Sat | Mar 24, 2018

Joyful Jamaican voices inside the US Embassy

Published:Thursday | December 17, 2015 | 12:00 AMMel Cooke
Sherona Forrester, the 2016 Rhodes Scholarship winner, performing for the audience.
The Jamaica Youth Chorale in performance
US ambassador to Jamaica, Luis Moreno welcoming guests to the concert.
Minister of Youth and Culture Lisa Hanna (left) and US ambassador to Jamaica, Luis Moreno enjoying the proceeding.
The Jolly Boys in action

Outside the US Embassy at 142 Old Hope Road, St Andrew, is not known for voluble, happy Jamaican chatter, as tense visa hopefuls wait their turn to enter the building for a chance to enter Uncle Sam's land.

On Tuesday afternoon, though, the situation was different, as the happy Jamaican voices of the Jolly Boys and the Jamaica Youth Chorale filled a hall inside the embassy, at points joined in by those of guests (predominantly Jamaicans) and embassy staff.

US ambassador to Jamaica, Luis Moreno, welcomed all to a concert, "... to celebrate not only the season, but the very close relationship between Jamaica and the USA." He contrasted the generations of Jamaican performers who would be on show - the young, vibrant, exuberant Jamaica Youth Chorale ("known as the choir with brains") and main performers The Jolly Boys mento band. Moreno noted that they have been performing 20 years longer than Mick Jagger.

"They have been performing longer than I have been alive, and that is a pretty long time," Moreno said.

'Clap yu han'

The younger tones of the larger group were first, the rustle of clothing and tap of shoes, the only sounds, as they took up predetermined positions on the lower risers of a staircase which extended the stage area. Their programme was shaped by the season, as Carol of the Bells coming before Oh Holy Night and a smooth transition into an encouragement to "sing de chorus, clap yu han", which many members of the audience duly did.

Having set the tone of a mixture of Jamaican material with that from overseas, delivered in high-quality combined singing by the young men and women, there was a pause to introduce the next three songs, starting with the late Clyde Hoyte's, O'er Our Blue Mountains.

While most of the chorale's soloists stayed in the steps, there was a notable exception, with good reason. After the chorale was augmented by the audience for a chirpy "ding dong merrily on high", Sherona Forrester put voice and movement together as she added a bit of personal experience into a song of a woman's progress from seller through to teacher. At each point of difficulty, the singer "jus' look ova mi shoulder see where mi coming from/And me fin' the strength to press on".

Forrester worked her way down the passageway between chairs, as she put drama in the song, greeting Minister of Youth and Culture Lisa Hanna along the way. She was about half-way down the aisle when she put in the personal, singing: "I am proud to tell you I am the Rhodes Scholar for 2016."

The cheers were loud.

The final song had a male leading the query, "do you see what I see?", the Jamaica Youth Chorale closing on a high.

The Jolly Boys performed mento with enduring, endearing swag and savvy, punctuated with lead singer Albert Minott's intermittent comment that the Portland group was bringing the music "in your face." They did not need the stairs, the band well set up on the small stage. They started with a trip to Solas Market, the applause as Minott ended on a long note, indicating that they had hit the right note with the audience.

And the Jolly Boys kept it that way, the ladies generally seeming to agree when Minott sang, "I say the woman of today smarter than man in every way." That included him supposedly having a baby with a woman and the young one turning out looking more like a Portuguese.

Hol Him Joe was a jolly singalong, complete with laughs, as Minott injected some other fluid desires for the jackass, singing "donkey want Red Stripe" and "donkey want young gal".

"Yes, all Red Stripe the donkey want," Minott quipped to chuckles at the end. There was also comment after Day O, another audience favourite, Minott saying that his father was a stevedore and he used to go watch him at work ferrying bananas on the dock.

Minott put substantial body movement into his lead duties, sticking a thumb in his belt and, legs splayed, swiveling his hips at one point. At another he went down on his knees and held a hand up to the high ceiling and at another extended his left hand like a relay runner anticipating the incoming baton.

After Rehab, the audience members singing "no no no" in the late Amy Winehouse's song, there was another closing body movement from Minott as, at the end of the closing song, he held both hands up to the ceiling, legs again splayed.

And then it was off to eggnog and sorrel for all.