Rock It Come Over: The Folk Music of Jamaica

Rock It Come Over: The Folk Music of Jamaica

Rock It Come Over: The Folk Music of Jamaica

Rock It Come Over: The Folk Music of Jamaica


Rock it Come Over describes the music and lore of slavery from the early sixteenth century through emancipation in 1838 to the mid twentieth century. Lewin explores the role of music in the lives of the slaves as a method of communication, as a form of resistance and subversion, as a repository of oral history and beliefs, and, ultimately, as a means of survival.

The work is based on decades of research into the music sung and played by the working people of Jamaica. Lewin relates the music to traditions that preserve an African way of life, such as Revivalism and its strong heritage of faith and worship. She has a special interest in the Kumina cult and describes in detail the life and beliefs of Kumina queen, Imogene 'Queenie' Kennedy.

Rock it Come Over is the most extensive study of Jamaican folk music yet published. It is also an examination of the roots of that music and a record of the folk heritage that is, in spite of many efforts, rapidly retreating before the pressures of life today.


Jamaica is one of the few countries which have made the transition from a folk-based musical culture to a popular international music form. As the focus shifts from the traditional to the popular, so do public attention and recognition. Special steps have to be taken in such cases to preserve the treasury of folk heritage.

Several positive steps have been taken in Jamaica to record its musical heritage. The Jamaica Festival provides a platform for annual performance of the arts in which folk music is well represented in song and dance. What is more, the performances are largely school presentations, ensuring that the music is nurtured for each succeeding generation.

More important to the future is a record of the past. That immense responsibility was assigned by me officially to Dr Olive Lewin more than thirty years ago during my tenure as the minister responsible for culture. Dr Lewin was eminently suitable for a programme to collect our folk music in recordings and for transcribing many works to sheet music. Her qualifications as an accomplished teacher of music and pianist in her own right were a sound background to carry out this historical assignment.

Because we were very largely breaking new ground, much of the collection had to be carried out in the field, particularly in the rural areas where the retention of traditional music is stronger.

Olive Lewin went beyond the original scope of her assignment which was to collect the large number of mento songs and the ring play tunes performed as games among children and adults in folk society. The African retentions which still exist in some areas of Jamaica, as expressed in musical dance and song, came to her attention: Tambo, Ettu, Nago, and Goombeh. Dr Lewin researched these relatively unfamiliar areas of folk culture, adding them to the collection. Of special interest were the legendary Maroons and the Kumina cult, both Afrocentric groups where, for special reasons, survival of African traditions were highest.

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