UTech concerts focus on J'can heritage
In the 1980s when I was a lecturer at the then College of Arts, Science and Technology (CAST), there was no arts course in the academic curriculum. Now that the institution is the University of Technology, Jamaica (UTech), students can do dance, drama and music courses for fun (as they could do before), but also for credit.
There is now a Centre for the Arts and an annual cultural showcase featuring the students. However, no cultural showcase was mounted this year. Director of Arts and Culture, Philip Clarke, only took up the post in January and planning for the showcase (and the literary festival which complements it) has to begin months before. Instead, there were three concerts over nine days in the Centre for the Arts. Their shared theme was 'Our Jamaican Heritage'.
The first concert on April 7 featured students of instrument tutors Fitzroy Bennett and Winston 'Sparrow' Martin playing jazz, ska pop and dancehall of the 1980s and 1990s. After the 50-minute show, Clarke said statistics indicate students who participate in extra-curricular activities tend to get better grades. Drummer Javed Smith, the band leader, told me "music is my passion. It keeps me calm and sane".
The following Thursday, students of drama tutor Gracia Thompson put four short pieces on stage. First up was a group of eight young women who, while dancing to music by an onstage band, recited a long poem covering the couple centuries of Jamaica's history after 1494. A longer piece, River Mumma, and Cash Fi Gold, followed. It is about two aggressive young men who arrive in a small rural community seeking to buy any gold that the residents have. In the next play, the legend of Lover's Leap (that 1,700-ft high cliff in St Elizabeth) was told in a condensed version featuring two slaves, Tunkie (Winston Walden) and Missy (Crystal Chambers).
The final play focused on the hours before an all-female band of Maroons led by Nanny battle against the English invading their home in the Blue and John Crow Mountains. An emotional recitation of Claude McKay's famous poem If We Must Die ended the play.
The following day, students of dance tutors Patrick Earle and Paul Newman performed nine items - a song and eight dances. True to the heritage theme, the dances were a trip through history. The days of slavery were recalled by a powerful dance drama based on the Annie Palmer story. Footloose featured a number of '60s steps. A dancehall work displayed old and new steps and a kumina dance very roughly represented that folk form. Trench Town Rock, to the Marley song of that name, reminded us of early reggae moves.
A notable feature of all the presentations was the joyfulness of all the performers. A major reason for that was the students had their performing exams behind them and could go on stage for sheer love of the art form.