Rhythm Revolution: Cedric “Im” Brooks

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

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The legacy of Marcus Garvey and the “Back to Africa” movement of repatriation. Now that you’re living in Ethiopia, you’re one of the very few who’s actually repatriated.

Marcus Garvey was the main proponent of repatriation: “Africa for Africans, at home and abroad,” which would give people a sense of belonging, a sense of who they really are. Until people reidentified in a positive way, both spiritually and physically, with where they belong, then they would not really be full people; they would always have problems. And, of course, the rudeboy syndrome was part of that lack of identity. The promises of the system were not fulfilled, again, were not fulfilled. And people just couldn’t be themselves. They didn’t have jobs. They weren’t able to fit into the situation unless they went through a certain kind of process, which would

completely take their real souls from them. And [it would] become again another type of slavery system: enforced slavery system. So, yes, the rudeboy developed because they rebelled against being less than human. If this is independence, then the independence is supposed to free them to become their own persons, but nothing like that was happening for the masses of the people. So you had to go though the process: you had to be conditioned, reconditioned, in another way to serve the system the way the system wanted. But the music definitely curtailed the violence, because it gave an outlet to express the pain and suffering of living under a system that did not allow you to exist with dignity.

It was almost celebrated in certain types of music, that kind of rebelling…

Of course. And that is also a connection with the previous rebellions, the previous times that people rebelled against the system, the British colonial system; so it is a continuum of that time from the beginning until this time.

Can you speak more about Count Ossie’s importance and influence?

The drumming is one of the main things that he preserved and kept alive and resisted the system [with]. There were many times that the system decided to destroy his drums and stop them from playing. They used to go on the roadside and play and preach, use the Bible, and preach the repatriation, the return, the liberation of the people, and the return to Africa. The return to Africa, not only in the sense of a physical return, but also that the people have to realize themselves as Africans. So that consciousness of Africa was mainly the thing that we tried to really project, that we were not just worthless people. We were not just people who were worthy to be enslaved and re-cultured into another man’s culture, but we had our own culture, we had our own definition, we had our own life, which was even greater than the lives we came to inherit and came to be born in. So that was part of the resistance and part of the message to the general people: to become who they are supposed to be.

And that was his legacy?

That was the legacy. As I said before, they would destroy the drums. He resisted all of that, because in different communities, they destroyed those communities, but he resisted that and kept in the hills the drums alive and even resisted police and people who would come. A number of times, they came and destroyed the drums, but he still kept it going and kept that fire burning. So the drums came back to the society in a regular way through Count Ossie.

And who was the first hornsman to go and play with him?

A number of guys, but some of them were guys like the Gaynairs. The Gaynairs were very prominent musicians, but they would go up into the hills and stay among them. Of course, you know the name Don Drummond—who eventually started the Skatalites. Roland Alphonso, Tommy McCook, Dizzy Moore, all of those people were among the first set of people to go. Don Drummond was perhaps one of the greatest musicians that came out of that set. He was an absolute genius. He was able to do extraordinary things with his music. Before anybody could do the kind of solo work, he was able to do that much better than anybody else, and he was even compared to the American greats in his sound. He was able to do extraordinary things, like, even reading the music upside down. [laughs] No, serious, he would turn the music upside down and just read the music just like that.

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