A Review of “A Reader in African-Jamaican Music, Dance, and Religion”


The Gleaner recently (24 January 2016) published Laura Tanna’s review of A Reader in African-Jamaican Music, Dance, and Religion, edited by Markus Coester and Wolfgang Bender. Entitled “How an Anthology on African Jamaican Culture was Created,” the review focuses on comprehensive nature of the compilation (spanning a century of scholarship and covering a vast range of Jamaican practices) and the variety in styles and approaches of the essays, many of which have been previously difficult to access by the growing community of scholars of Afro-Caribbean and Jamaican studies. The reviewer underlines that the book took 10 years to compile and edit and it represents the only central source for the topics it covers. As Tanna points out, “The book encompasses everything from musical scores for songs, photographs of dance, drumming, religious rites, evolving understanding of Jonkonnu, Myalism, Revival, Bruckins, Tambu, Kumina, Rastafarianism and more in a tome that reaches 735 pages.” See excerpts below:

[. . .] In their detailed and insightful introduction to A Reader in African-Jamaican Music Dance Religion, Editors Markus Coester and Wolfgang Bender note: “It was our intention to make valuable contributions to what we know about Jamaica’s cultural past, like that by Martha Beckwith, available to the growing community of scholars working in African-Caribbean and Jamaican Studies, thus promoting and encouraging future research through easier access to these articles.” But what they have also done is to give Jamaicans a unique tool to learn more deeply about Jamaica’s heritage and the evolving understanding of it.

Some of the articles are incredible! Kenneth Bilby’s collaboration with Congolese scholar Fu-Kiau kia Bunseki, “Kumina: A Kongo-Based Tradition in the New World,” first published in Cahiers du CEDAF 8 in 1983 is superlative, while Monica Schuler’s highlighting of the Congolese/Angolan connection to Jamaica altered many scholars’ understanding of the African cultural contributions to the island. Maureen Warner-Lewis’ extremely valuable work in 1977 on Kumina and Cheryl Ryman’s investigations into the meaning of Jamaican dance are all featured, as is Edward Seaga’s material on Revival, complete with illustrations by Osmond Watson. Olive Lewin’s widely recognised work and that of Nigerian scholar Adiodun Adetugbo increase the reader’s horizons along with numerous others, including Franklin Knight, Barry Chevannes, Verena Reckord, and on the list continues of authors whose contribution to understanding African-Jamaican heritage has forever altered the world’s understanding of this nation.

The story of how the book came about is in itself fascinating. German scholar Markus Coester was in Jamaica digitalising the collection of African-Jamaican music at the Edna Manley School for the Visual and Performing Arts, preserving this material before the tape recordings disintegrated. Another German scholar, Wolfgang Bender, had already edited the book Rastafarian Art, which was published in English in 2005. They realised that in addition to the music, art, and religion which they were studying, there were numerous articles on other aspects of African-Jamaican music, dance, and religion, which had never been put into an anthology. [. . .]

We had a meeting with the executive director of the Institute of Jamaica, since many of the articles had first been published in Jamaica Journal, a brainchild of Edward Seaga’s when he was Minister of Culture before ever becoming prime minister. It was agreed that individual authors would retain their copyright and donate the use of their material in the anthology as long as the book included a message about the importance of the Institute of Jamaica in the preservation of Jamaica’s heritage. That’s why I was asked to write the foreword in the book.

[. . .] As I note in the foreword: “It is no surprise that German scholars are responsible for working with a Jamaican publisher. The articles reprinted demonstrate that American, Bajan, British, Congolese, Ghanaian, Guyanese, Nigerian, and Trinidadian scholars have worked with Jamaicans over the decades endeavouring to understand, preserve, and disseminate knowledge of Jamaica’s complex culture … always with the intention of bringing greater respect and insight into Jamaica’s African heritage.” [. . .]

For full review, see http://jamaica-gleaner.com/article/art-leisure/20160124/how-anthology-african-jamaican-culture-was-created

For purchasing information, see https://www.ianrandlepublishers.com/fourthcoming/ and http://www.amazon.com/Reader-African-Jamaican-Music-Dance-Religion/dp/9766372535

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