Now in cinemas is a new documentary about reggae music – here’s our review of Inna De Yard.
Director: Peter Webber
Cast: Ken Boothe, Winston McAnuff, Judy Mowatt, Derajah
Release date: Out now
Reviewer: Anna Wilczek
For anyone whose reggae knowledge extends no further than Bob Marley and the Wailers, prepare yourselves for a lesson of the soul with Peter Webber’s Inna De Yard. The documentary follows an iconic group of veteran Jamaican reggae artists as they work on an acoustic album featuring classic tunes from their heyday, with the intent to pass their vision down to the younger generation. Where community and kinship are shown to be just as important as the music and, at the risk of an expression more suited to the dialogue of the Fast & Furious franchise, it’s ultimately all about family. This isn’t just a story about those behind the making of an album, but what fuels the music – a tale of historical struggle, pain, love and healing.
With many of the featured artists coming into prominence during what is referred to as the ‘conscious era’, it’s immediately clear that music isn’t just a calling for them, it’s intrinsic to their way of life. In the same way that rap and hip-hop artists often live the songs they write, the ‘you sing what you know’ approach was also applied to the reggae music of the 70s – be that in a tribute to Malcolm X or the description of the simple life of a fisherman. The key players in unplugged ‘behind-the-music’ style focus are reggae masters Kiddus I, Winston McAnuff, Ken Boothe, Cedric Myton and Judy Mowatt, as the director examines the paths they could have taken and what music led them to instead.
Despite the charming company, the film feels overly long and would benefit from the loss of 20 minutes or so – and, for a film primarily about the music, there aren’t nearly enough musical sequences. Regardless, Webber is able to capture a rare intimacy between these artists, with an authenticity that often seems impossible to demonstrate on film. The final coming together of the older musicians to perform the legendary ‘Rivers of Babylon’ is particularly enchanting.
As with Formula 1 racing in Senna, you don’t need to have an appreciation of reggae to enjoy Inna De Yard (although, of course, it does help), but those who do love the genre will likely find themselves falling down a Spotify-shaped hole after the film as they explore the back catalogues of Boothe et al. The album will likely be significantly better than the film, but given the contributors, that’s the way it should be.