In the lush hills of Kingston, Jamaica, a group of musicians are recording an album. This in itself might not be remarkable, but it becomes so, given the context: these artists are legends of the reggae music scene – some of the most important artists that the country has ever produced. Peter Webber, the film-maker behind Girl With A Pearl Earring, has been obsessed with reggae since his teens, and his new documentary, Inna De Yard, captures the soul of Jamaica for all to discover and enjoy.
A charming group of musicians make up the principal players in the film, namely Ken Boothe, Kiddus I, Winston McAnuff, Cedric Myton and Judy Mowatt. With assistance from many friends and collaborators, they come together to record a stripped-back, acoustic selection of their favourite songs and biggest hits, so named the Inna De Yard album/project because it’s recorded, literally, on their home turf from the front porch to the back yard. There’s no fancy recording studio, no autotune or big-name producers: for these professionals, all they need is a song.
Music is a lifeblood that runs through Jamaica, uniting families, friends and communities. Over the course of the film, the various musicians take us on a tour of their private versions of Jamaica, inviting the cameras into their homes and to meet their families, revealing an intimate look at the real Kingston, beyond the tourist spots and picturesque sandy beaches. Instead, we gain a sense of the country’s complex history, in particular how reggae has shaped Jamaica, offering both comfort and an escape to many of the residents.
The musicians also share their personal experiences, encompassing joy and regret, heartache and hope, and reveal what the music they sing means to them personally. Webber’s tight focus on his subjects, and respect for their work, means that the film feels as if it belongs to its subjects, who are all willing to share their talent and stories. Natural storytellers, they are compelling subjects, each with a unique perspective on reggae, as well as their own fascinating life story to tell. Rehearsals, recordings, interviews and performance are interwoven to create a moving, textured vision of life in Kingston, Jamaica.
As Wim Wenders’ Buena Vista Social Club did in Cuba, Webber’s film seeks to shine a light on a community of artists that few know much about, and goes beyond the stereotypes to present an authentic portrait of Jamaica’s culture and people. Webber ties in footage of the Inna De Yard musicians performing to a packed concert hall in Paris, reminding us that reggae has a timeless power to draw big crowds and to bring people together.
Combining intimate performance footage with personal anecdotes and intriguing insight into how reggae has shaped Jamaica’s identity, Inna De Yard has heart and soul and charm to spare. It’s a delight to spend time with these veteran performers, still as passionate and gifted as ever, and with lifelong friendships to reminisce over. Whether you’re a longtime fan of reggae, or new to the music, Inna De Yard’s infectious sense of joy and uplifting message of triumph over adversity will have you dancing in your seat.