It came to me quite late in the film, but the concept behind Inna de Yard shares many similarities with Buena Vista Social Club. A group of veteran musicians from the Global South – this time reggae musicians from Jamaica – come together for a concert in the West. Such similarities are, though, superficial. While BVSC for better or worse seemed inextricably bound to the inevitable global hit soundtrack album, fame and ambition are definitely in the background here.
It starts off promising to be something that it isn’t. There is a discussion of the growth of reggae in the 1970s when the love songs of the sixties were over and music needed to confront social issues. As it happens, most of the songs that we hear are about love or personal tragedy, and are none the worse for that. The songs tend to the more melodic dancehall and rocksteady music than hard dub reggae, and musically it’s all very pleasant (this is not irony, I think the music’s great). We even get Ken Boothe’s smash hit version of Bread’s Everything I Own.
The film doesn’t have too much structure, preferring to amble along. We see the assembled band of superstars playing an acoustic set of old standards, interspersed with video footage of the original versions nearly 50 years ago. The musicians and singers are interviewed against the backdrop of beautiful Jamaican scenery. None of them seems to have made a fortune, but none really seems to mind.
It is mainly a group of men, but when we come to the singer Judy Mowatt, a different dynamic is at work. The ageing men explain how they learn from younger musicians and they hope that the younger musicians learn from them, but you do get a sense of two different age groups who are wary of each other. Mowatt, on the other hand, works directly with younger singers. They say that as they are all excluded from society as women their relationship with Mowatt is more of sisters than daughters. One of the highlights of the film is the 3 women defiantly singing a song called Black Woman.
In the course of the film, we touch on stories which a different director could have sensationalised. Two different people lose close relatives in street fights, one (black) musician learns that his ancestors once owned slaves. Indeed the legacy of slavery weighs down on the recent colony, who’s inhabitants’ response is often more mystic rastafarianism than loud militancy.
But this is part of the charm of the film and its stars. They just want to make music. And to fish. And to sit around on the sun. And at 70, you must say they’ve earned it. This is a picture of a life less complicated, which seems pretty idyllic.
And if they do get round to releasing the tie-in soundtrack album, it should be very good indeed, but I doubt that any of the musicians involved will try very hard to sell it to you.