Olive Lewin: Jamaican Cultural Icon

lewinThis is a more complete follow-up to our previous post that announced Olive Lewin’s death at age 85 [Jamaican Author and Folklorist Olive Lewin Dies]. Lewin was a prominent musicologist and social anthropologist who helped preserve Jamaica’s unique heritage by recording and researching the Caribbean island’s folk traditions. Here are excerpts:

[. . .] Over the span of six decades, she inspired numerous Jamaicans to deepen their understanding of homegrown folk traditions. Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller described her as an “invaluable cultural icon” whose death has left a “great void in the pursuit and preservation of Jamaica’s traditional music and cultural art forms.”

Lewin is perhaps best known as the founder of the Jamaican Folk Singers, a group that has performed traditional songs since the 1960s and saved them for posterity. The group currently has some 30 members who are widely recognized as global ambassadors of Jamaica’s folk music.

“When she started the Jamaica Folk Singers she wanted traditional music to be more palatable to reach a wider audience,” her daughter said. She methodically recorded and transcribed a treasure trove of folk songs, stories and traditions and authored several books on her work, including “Rock it Come Over: The Folk Music of Jamaica.” Much of her recording work is stored at the Jamaica School of Music and Afro-Caribbean Institute of Jamaica, both in Kingston. Her passion for musical preservation helped preserve songs of Jamaica’s mento, a musical genre that often features bawdy lyrics and is driven by banjos, maracas and a rough-hewn wooden box with metal prongs to pluck bass notes.

Lewin had a passion for researching traditions of various minority religious groups, including Revivalism and Kumina, an Afro-Jamaican spiritual system whose rituals communicating with ancestral spirits involves drumming, singing and dancing. She also studied the rural cultural traditions of Jamaica’s Maroons, descendants of escaped slaves who won their freedom by repelling invasions of their remote mountain retreats with a mastery of guerrilla warfare.

Over the years, Lewin has been honoured by the United Nations and other international organizations for her efforts in preserving Jamaica’s heritage. She received the “Order of Distinction,” a top honour from the Jamaican government, just over a decade ago. Jamaican Culture Minister Lisa Hanna said Lewin “will be long remembered as a significant part of the foundation of Jamaican social and cultural life.”

For full article, see http://www.vancouversun.com/health/Olive+Lewin+prominent+musicologist+helped+preserve+Jamaicas/8229787/story.html#ixzz2QDKamTpn

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