SOUND AND VISION: MUSIC AND SOUND IN THE WORK OF KAPO, EVERALD BROWN AND WOODY JOSEPH – Part II

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We now present the second of a three-part blog post series based on a lecture presented by NGJ Executive Director, Dr Veerle Poupeye, at the Jamaica Music Museum’s Grounation programme of February 16, 2014.

But let me now turn to the more specific instance of music and art in Jamaica. Music plays a pivotal role in Jamaican culture and this is predictably and prominently reflected in the country’s visual art. Much of this has to do with the performative character of popular, African-derived religions in Jamaica, which make very active ritual use of music and dance. The three artists who are the focus of this presentation – Kapo, Everald Brown, and Woody – all came from such context. Pioneering research was done by Olive Lewin, Janet Grant-Woodham and others on the music produced by the church communities of Kapo and Everald Brown. Not being a music specialist myself, I have little to add to the research on their music and my focus is instead on the represented and implied music in their work. Everald Brown was also an instrument-maker and his instruments qualify as works of art in their own right, so I am also discussing these in this presentation.

Mallica “Kapo” Reynolds was born in 1911 in Byndloss, St Catherine and died in 1989. He received his first vision at age 16 and started preaching in the country side. Like many young rural men and women of his generation, Kapo soon moved to Kingston in search of opportunity and settled in Trench Town, where he established his Zion Revival Church, the St Michael Tabernacle. Kapo started painting and sculpting in the 1940s and 50s and rose to local and international prominence as a major artist and cultural icon in the 1960s, aided by the support he received from Edward Seaga and also from others, such as the first Tourism Director John Pringle and the American art impresario Selden Rodman.

Kapo’s paintings and sculptures, as a whole, depict his Zion Revival life world, including the physical environment and the people around him, but it is in those works that depict Revival beliefs and practices that music, and dance, are most obviously present. One classic example is Kapo’s Rising Table (1972), which depicts a Revival table ceremony. For those who are familiar with Revival music, the sounds evoked by this in this vibrantly patterned, dynamic and colourful work – the singing, the clapping, the drums and the other instruments – are easy to imagine. In fact, once pointed out, this implied music is almost impossible to ignore. Kapo’s Revival Baptismal Ceremony, also from 1972, can be read in similar terms and in this work the landscape seems to sway and chant along with the human figures involved in the ceremony. Music is less obviously present in Kapo’s sculptures but many of his sculpted figures appear to be dancing, as can be seen in this view of the National Gallery’s temporary Kapo Gallery in 2010, and where there is dance, there is of course music of some sort, physically heard or in the mind of the dancer.

William “Woody” Joseph was born in 1919 in Castleton, St Mary, and died in 1998. He was not affiliated with any religious group but as the collector Wayne Cox put it, “carving itself was the way Woody was called to give spiritual service” and his work is best understood in the context of the Zion Revival life-world, which is actively present in the communities on the Wagwater River banks, of which the River Maid carving on screen is a good reminder

While it is unclear to what extent he was aware of his African sources, African retentions are particularly pronounced in Woody’s work and this is obvious in the general aesthetic, techniques and spiritual concepts behind his work. Always using cedar root, which he dug up himself, his sculptural forms – depictions of animals, winged angels and whimsical portraits of people in his environment – were based on the forms suggested by the wood itself, which Woody allowed to “speak” to him. Woody coloured his carvings, which were typically black or red. He called his red “Zambia Red” and appears to have used hibiscus flowers and red earth as a pigment for this applied dye; while his black carvings were submerged, often for months, in a logwood dye bath. Both colours and techniques have identifiable African antecedents.

Although Woody was not to my knowledge involved in making music, dance and music are alluded to in many of his works, and much of it brings to mind the music, gestures and dance rituals of Revival, such as the swirling, “wheeling” motion in King Worrel (1993) and the clapping figures in Woman with Crown (1989) or the aptly named John Clappy (n.d.). Or, as the Washington Post critic Ferdinand Protzman put it, Woody’s carvings “are imbued with a kind of effervescent spirituality that makes them appear to be on the verge of singing, shouting or simply ascending to Heaven”.

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