Wednesday, 27 October 2010

PLAY I SOME MUSIC: Revealing docudrama 'Rise Up' offers a potent glimpse into Jamaica’s vast musical underground

THROUGH THE LENS: Director Luciano Blotta and reggae singer Turbulence film a scene for Rise Up.

“I’m a musician, so that’s what I’m gonna do,” states reggae artiste Turbulence in a pivotal scene from the enlightening and essential new film Rise Up (Freedom Pictures). The simplicity and directness that characterize the singer’s admission is essentially what drives the film, which, at its best, discovers and illuminates interesting sagas from Jamaica’s musical underground.

What factors have led to Jamaica earning the long-standing rank as one of the top music-exporting countries on the planet? Where lies the foundation of our boundless passion for musical expression? According to Rise Up, helmed by Argentinian filmmaker Luciano Blotta (with the backing of local-based producers), Jamaica’s musical heritage is firmly rooted in the spirit of African ancestry, sprouting originally from the hearts of our forefathers, who were brought here in droves to work the plantations.

Today, with our vast reserve of wide-ranging talent, Jamaicans’ love of music derives its urgency from a belief that music has the capacity to both uplift and heal. More pointedly, for many Jamaicans (particularly the young), the film argues, music is a readily accessible means to disentangle oneself from the limiting forces of poverty. At some point or another, we all want to soar above our circumstances.

Delivering insightful stories from across the island, the film primarily takes viewers inside the lives of dirt-poor dreamers like a before-he-was-big Turbulence and a Clarendon-bred singer Kemoy Reid, but aims for balance with the inclusion of well-to-doers Ice Anastacia, a musical male trio from upper St. Andrew, intent on making it to the Reggae Sumfest stage. The common thread that links all the film’s subjects, however, is a thirst to break into the arena of success, to “rise up” from obscurity.

Meanwhile, adding to the varied and influential voices that lend the film some weight and authority are cameos from such luminaries as Sly & Robbie, Mikey Bennett, Johnny Gourzong, Toots Hibbert, Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry and Bunny Goodison. And it wouldn’t be a proper film about the soul of Jamaican music without some reference to the influence and contribution of the Rastafarian community; hence, an inclusion of voices from that sect.

Overall, Rise Up benefits enormously from Blotta’s tenacity behind the camera – and his full-blooded desire to capture the essence of the accounts featured. How he weaves the three main interconnected stories into a compelling whole is smartly done.

Tightly edited to run under two hours, and never less than engaging, Rise Up (filmed over the course of five years) is shot in a rough documentary quality that gives the picture an earthy, arthouse feel. Very minor, forgettable quibbles aside, the film delivers an effective mix of in-depth interview, heightened honesty and a layer of real grit that stays true to the spirit and history of Jamaican music. Tyrone’s Verdict: A-

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