Mon | Aug 21, 2017

For the Reckord | 'Jamaica Drum' to sound in land of the kilt - JYT prepared for Aberdeen Int'l Youth Festival

Published:Friday | July 21, 2017 | 7:03 AM
Hands over their hearts, the JYT cast speak of their inner drum beat. At a recent rehearsal for Jamaica Drum.

Having excelled locally and regionally, the multiple-award-winning performing arts ensemble Jamaica Youth Theatre (JYT) is now hoping to excel internationally. Twelve members of the group leave the island next Wednesday for Scotland to take part in the Aberdeen International Youth Festival 2017.

JYT is one of two Caribbean groups (the other is a steel pan orchestra) invited to the festival, one of Scotland's major cultural events. It runs July 28 to August 5, and the JYT's Jamaica Drum will be staged in four different theatres in Aberdeen.

"It is a cast-devised 40-minute piece," playwright-producer Aston Cooke, the JYT's founder and facilitator, told me during a rehearsal at the YMCA last week. "The main writers were Joseph Collington, Randy McLaren, Rayon McLean and Danar Royal, the director. Quindell Ferguson is the costume designer."

"My challenge to them was to create a work that celebrated Jamaica. It shows the role the drum played throughout our history - from Africa, through slave uprisings and festivities, through Emancipation, to its use in modern Jamaican music," Cooke said.

Jamaica Drum is certainly celebratory, with lines like, "The beat of the drum is in our hearts," "The beat of the drum of Africa connected us," and (at the end), "You can never silence this Jamaica drum." There is also defiance, as in the line, "My drum ... has an attitude problem," and there is uncertainty, too. Enunciating a major theme of the piece, freedom, characters ask again and again: "What is freedom? Where is freedom?"

The "total theatre" piece is constructed of equal parts of dance, drama and music, and contains snatches of popular songs and poems like Claude McKay's sonnet If We Must Die - but the cast also wrote an originall Jamaica Drum sonnet.

Cooke thanked the CHASE Fund for a grant covering airfare. JYT members come from St Catherine High, Bridgeport High, St Hugh's, Ardenne, Excelsior, and St Andrew High School, among others. Additionally, JYT President Kellesia Ebanks is an engineering graduate of the University of the West Indies (UWI), and Royal is a graduate of the Caribbean Maritime Institute, who works in Montego Bay and drives to Kingston twice a week for rehearsals.

He also directed the group in Cooke's musical Jonkanoo Jamboree at the Caribbean Schools Drama Festival in 2015 in Trinidad & Tobago, where it received, among other awards, the one for Best Production. Two years before, at the festival in Barbados, the JYT received the Best Production and Best Director awards for We Love WiSelf, which Akeem Mignott directed. Other awards include the 2007 Prime Minister's Youth Award for Excellence in Arts and Culture and UWI's Tallawah Best Production for 2016.

Founded in 2004, the JYT comprises young thespians from around Jamaica recruited from the annual Secondary Schools' Drama Festival. The travelling members return to Jamaica on August 7.

The 45-year-old Aberdeen International Youth Festival is an annual multi-arts event held in the city and north-east Scotland. Some 1,000 young artists from 15 countries will perform at this year's festival, which is organised under the auspices of the council of the City of Aberdeen.

The festival will include musical theatre from the United Kingdom and United States; traditional musicians from the United States and Norway; orchestral and choir music from Italy, Holland, Scotland and Russia; as well as dance and contemporary music from India, Italy, Scotland, the Czech Republic, China and Russia.