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About The Five Songs

I have always admired traditional Jamaican music. The sheer quantity of songs is amazing and seemingly out of proportion with the size of the island. Additionally, many of these songs are of high quality and amply show the talent and wit of their creators.

When my good friend, soprano Dawn-Marie Virtue-James asked me to “arrange a few folk songs” for her in 1999, I immediately said “yes, certainly”, put this request on my bucket list, and forgot about it. It took another year of her nagging, but I finally scored “Banyan Tree”, “Liza”, and “Nobody’s Business” for a recital Dawn-Marie was having in 2001. Over the next year “Fi Mi Love” and “Long Time Gal” were also scored for her. I am now glad that Dawn-Marie insisted I work on those folk songs.

My approach to these folk songs is to avoid making too many radical changes to the original melody, but everything else – harmony, form, style is a potential point of departure. I hope you find these pieces an enjoyable taste of Jamaican folk music.

Peter Ashbourne

About Jamaica Folk

The origins of Jamaica Folk lie in the first Jamaica Festival (Festival of the Arts) of 1963. There was a requirement for the Violin Solo category of that festival for the performance of a Jamaican folk song. I devised a medley of folk songs with an improvised piano accompaniment for that occasion. This was to become my first composition to be performed in public.

Over two decades later in 1985, when my ‘Pimento String Quartet’ needed a Jamaican piece for its repertoire, I revisited the folk song medley of 1963, updated it, re-arranged it for string quartet, and called it Jamaica Folk. There is also an adaptation for string quintet or string orchestra, which was first featured in a performance by a visiting Venezuelan group.

This medley incorporates some of the better-known Jamaican folk songs including ‘Long Time Gal’, ‘Linstead Market’, ‘Jane and Louisa’, ‘Fan Me Solja Man’ and ‘Mango Walk’. There is also original material in the piece’s opening and closing, which has the flavour of traditional Jamaican music.

From my perspective, Jamaica Folk is a pleasant piece that joyfully flutters along in the abundant sunlight and has consistently delighted audiences every time it is performed.


Peter Ashbourne
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