YolanDa Brown: ‘The rhythm of Jamaica has always had an influence on my music’


I enjoyed reading this interview with saxophonist YolanDa Brown, who says that, growing up, her Jamaican parents always told her that their homeland was like paradise. In an interview with Will Coldwell (The Guardian), she confirms that “the food, beaches, culture and music were everything she’d dreamed of.” See the original interview here:

In Jamaica you’re immediately hit by the music and the smell of food. The rhythm of Jamaica has always had an influence on my music. My dad had a fantastic record collection and played everything from reggae to funk to jazz to soul – but reggae is the rhythm that naturally makes me feel good. It makes me smile.

My parents are Jamaican and came to England when they were young. A lot of the stories were about their childhoods: bright stories … it sounded like paradise. I first visited when I was 17 – playing for the Jamaican prime minister in Port Antonio – and it did live up to the stories. Jamaicans are very inquisitive; they like to know about you, and you want to be involved.


Frenchman’s Cove, near Port Antonio, is one of the nicest beaches I’ve been to. It’s a very untouched place – a lot of Hollywood stars, like Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, would go there. There’s no loud music playing, it’s just a wonderful bay.

I love guinep, a cross between a lychee and a small lime with a very sweet, thin pulp and a large, chewy seed. I remember my dad telling me that it was almost a natural equivalent of chewing gum. If it’s in season, I’ll get a big bunch and chew on them all day.

You may have tasted jerk chicken in the UK, but it’s not the real deal. Wherever you go in Jamaica, it’s cooked on a jerk drum and bursting with spicy, explosive flavour. The other thing you have to try is ackee and saltfish; it’s my favourite dish.

At Devon House, in the middle of Kingston, they make the greatest ice-cream. There’s lots of exquisite flavours that you won’t find anywhere else, but my favourite has to be the rum and raisin. You also get to learn about the history of the house – it was built by Jamaica’s first black millionaire, George Stiebel.

You have to go to Bob Marley’s house and museum and immerse yourself in the history of reggae, to understand how it went from an expressionist, rebellious Rastafarian music to the mainstream.

One bar and restaurant I love is Cuddy’z in New Kingston, which is owned by former West Indies cricketer Courtney Walsh. It’s like an all-American sports bar with a little twist of Jamaica … the importance of cricket to the Caribbean cannot be overestimated.

The Redbones Blues Cafe is the place to go and hear great musicians. You get reggae but also blues, jazz and world music. And the food is fantastic too.

Port Royal is where privateers, buccaneers and pirates from around the world congregated until the town was destroyed by an earthquake in 1692. It is now a village at the mouth of Kingston harbour, where you can scuba dive and see the historic main street under water, and get a feel for what it would have been like.

The Giddy House, also in Port Royal, is Jamaica’s answer to the leaning tower of Pisa. It’s a royal artillery house that was partially sunk by another earthquake, in 1907. The floor leans to one side but you can still stand up straight – and if you hold a bag out it will sway in towards you.

YolanDa Brown’s new album, Love Politics War, is out now. She will be touring throughout 2017.

[Photo above: Frenchman’s Cove, near Port Antonio.]

For original interview and great photos, see https://www.theguardian.com/travel/2017/jun/16/saxophonist-yolanda-brown-on-jamaica-kingston-reggae-music

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