Rhythm Revolution: Cedric “Im” Brooks

Saxophonist Cedric Brooks weaves the rebellious history of Jamaica into his music

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Photo courtesy of Clive Chin

Photo courtesy of Clive Chin

Runaway slaves?

Yes, and, of course, you had a set that was there before. The Maroons were the first set of slaves who came with the Spaniards. When the British came, the Maroons were fighting with the Spaniards against the British. So, when the British became more successful, they ran away into the hills. They developed their own communities in the hills, and they would still attack the British. [The Maroons] would provide a refuge for runaway slaves, and they would try to come in and inveigle some of the slaves to run away.

Eventually, the drums slowly became accepted until the time of emancipation; then the drum actually became free to the use of the people. So those music [styles] actually started from that time, and then they developed. Rastafari was part of the resistance to the British colonial system and a very outspoken group. So the drum was part of, really, the acceptance or a statement made about the acceptance of our own African culture.

Even after independence, the Rastafarian community was still considered outlaw, and the music was still considered outlaw music.

The general community was Christianized. Christianity was the main religious tool that was used to enslave us. And the Rastafari community was part of resisting that kind of reality as it was presented to us. They said they were taking us out of our hedonism, our lack of God, and bringing Christ to us. But instead of doing that, they enslaved us. So, the sentiments of the Rastafari was a part of the resistance, of that “wicked religious practice.” However, the paradox about it is that His Imperial Majesty [Haile Selassie] is the defender of the Christian faith of Ethiopia, but the thing is that what Rasta saw in the observance of His Imperial Majesty was what should have been taught to us in terms [of] Christianity.

After independence, things didn’t change too much. Resistance communities stayed around and grew bigger. “Rudeboy” or outlaw culture would find refuge in these communities as well.

As you rightly said, nothing really changed. The system remained the same—only [in] name we were independent. Instead of outrightly saying we were slaves, we were enslaved by the economic process that was there. Because we had to depend on whatever it was for us to live, and the work system that was set up, we had to depend on that for our livelihood. So, there was no getting away from the system as it were.

Then there was the Manley government, which promised a reversal of that situation. What was the reaction of that community to these promises? Did they support this change, this whole idea of the “rod of correction”?

Initially, there was support for that, and there seemed to be some change. There was some change, but it was not enough. It was not enough effort to make the connection to Africa, which was always the longing of the people who were brought there from the beginning anyway, and the resistance to that—we were taken forcefully, and we were kept there forcefully.

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