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Sailing across cultures

IDENTITY MOBILISATION: Jahaji Music is a sensitive, albeit incisive comment on identity, belonging and loss, all woven together through music.— Photo: Special arrangement  

It isn’t everyday that you get to watch a documentary film which revolves around music that is difficult to define, in this case, Caribbean. Filmmaker Surabhi Sharma’s 2007 documentary Jahaji Music: India in the Caribbean reflects upon the complexities of migration, identity, and belonging, through the music of the Caribbean islanders. The film’s geographical periphery lies between Jamaica and Trinidad.

Sharma’s film belongs to a larger academic project conceptualised by academician Tejaswini Niranjana, who had been investigating the issues of identity, race and gender in the music of the Caribbean. It was on Niranjana’s invitation that Sharma began her journey of discovery.

The filmmaker and academician accompanied singer Remo Fernandes to the Caribbean Islands. It was nearly 150 years ago that Indian labourers had arrived in the Caribbean, bringing with them nothing but a few belongings and their music. Sharma’s brief was to document Fernandes in search of possible musical collaborations between him and the islanders.

Over a period of six weeks, Sharma shot 100 hours of footage. “While filming Remo’s journey, we began to seek out the journeys of the ships from Africa and India to the islands that carried slaves and indentured labour,” said Sharma, in an email interview to The Hindu .

Sharma had intended for the ‘Indianness’ to be seen within the context of the politics and history of the Islands, and not as nostalgia for one’s homeland. While the original idea of the film was to begin with the story of the migrating Indians, the more Sharma worked along those lines, the more she was convinced that she was “creating a somewhat spurious story that was seeped in nostalgia for the ‘Indianness’ that persisted even after 150 years.”

In this documentary that doubles up as a travelogue, the predominant musical traditions that have been highlighted are reggae/dancehall in Jamaica, and rapso, calypso, chutney soca, and chutney music, in Trinidad. What Sharma discovered was that the history of forced migration to the islands was invoked in much of the music, while contemporary politics was the other theme.

When asked about the purpose of the music, Sharma explained that the Islanders seek identity mobilisation through music.

Although the music is very different in Jamaica and Trinidad, the themes of gender, race and political tensions, find a place in both. This common thread makes Jamaica as important as Trinidad for the film, even though the ‘Indian migration’ story holds little importance for the former.

Jahaji Music is a sensitive, albeit incisive comment on identity, belonging and loss, all woven together through music. Notably, the documentary features Bob Marley’s teacher and Rastafarian philosopher Mortimo Planno, during the film crew’s travels in Trench Town, Jamaica.

Jahaji Music: India in the Caribbean will be screened today at 8.30 pm at The Barking Deer Brewpub as a part of Mumbai-based start-up Project O’s ‘Midweek Movies’ initiative. The director will be present for a Q&A session after the screening.

The author is an intern with The Hindu



The documentary features Bob Marley’s teacher and Rastafarian philosopher

Mortimo Planno



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Printable version | May 8, 2021 9:33:28 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/mumbai/entertainment/sailing-across-cultures/article8496980.ece

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