Inna de Yard: The Soul of Jamaica ****
Dir: Peter Webber. Documentary with: Ken Boothe, Derajah, Winston McAnuff, Judy Mowatt. 99 mins. Cert: 12A
Potentially tricky territory here. Back in 2017, the white British filmmaker Peter Webber travelled to Jamaica to document a musical reunion destined to remind seasoned arthouse patrons of Wim Wenders’ Buena Vista Social Club. The Inna de Yard sessions gathered reggae veterans on a rickety porch in Kingston to rerecord their best known standards acoustically – mirroring that unplugged tradition prevalent in MTV circles almost since the electric guitar’s invention, while venturing a Jamaican analogue to the Great American Songbook. As one interviewee puts it: “Some countries have diamonds, some have pearls, some have oil; we have reggae.” As with all those resources, the spectre of exploitation has never been far away; Webber’s entirely disarming tactic is to allow the musicians to tell their own stories in their own words. Few require much prompting.
For some, the sessions are a resumption of careers put on hold; for others, a return to the one constant in their lives. For many, they’re a means of reclaiming these songs from companies that wrung more money from them than was ever allowed to trickle down Kingston way. Webber's business isn’t exploitation but celebration, commemoration: he rightly senses, as did Wenders and the directors of the Scorsese-produced series The Blues and the 2002 doc Standing in the Shadows of Motown before him, that there’s a historical urgency in getting seventy- and eightysomething subjects on the record about their experiences and craft. The movie’s a great night out, but you sense it’ll also become a priceless resource.
Viewers with drone-shot allergies may start itching, though Webber’s do illustrate the uneven lay of this landscape, and everything else his camera does brings us closer to a culture that might appear remote from the perspective of this overcast and never more uptight island. We spot the glee (and, yes, privilege) Webber feels at being next to the microphone as vocals are laid down; he knows he’s capturing magic when Ken Boothe reprises “Everything I Own” amid a tumbledown dancehall, or explains the longevity of his marriage while adjacent to Mrs. B on their plastic-covered sofa. It’s one of those docs that wins you over with its spirit: the collected histories reframe the music as one of resistance, resilience, survival, and the tried-and-tested beats pulsing through the cinema sound system can’t help but back them up.
Inna de Yard: The Soul of Jamaica opens in selected cinemas from tomorrow.