April 29, 2019
by Carla Hay
“Inna De Yard: The Soul of Jamaica”
Directed by Peter Webber
World premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival on April 29, 2019.
While reggae legends Bob Marley and Peter Tosh have been the subject of multiple films, the documentary “Inna De Yard: The Soul of Jamaica” shines a spotlight on lesser-own reggae artists who have influenced generations of people. The film chronicles the making of an album recorded by Ken Boothe, Winston McAnuff, Kiddus I, Judy Mowatt, Var, Jah9 and Cedric Myton, among other artists. The album is also this film’s soundtrack.
The film also takes a closer look into the lives of some the artists, who give in-depth interviews. Myton, who is best known as the lead singer of the Congos, is the elder sage of the group. He’s weathered the ups and downs of his career, including a marijuana bust that had him deported from the United States. (Almost all of the artists in the movie are Rastafarians.) His personal life is also colorful: He has 11 children, and has been married for 40 years.
The politically minded Kiddus I, who was prominently featured in the 1976 cult film “Rockers,” talks about feeling disillusioned from the music industry for several years after his career didn’t pan out the way he had hoped. On the flip side, Boothe (who is probably the most famous singer in the film) describes that he wasn’t necessarily very happy at the height of his success because his fame came at a price—namely, the constant touring prevented him from spending time with his family.
Family issues are also a source of emotional pain for McAnuff (whose nickname is Electric Dread), who tells a heartbreaking tale of his young adult son Matthew (an aspiring artist) being murdered in 2012, and how he has trouble coping with the trauma. It’s the most emotionally touching part of the movie.
Mowatt beings a Zen quality to the movie, which shows that she has remained grounded and relatively stable. Var and Jah9 represent the young generation of Jamaican music artists. Var likes to blend other music genres—such as R&B, hip-hop pop—into traditional reggae, and enjoys drawing from his rural roots in Jamaica’s Maroon lands when making music. Jah9 is an unapologetic feminist who isn’t afraid to speak out about issues that matter to her, such as sexism, poverty and legalization of marijuana. She’s also a yoga teacher with a spiritual side.
The musical performances on and off stage are compelling to watch. (It’s almost impossible not to get engrossed in the beats, even if you’re not a fan of reggae music.) The documentary has somewhat of a rambling, scattershot tone and could have benefited from tighter editing. Ultimately, the movie is solid but it won’t be considered a classic.