Lorna Goodison

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What is the poem "Jah Music" by Lorna Goodison about? How can the poem be compared to the steelpan?

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Lorna Goodison is a painter-turned-poet hailing from Kingston, Jamaica. Her numerous written works have been published across dozens of collections since the late 1970s. Much of her poetry is focused on the meaning and influence of the Caribbean arts—music in particular—and her poem "Jah Music" is a prime example.


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Music" talks about the melody of the music emanating from lowly places. It specifically deals with the kind of places inhabited by common, poor folk. She speaks of it "bubbl[ing] up through a cistern" and "stained from traveling underground, smelling of poor people's dinners." Caribbean music is not handed down from the wealthy tastemakers above, "it pulses without a symphony conductor." It flows from everyday people.

She refers to the music in the poem specifically as "ole nayga music," with "nayga" being an Antiguan word for "black person." She's harkening back to an African ancestry that is part and parcel to both the Caribbean culture and its sounds. Moreover, she refers to "this red and yellow and dark green sound." These colors are not a reference to any Caribbean nations’s flag, but rather symbolize the flags of many African nations from whence their heritage flowed, including the modern-day nations of Senegal, Congo, Ghana, Burkina Faso, and Guinea-Bissau, among others.

Most importantly, Goodison speaks of the healing and gratification properties of the music. She touches on how important music is for unity as a people, for moving past societal ills, and for creating a sense of comfort. It is

More than weed and white rum healing. More than bush tea and fever grass cooling.

Marijuana, rum and teas are among some of the most prized forms of hedonism in Caribbean cultures. Goodison puts music on a pedestal above all.

As far as the steelpan (made of industrial drums that formerly held chemicals) goes, the instrument is a staple in the creation of authentic-sounding Caribbean tunes. It is rooted in the region's music culture as deeply as Goodison's work is rooted in the poetry culture. Both her poem and the instrument are emblematic of the unique Caribbean voice and artistry that have arisen from the great unwashed masses.

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