The spirit of Bob Marley has been alive, well and kicking up some unfamiliar but decidedly heady rhythms in Malmesbury over the past week and a half as the town has gone reggae crazy.
In the space of five days around 100 children applied their musical skills to performing some funky reggae beats in preparation for next week’s WOMAD Festival.
Music students from Malmesbury School and a cluster of village schools in the vicinity have risen to the challenge of creating their own take on the sunshine sounds of Jamaica.
During a series of intense sessions throughout last week they were tutored at the school by three experienced Bristol-based reggae musicians John Hollis, Mark Spence and Andy Clarke, known collectively as AMJ.
The trio – who also brought along several guest musicians – taught the children, aged between eight and 18, the basics of the music that emerged from the ghettos of Kingston during the 1960s.
On Tuesday Malmesbury’s reggae ensemble had a dress rehearsal within the medieval walls of the ruined abbey that has been more used to the sombre chants of monks.
Now the young reggae orchestra is set to open the four-day WOMAD – World of Music Art and Dance Festival – with a performance of material especially written for the event by AMJ on the main stage at 7pm on July 24.
“There’s been a positive vibration ever since the project began,” said music teacher Debbie Corscadden, quoting a phrase from the Bob Marley song of the same name.
“The school has certainly been filled with sunny, laidback music,” she said. “The children were very excited to be working with professional reggae musicians. Some of them are accomplished musicians themselves – even those as young as 12.”
While the younger children focused on singing and dancing, the older ones have learnt how to apply their talents to the singular reggae beat on a variety of instruments including bass, brass, guitars, keyboards and percussion.
It has now become a tradition for children in the area to open the event on the Thursday night in front of thousands of fans with a performance alongside a top world music band.
Some 50 students from Malmesbury School will perform on Thursday, along with another 50 from five local primary schools – Malmesbury, Brinkworth Earl Danby’s, Minety, Lea & Garsdon and Crudwell.