Flemmings walked on to the stage of the first concert she was booked to perform at some 20 years ago, the music stopped and her microphone was switched off as she sang the first verse.

At the time, she was the lead singer of Joan Flemmings and the Inspirers. "It was Revival music, and the organisers who invited us on the show obviously did not like that form of worship music. Truth and in fact, it was not widely accepted then," Flemming explained.

But that experience did not stop her from doing Revival music because the rhythm always made her jubilant.

"Anywhere in the world I go, that is the music I represent. Some people call it yard music and often compare it to mento," she said. She continued, "The rhythms being made now by reggae-music producers are from the Church, that is why people ask what the artistes are doing, with but it is because people cannot help but move their waistline to the beats."

She is certain of the impact of Revival music on reggae. "I am 100 per cent, and without apology, certain that Revival music has impacted reggae and other popular music more than any other form of worship music - over the years, not just now," she said firmly.

Speaking at a seminar hosted by the Mount Carmel Revival Mission Church in Denham Town on Tuesday, ethnomusicologist and revivalism enthusiast Marjorie Whylie said that before the establishment of Revival churches, persons who were not part of the movement would take it as entertainment - hence some of the practices (outside of prayer rituals) such as the singing, drumming, dancing, hand-clapping, foot-stomping, and groaning were easily adopted by musicians to create rhythms.

"Revivalism was something that was open-air, on the street corners, but my siblings and I were not allowed to participate. While visiting my grandmother in the country, we would stand on the outskirts of the meeting areas, on the road or in somebody's yard to watch the worshippers and enjoy the music," Whylie recalled.

She explained that even with the formation of the various movements, mainly Zion and African Order, or Pocomania, as it is commonly referred to, the one element that remained very strong is the use of the drums and rhythmic movements in dance.

"Reggae and Revival music forms go hand in hand; the instrumentation and emphasis of the drums or percussions like the conga drums or tambourines, are never excluded from both. Perhaps the way the voice is used by Revivalists also - the very obvious throaty sound - can be acknowledged too," she said. "Conversely, popular music (dancehall and reggae) has its impact on the arrangement of Revival music, which gradually evolved into something new with new instruments or more modern drums."

As part of its goal to highlight the importance of Revivalism to local culture, the seminar was the precursor to the Revival Time Music Festival, which will be held on Sunday on the lawns of the Ranny Williams Entertainment Centre. It is the second staging of the religious cultural festival.

 

CULTURAL CONTRIBUTION

 

Sabrina Thomas, one of the event coordinators, told The Gleaner that the festival is significant as it highlights the socio-religious music and its contribution to Jamaica's culture.

"It is placed during Heritage Week as its main aim is to showcase to Jamaica and the world the movement's rich African religious legacy, especially its beautiful rhythmic sounds, which are created by the combinations of voices, hands and feet," Thomas said.

"It will be a day of worship for Revivalists from across the country and also a means of edutainment for researchers, high-school and university students of theatre arts and cultural studies to raise the awareness of the valuable contribution made by this Afro-Christian denomination to our cultural landscape," she added.

The festival activities include exhibitions of artefacts from the movement, a midday convention, a sing-off where Revival bands from across the island will compete in two main categories: Revival Choruses and the Redemption and Sankey hymnal (original and modern), and, to close the day, a revival gospel concert.