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Ton yo han mek fashan FRONT MATTER2.jpg
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Ton yo han mek Fashan for Marimba and
Bass Clarinet (2020/2021)
Commissioned by Transient Canvas


This piece is inspired by two instruments found in the Jamaican Mento Band. The first is the rumba box or in other countries called the marimbula. It is like a large thumb piano, and it provides the "bassline" of the band. This instrument has only five to six fixed pitches tuned like a scale, so the bass is implied as it will not always be in tune with the other instruments. It however, adds great rhythmic effect. The second instrument is the clarinet. Although a familiar Western instrument, in this context, the sounds produced are very bold, honky, reedy, earthy, unrefined, as the instrumentalists are self-taught. Nevertheless, they produce highly virtuosic improvisatory themes, or improvisations on folk songs; full of character and life congruent to the moment in which this mento music is being played.


The marimba mimics the rumba box very well, and the bass clarinet is already of the clarinet family. The advantage of these two instruments lie in their extended upper/ lower ranges, making it possible to play with the dynamic of their interaction. Starting from the traditional role of melody-accompaniment, I reverse, warp, or even abandon these roles so these instruments can even represent other instruments found in the mento band (i.e. the guitar, banjo, or drums). The result is somewhat a set of variations on the theme of a two-man band.


The title Ton yo han mek fashan (literally translated: turn your hand [and] make fashion) is a proverb with two meanings: To make of what could be deemed useless, fashionable. It also means to make the most of an unfortunate situation. I originally wrote the piece making the most of two instruments to create elements of a full mento band. Ironically, this piece was written in the year that endured a global pandemic, in which I was creatively paralyzed for eight months. Now, had to make use of an unfortunate situation (the pandemic), break through my darkest times, and create a work that I always wanted to be highly optimistic and full of joy.

Duration: approx. 12 mins. 


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