Soul sound in one string: Jamaican folk sensation to play Mass MoCA
NORTH ADAMS -- It doesn't take much to make noise in the music industry. But to make a powerful noise, one that resonates -- that art Jamaican-born Brushy One-String understands very well. He plays a one-stringed guitar that acts as his muse, his percussion section, his pulse and, ultimately, his revolution.
On Saturday, Brushy (born Andrew Chin in the rural town of Ochos Rios) brings his unique sound to Mass MoCA's Club B-10 at 8 p.m. It is a visit many have been waiting for.
"Brushy was the secret weapon at the New Orleans Jazz Festival in 2013," said Sue Killam, the museum's performing arts managing director. "He played on multiple stages, and every time his powerful voice, infectious rhythm and mastery of the one string guitar lit up a venue. He instantly hooked every listener and brought them to raucous cheers. Crowds followed him from stage to stage throughout the festival. I knew right away that we had to have him [here]."
It seems that everyone who sees Brushy is captivated by his deep laugh and that relentless single string. Filmmaker and producer Luciano Blotta was wrapping up filming of his 2010 documentary "RiseUp" about the rich music scene in Jamaica when he saw Brushy playing in the street. The song, "Chicken in the Corn" -- which has garnered more than 4 million hits on YouTube -- was a spontaneous, twangy number that caught Blotta immediately. He filmed Brushy on the spot and put that bit into the documentary.
But still, even months after leaving the Caribbean's poorest island, Blotta could not shake the sound of that one-stringed guitar.
"I returned home to Los Angeles and was going through the images and footage and found his energy really captivating, not to mention the rarity of the one string and what he was doing with it, along with his voice," he said. "I also noticed that everybody who watched the clip, when I was editing [the] film, ended up singing the song, from children to adults. To me, he was a gifted human being with a magic touch, and I could not believe that nobody was paying attention, or at least the amount of attention I think he deserved. So he decided I was to be the one to help him reach the world, and I accepted. I am glad I did."
Blotta was new to the idea of "representing" a musician and Brushy was new to the idea of recording and touring. Yet somehow, the two understand each other. And, according to Blotta, Brushy, whose vocals rest solidly between the deep delta blues of Son House and the uplifting groove of fellow countryman Shabba Ranks, understands the world.
"He projects a sweetness and a universal positive energy," he said. "In other words, love. In the world that we live in today, that is the highest currency. As long as you have love, you are rich. Because once you can give and give freely. He really has nothing, but this makes him the rich one. This is universal and reaches people across all nations, cultures and races."
Brushy's lyrics run the gamut of the human condition and musical genre. His melancholy ballad "Life is for Every Man" speaks of our universal right to inhabit the world, while songs like "Boom Bang Deng" rail quietly against the violence that plagues Brushy's beloved country.
The range of his music pays homage to the undercurrent of politics and rebellion that signifies Jamaican song.
"For most artists in Jamaica, music is a life mission and the only vehicle," Blotta said. "It is to choose life. Life over death. Over oppression. Over unfulfilled dreams and wasted talent. And over a nation that has been sunk by political abuse. As people told me in Jamaica, sometimes music is more powerful than politics, religion and education. In fact, it is one of the forms of education for the underprivileged.
"Children don't go to school or don't have that privilege to do so actually, so they listen to the radio, and what they hear is what they learn. It is a unique, potent and lively place. It makes you feel alive and connected."
If you go ...
What: Jamaican folk-blues master Brusy One-String
When: 8 p.m. Saturday
Where: Mass MoCA, North Adams
Admission: $12 in advance, $16 day of
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