Ian Thomson: Jamaica was modern before Britain

Ian Thomson: Jamaica was modern before Britain

The Independent
London, England

Miguel Cullen

To mark Black History Month the author of “Dead Yard: Tales of Modern Jamaica” talks to Miguel Cullen about the ways Jamaica is punching above its weight

Jamaica is a country that exceeds its limitations. For example India’s GDP is 180 times that of the West Indian country and Jamaica could fit inside it 300 times. Yet Jamaica won twice as many medals at the London Olympics, 12 to India’s six.

Musically it shines beyond its scope too: between the mid-1950s and 2000 Jamaica had produced one new music recording per 1,000 people each year – making it per capita the world’s most prolific generator of recorded music.

Jamaican culture has long been fashionable and on Google Trends, a means of measuring how highly words feature in the search engine. In the list of most-searched countries “Jamaica” comes a tight second to “Russia,” a country so big it makes Jamaica look like a minnow.

In view of Jamaica’s small financial and physical scale, it’s logical to think of it as a statistical freak of nature, an anomaly, to have such a broad world standing. How could such a tiny island, which is only this year celebrating 50 years of independence from the UK, compete with superpowers like India and Russia?

It was with this question in mind that, on the eve of Black History Month in the UK, I visited the London home of Ian Thomson, the author of the hugely successful (and controversial) Dead Yard: Tales of Modern Jamaica

…The book won the Royal Society of Literature’s Ondaatje Prize, and the Dolman Travel Book of the Year. It combines serpentine, fragile descriptions of Jamaica’s natural beauty with an unafraid look at the horrors of Jamaican violence, in a way that is intransigent and unique.

“Jamaica was modern before Britain was,” Thomson tells me, sitting in his study overlooking the greenery of Alexandra Park. “What fascinated me about these Caribbean countries was that for me they’re the first modern societies – they were the first countries to have intermingling, mixed race people, across the colour bar.”

“When Jamaicans came to Britain in the 1950s and 1960s, they were often very surprised by the conservative reactions to some of them being mixed race – mixed racing had been going on for centuries in the Caribbean. So in a sense you could say that although Jamaica is in some ways parochial, in other ways it’s incredibly forward-thinking.”…

Read the entire article here.

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