Sun | Sep 24, 2017

Second coming of Jamaica Carnival

Published:Sunday | March 27, 2016 | 3:00 AMLeighton Levy
Byron Lee

After Bryon Lee passed away in 2008, the popular Jamaica Carnival 'died' with him, but some eight years later, it is now on the verge of a rebirth. Come April 3, Jamaica will get a taste of what that second coming will bring with it, something that Lee himself would have been proud of.

Thirty years before, Lee had successfully taken ska from downtown to uptown, and in 1989, he was taking carnival from uptown to midtown. On January 1, 1990, Bryon Lee introduced carnival to his home country.

Before he conceptualised Jamaica Carnival, Byron Lee had been performing in carnivals all over the world. He performed at Notting Hill Carnival, Caribana, Trinidad Carnival, Crop Over, Labour Day in New York City, and many more, his daughter Julianne Lee said. He had experienced and felt first-hand the power in the music in carnival to bring people together, the joy and happiness celebrated by all.

 

Vision

 

"The vision of the late Byron Lee, a true nation builder, was to use music as the medium to unite people regardless of race, colour or creed," she said.

"It was his dream to bring the carnival experience to every walk of life in Jamaica for everyone to enjoy, not just uptown Jamaica."

That dream began to take shape in 1988.

"He was playing at a private party in upper St Andrew, and I remember he came home that night and he said 'it wasn't right'," Julianne recalled. "He had always wanted to take carnival to the people of Jamaica. That memorable summer (in 1989), his dreams came through and he brought Carnival to the entire Jamaica."

Jamaica Carnival grew each year amid concerns from some quarters that it was being held during the Easter holidays in a country that professed to be highly Christian. Still, it continued to grow, increasing in popularity; and soon become a fixture that many Jamaicans began to add to their annual entertainment calendar. That is, until Lee's passing on November 4, 2008.

"Jamaica Carnival has been on hiatus since the Dragon's passing," Julianne said. "Dad was very close to his family and his team and everyone had difficulty accepting that he was gone. The truth is, no one could muster the spirit so close to his passing to execute carnival two months after his passing."

The worldwide economic recession also took its toll.

"Jamaica Carnival was a non-revenue event and so relied primarily on sponsorship. In subsequent years, the economic crisis affected the level of sponsorship needed to sustain the execution of Brand Jamaica carnival," she said.

The decision to relaunch brand Jamaica Carnival, Julianne said, is not only dedicated to recognising the late Lee's legacy, but a commitment to continue the carnival tradition that he brought to Jamaica.

"Byron's vision was the 'Jamaicanising' of the Trinidad soca. We are using this year as a promotional teaser for the launch in 2017," the icon's daughter said. "The purpose of this promotional teaser is to send a clear message that brand Jamaica Carnival, is back and the Dragon's vision lives on.

There will be key elements, she said, to ensuring its sustainability going forward.

"Element number one is sticking to one of Dragon's core principles, which is to make music inclusive to all, regardless of race, colour, class, or religion. Another element is the balance of maintaining the Jamaican identity with the imported genre, which he achieved through his band Jamaicanising calypso songs."

In an emotional response to playing an integral role in the return of Jamaica Carnival, Lee said that she would use what she learned from her dad to ensure that his legacy is not only preserved, but would live on in the annals of Jamaica's rich history of cultural expression.

"I have had the honor of being a part of conception, birth, and evolution of the iconic brand, Jamaica Carnival. I was fortunate enough to be a key member of the Dragon's core team. He had high standards for himself and his team. I was trained by a great, talented visionary," she declared. "Moving forward, we will maintain key foundational elements of Byron Lee's Jamaica Carnival, with renewed energy, new structure, and a new vision of unity. Going forward, Jamaica Carnival will offer varying levels of opportunities for everyone to participate.

"The vision is clear, the timing is perfect, and the energy is right for the return of Jamaica Carnival," she said.