Olive Lewin


A striking, diminutive woman, Lewin fought against the manner in which “polite” Jamaican middle-class society, with its complex prejudices, denied its background, refusing to admit the existence of patois, the everyday language of most islanders.

“It was as though there had never been any African, Caribbean or even Jamaican cultural heritage or creativity,” she wrote in Rock It Come Over, her definitive 2001 study of Jamaican folk music. “It was absolutely taboo to use Jamaican vernacular. Scottish and Yorkshire speech styles in which ‘gin a body meet a body’ and ‘on Ilkla moor baht ‘at’ were permitted, but not ‘Dis long time gal me never see you, come mek me hol’ you hand’. This alone effectively separated those aspiring to ‘higher things’ or a ‘good education’ from most of Jamaica’s own music.”

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