Jah’Mila brings her reggae roots to the classroom

Dartmouth-area students get the full, immersive musical experience

February is already off to a good start for students with the Halifax Regional Centre for Education (HRCE). On February 1, 2024, Jamaica-born singer-songwriter Jah’Mila and her bandmates came to Woodlawn High to give lucky elementary and junior high-school students from across Halifax a concert they won’t soon forget. This marked the second time that Jah’Mila, who earned a JUNO Award nomination for her album Roots Girl, has performed at Woodlawn with her band. This year, Jah’Mila joined forces with the fourth, fifth and sixth graders from the Halifax Regional Arts program’s Belle Voci Honour Choir to perform two of her songs.

The show, an hour of live music during which students got the chance to sing, dance and enjoy a new musical experience, was made possible by the National Arts Centre’s (NAC) Arts Alive, the HRCE and Jah’Mila herself.

How did you end up performing at Dartmouth’s Woodlawn High?

Three years ago, I had the opportunity to work on the Reggae Roots program with the NAC and conductor Daniel Bartholomew-Poyser. With the help of the NAC’s Arts Alive team and our various partners, including a Jamaican education advisor, the program was up and ready in only four months and debuted in 2021 to instant success. The NAC later leveraged its connections in Halifax to arrange a concert for our band at a local high school. It was a great chance to meet with students, tell them about reggae and share some live music with them.

This year’s concert will be your second time performing at Woodlawn. How did students respond to the concert?

The first concert was in March 2022, right before spring break; the students were almost through with exams, so we were a welcome break in their schedule. At one point during the show, everyone got up to dance. It was so amazing to see young people of all ages and from different schools come together to enjoy the show and the music. The concert was about an hour long, but we could have easily done two. Some of the students hung around to chat with us afterwards for at least an hour. I’m thrilled that I got to experience such an amazing moment and play a major role in bringing it to life.

What are the benefits of bringing live music to young people?

Kids are a little underserved when it comes to good live music. When it comes to music specifically for them, the pickings are slim. Most concerts are at night, in venues where they serve alcohol. It’s been such a blessing to get to connect with them on their own turf and introduce them to a host of new sounds, experiences and cultures. I think it helps them grow, both as people and creatively.

Your concert featured a lot of your own songs but also a few covers. This year, you brought the students from the Belle Voci Honour Choir to the stage for two songs. Why was it important for you to get young people involved in the show?

The decision to have them sing two of my songs was the logical next step in our vision to get young people involved in every aspect of the show. Some even helped with logistics and setting up the stage, and others were tasked with welcoming incoming students and ushering them to their seats. They were fully immersed in the process; they weren’t just passive spectators.

What did the students take away from this special event designed with them in mind?

First of all, they got to enjoy a live concert full of original music from yours truly, a few covers, guitar and brass solos, and a performance by the choir. I also made an effort to interact with the students to make things more fun. They could tell me their favourite reggae hit, ask questions about my experience and learn more about reggae as a genre. I tried to answer everything as best as I could.

What do you, as a famous reggae singer-songwriter, gain career-wise by performing in schools?

Music and performing are my passion! Seeing a whole audience connect with your music is so encouraging, especially when it’s an audience of kids. I’ve noticed that it’s hard to find pop songs that can be played in school. A lot of them have inappropriate content. It’s important for me to make music that everyone can listen to. I’m grateful that the NAC, teachers and school organizations have placed their trust in me and allowed me to connect with young people through my music.

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