Balancing acts - Ja's Best School Band contest sets platform for young musicians
On one end of show bands from Jamaica are outfits like Inner Circle, which marks a half-century this year; and Fab 5, well into its 47th year; and Third World, which was formed in 1973.
At the other end of the age spectrum are the bands performed last Sunday at the Vera Moody Concert Hall, Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts, during the finals of Jamaica's Best School Band competition's fourth season. When the last notes sounded, Bog Walk High School's Musical Eagles had won ahead of St Catherine High's Jukebox, Razor Blade of Cross Keys coming third.
The final six included Belair, Camperdown, and Jamaica College. There was also a primary-level contest in which St Richard's from Red Hills Road, St Andrew, topped Richie's from Clarendon.
Rayven Amani of Jorja Media Inc, which stages the contest, told The Sunday Gleaner: "I saw the need for a platform for young musicians to mature and grow. Since the introduction of technology in the music, it has taken away from live instrumentation."
From the long-standing Tastee-sponsored competition, to the televised Rising Stars (although saxophonist Verlando Small won in 2013) and All Together Sing school choir contests, the emphasis is on vocalists. Amani related how on school visits before the bands started competing, she would emphasise that songs were lyrics and music - a simple observation that was an eye-opener to many students.
Still, Amani is pushing for a balance between musicians and vocalists, so the emphasis is on staging a cohesive show. The finalists were assessed on presentation (how they look on stage), interaction with the audience, originality (in how they put the show together), and their level of preparedness (how well they rehearsed for the show).
Originality was included in another way as in the semi-final round, the bands were required to do an original song.
After each school's performance in the finals, there was a live interview with the bandleader and the most outstanding was awarded. Jhada Dwyer of Jamaica College was the best of the bunch.
"When you have a bandleader and you have so many personalities
(the individual musicians), it is not easy to get everyone to function as a unit at a particular talent level," Amani said. "For the band to function, there must be some leadership," she emphasised, noting that it is an attribute that goes beyond the stage.
Amani made the connection between the campus on which the finals were staged and Jamaica's band culture, noting that members of Raging Fyah, Earth Kry, and Pentateuch bands, as well as the Zinc Fence Redemption, which accompanies Chronixx, and Indiggnation which plays along with Protoje, attended the institution.
And already, Amani has seen some continuity, with persons who have been through the Jamaica's Best High School Band process now attending the institution.