Inna De Yard Review

Inna De Yard
British filmmaker Peter Webber follows a group of pioneering reggae musicians as they gather on a Kingston hilltop for an open-air recording session called ‘Inna De Yard’, each reflecting on their personal history and the various struggles that informed their music.

by Kambole Campbell |
Published on
Release Date:

30 Aug 2019

Original Title:

Inna De Yard

“Some countries have diamonds, some countries have pearls, some countries have oil… and Jamaica has reggae.” Though the local historian and reggae enthusiast who utters this doesn’t say it outright, the comparison of the music genre pioneered in Jamaica to various precious resources plundered from Third World countries by colonialist global powers is a telling one. The most cutting moments of Peter Webber’s freewheeling, easy-going documentary Inna De Yard come from this feeling of robbery, anecdotes of people of colour struggling, being exploited for profit, and cast aside.

Less about the history of the music itself as it is these artists’ personal history, their ties to the land and their struggles.

Webber follows a group of Jamaican reggae artists beloved in their hometown of Kingston and beyond, as they take part in a series of open-air recording sessions (after which the film is named): Ken Boothe, Kiddus I, Cedric Myton, Winston McAnuff, Judy Mowatt and more join together with younger artists — “the roots and the branches” — as one person puts it. Through these sessions, the musicians seek to catch a more natural sound, perhaps as well as a return to the raw state of the emotions that first inspired them.

The director, best known for Girl With A Pearl Earring, seems an odd match for the subject. Some of the cinematography early in the film’s runtime almost confirms this, with a handful of God’s eye view and drone shots feeling somewhat mismatched to the more earthy subject matter. But the film soon settles into a more natural groove that feels loose and unconstrained, but holds a surprisingly precise rhythm, as Webber structures the film by cutting between the backstory of each artist, footage of a recording session, and a live performance of the song in Paris.

Throughout the film, Webber works in a quick summary of reggae’s origins, tracing a line from ska, to rocksteady, through to reggae. This element is mostly kept vague as the people are the focus here; Inna De Yard is more interested in probing at what the ‘soul of reggae’ is to each of these artists. In some instances, it’s an expression of the lasting pain of Jamaican’s history of slavery, for others it might be struggles with poverty and violence. A couple of the singers even experienced fleeting international stardom through American music studios, but soon found themselves conned — some ending up deported and separated from their families on menial charges. This is where the film’s power lies — it’s less about the history of the music itself as it is these artists’ personal history, their ties to the land and their struggles. Inna De Yard extends and elaborates on the truth first expressed through these artists’ songs in ways that are both surprising and moving. If the ‘soul of Jamaica’ is a fairly nebulous concept, Inna De Yard comes remarkably close to capturing it.

Inna De Yard, while not always incisive, is soulful and uplifting in its exploration of the hearts behind the music Webber clearly loves — a feeling compounded by its charming subjects.
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