Reggae Roots or an Unexpected Rendez-Vous!

A video-on-demand series bringing to life the sounds and stories of the musical movement that grew to influence music around the globe!

In February 2022, Orchestral Conductor Daniel Bartholomew-Poyser joined the National Arts Centre Orchestra as Principal Youth Conductor and Creative Partner for a three-year mandate. The first Black titled conductor in the NAC Orchestra’s history, he debuts in his role with the launch of Reggae Roots, an Arts Alive video-on-demand learning series featuring Reggae's rising star Jah’Mila and the National Arts Centre Orchestra.

Daniel Bartholomew-Poyser and Jah’Mila shared their thoughts about Reggae Roots and their collaboration mixing Reggae and classical music.

Q. Daniel, firstly, welcome to the big NAC Family! You have been collaborating with several grand orchestras worldwide. Tell us what it means to you to now join the NAC’s?

Daniel: What it means to me is that I’m now part of a group of people that has a tremendous sense of vision for what art can be and for what art can mean to everybody in Canada, to everybody in society. I am so thrilled that I get to work with this group of people, with this wonderful team and to participate in the creation of projects, works of art, concerts and experiences that will change not only the way people enjoy and partake in orchestral music, but their understanding of how orchestral music can be part of their lives. I remember being given pretty much free rein by the NAC to perform a concert that I would like, to have music that I thought would be good. They said: “Come back with something creative”. So, I came back to the education team with a concept, a concept based on Reggae. They took my concept and began asking “Well, what about this?” and “What if we tried this?” and “What if we add this thing?”.

And this concept that I had for a concert became a beautiful multimedia on-demand experience that is not just a one-off performance but something that will be accessible for Canadian young people and adults to learn from and to enjoy for years and years to come. That requires vision, stamina, dedication, and commitment. And that is what I have experienced since being at the National Arts Centre Orchestra and working with this team. That is what I am excited about, continuing to move forward and creating with the team.

"The music of Jamaica has influenced pop music around the globe, reverberating in so much mainstream music. With Reggae Roots, we intend to cement in students' minds, the extraordinary impact this musical style exerts on world culture."                            - Daniel Bartholomew-Poyser

Q. Jah’Mila and Daniel, how did you come about cocreating an educational series on Reggae music? Tell us about your experience collaborating.

Jah’Mila: I first met Daniel in October 2018 as I participated in Music Nova Scotia’s Orchestrated Neighbors initiative. As we embarked on a journey to collaborate with the Bela string quartet and other artists from different cultural backgrounds within our wider Nova Scotian community, he opened our minds to the possibility of re-imagining orchestral music and how it can be used in our songs. 

It was through this program that I got a chance to perform with the Symphony Nova Scotia for the first time in August 2019. The Symphony Nova Scotia and Daniel invited me yet again to share with them six months later in their 2020 Black History celebrations. It is always a pleasure to work with Daniel and to learn from him. He has a discipline and a focus that inspires me to show up in the fullness of myself every time we collaborate. 

I will forever be grateful to Daniel and the Symphony Nova Scotia for exposing me to the world of live orchestral music. When I reflect on the past three years since my first foray into orchestral performances, I am amazed at the incredible work that we have managed to do together fusing the two worlds of classical music with Reggae. This is important work that not only preserves the story of these iconic genres, but also breaks down cultural barriers through music, and challenges the next generation to be inspired to think and create outside the box.

I am immensely grateful for the graciousness and positivity with which these projects have been received. The incredible feedback received on this work thus far makes me confident that it will create a positive impact in our communities for years to come.

Daniel: When we first met, we collaborated on just a couple of pieces that Jah’Mila sang with the Symphony. And then it got bigger and bigger because her talent just needed more space to grow, it needed to be on stage.

We continued to include her and when I was asked to do a concert with the National Arts Centre Orchestra and come up with a concept, Jah’Mila’s name was the first one that came to mind, and I was so nervous that she wouldn’t be available and I’m so glad that she was. And hopefully, she will be for many, many more in the future.

This collaboration offered me the opportunity to visit Jah’Mila and her band in their rehearsal space. Once there, you really get a sense of how the music is made and how wonderful the atmosphere and the vibe in there really carries out into actual performances. The love that’s in there, the work, and the effort, are taken from this small space and carried out on the big stage. It’s really, really phenomenal.

Q. Jah’Mila, you are one of Reggae’s most prominent voices in Canada. Tell us more about your attachment to Reggae music, and your relationship with classical music.

Jah’Mila: For most, Reggae music conjures images of a sunny day on a sandy beach in Jamaica. But for me, this is the sound of my life!

As the daughter of internationally respected musician and Wailer alumni, Earl “Chinna” Smith, Reggae music became an inseparable part of my life from an early age. With my deep love for singing and Reggae, I toured for over a decade as a supporting vocalist for towering Reggae acts like Black Uhuru, The Wailers and Groundation. During these years, I learned a lot from these Reggae elders, and have had to lean on these lessons as I work with my team to grow my own solo career here in Nova Scotia, Canada.

I never imagined that one day I would play with an orchestra, especially the NAC Orchestra. When the opportunity presented itself, I struggled with feelings of “imposter syndrome” that were heavy and debilitating; but with the help of my musical family, Daniel and the wonderful team at the NAC, I felt supported and comfortable enough to rise above these doubts and to stand confidently in my place before the mic. I constantly reminded myself of the little girl who, like me, has doubts and needs someone to look up to as an inspiration. I want to remind that little girl that magical and beautiful things can happen if you work hard and show up in the fullness of yourself every time.

"Music has an overwhelming impact on children! It has the power to empower and develop them - creatively, mentally, and emotionally. It is this potential impact that makes me so deeply hopeful about this Reggae Roots educational program." - Jah'Mila

A video-on-demand learning series

Q. What can we expect from the Reggae Roots series?

Daniel: From Reggae Roots we can absolutely expect people to want to groove and move and dance in their chairs no matter where they are watching. We can expect them to be thrilled and surprised by the way that orchestra integrates with Reggae so beautifully, so seamlessly. They will surely love the National Arts Centre Orchestra even more.

They are going to hear fantastic people and how Reggae has influenced the world. They are going to understand how Reggae is such a huge part of the Jamaican culture and history. They are even going to learn how to dance! They are going to learn about all these Reggae stars and what Reggae meant to them, and what Reggae means to Jah’Mila and how Reggae is a social, cultural, and activist music. They are going to see how Reggae can impact social justice. There is going to be a lot.

They can just sit back and experience it; all of that will happen naturally because of the way we have constructed it!

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