Jerusalem Jamaican jiving

The Mekudeshet Festival has been with us for a few years now. Even in this arts event-swamped country it hovers above the cultural horizon as a standout phenomenon. This year’s program kicks off on September 4, and by September 21, the public will have had an opportunity to attend dozens of shows and activities across an extensive stretch of artistic, cultural and sociopolitical intent.

The festival’s standing, on the local and international podium, is well established and artists of all stripes and hues are only too happy to cast their artistic hat in the collective Jerusalem-based ring. This year’s bash culls a motley spread of performances across numerous disciplines. The musical offerings take in such A-lister entertainers as Shai Tzabari, Sarit Haddad, jazz trumpeter Avishai Cohen and vocalist Ravid Kahalani. One of the main draws on the offshore side of the program is reggae star Johnny Clarke. The 64-year-old Jamaican – aka Dread because of his implausibly lengthy dreadlocks – has been doing his artistic-spiritual thing for over four decades, putting out 26 albums in the process. Clarke will be backed here by the SISTA – Women in Reggae triad of together Trilla Jenna, Teshay Makeda and Sister Audrey, all acclaimed artists in their own right. And, just in case the aforementioned don’t quite do the business – fat chance! – The Dub Asante Feat and Matic Horns instrumental guys will be on hand to shore up the fun musical and emotive output at David’s Tower on September 9 (doors open 8:45 p.m., show starts 9:15 p.m.).

I interviewed Clarke by email, but his rich Jamaican accent came through loud and clear in his answers, together with his singular idiomatic turns of phrase. When I asked him if music has always been part of his life, he shot back: “Of course… how can it not… it’s pon my soul and my everything from when I was a small boy…”

The Rastafarian says he was exposed to a variety of sounds and rhythms in his early formative years. “In Jamaica, we had so many music influences and that came from the original Jamaican ska and rocksteady and dance halls but, then again, we had the radio and American music was always there leading the way so I listened to all sorts of music. But, of course, my music is the true music of Jamaica and that was the path I followed.”

CLARKE SAYS he was inspired to take up music, as a means of putting bread on his table, by an eclectic range of factors, which he names as: “Life in Jamaica, family, love of course, hardships, inspiration can come from many a ting you know, even the rain – which is a blessing.”

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He says his daytime job simply crept up on him. “I don’t think you realize you are going to become a professional until you find yourself as a professional, and what is the meaning of that? Professional musician or artist and entertainer means that I make my living from music which I do as you know, for many years, too many for me to name a time.”

Clarke says he has been putting pen to paper for some time now. “I wrote my songs from the beginning, from a small boy to the dance hall studio days, to my days with Flying Symbals, always writing lyrics to suit the musical riddims that is the inspiration for the songs too. It goes hand in hand.”

Like many of his co-professionals, at some stage – in the 1980s, to be precise – he relocated to London for a while, to get his musical message out there. Naturally, his cause was helped by the global success of late reggae megastar Bob Marley.
“Of course, Bob was a great reason for spreading the love of reggae music,” Clarke notes, “and his success created a path for all us entertainers too… internationally, and we respect that but we also found our international success and we spread our message same way.”

The singer says he can’t quantify how his music has developed over the years, and just wants to keep on pumping out his positive vibes. “Well… It is for you to judge that, not me, as I just make my music that the people love!”

Clarke has taken on plenty of musical and cultural baggage on his travels over the years. “Always, where I go in the world, I learn and am influenced of course! And I remember my first time in Afrika (sic), which was a blessing and gave me insight to the people dem but Italy, France, Mexico, Canada, New York, mi travel all over the world and I love to do that.”

As a follower of the Rastafarian faith, Clarke feels a close spiritual and emotional bond with this part of the world, and is eagerly anticipating his trip here and, in particular, performing in Jerusalem.

“Wow, this is going to be such an experience for me as Israel is such a place of history and such a special place,” he says. “Mi very excited to be coming to Israel and to bring messages of peace and love and unity with my music to bless the people and entertain them. Johnny Clarke soon come with Dub Asante Band. Jah RastaFari!”

For tickets and more information:

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