Half-century of Folk Singers
On Saturday, September 9, and Sunday, September 10, The Jamaican Folk Singers staged its 50th anniversary season at the Little Theatre, Tom Redcam Avenue, St Andrew. It was a weekend when rain caused by Hurricane Irma soaked parts of Jamaica, but the shows - in a season where the public was invited to "celebrate the journey with The Jamaican Folk Singers - At Work, In Memoriam, Sharing our Beliefs, Heritage and in Coming Together" - went on.
There are now 30 singers - 19 women and three men - and three musicians in the group. Those in the '40 and over club' are Marilyn Brice MacDonald (49 years), Hazel Ramsey-McClune (47 years), Henry Anglin (43 years) and Joyce Meeks (40 years). Christine McDonald Nevers, who leads the ensemble founded by the late Dr Olive Lewin in 1967, told The Gleaner that "additionally, there are three other members who have each served over 30 years. These years of commitment to the group reflect how important a role The Jamaican Folk Singers plays in their lives."
Still, despite the distinction and honour of long service, there is also the matter of rejuvenation and McDonald Nevers said "membership growth comes primarily from interested people approaching the group and present members extending invitations to people to join. Fortunately for the group, each performance serves as a kind of promotion for the group, as after most performances we are approached regarding membership."
It is not only voices from a younger generation, but also audiences, which are needed to sustain and rejuvenate a performing group at its half-century mark. McDonald Nevers said, "one of the wonderful things about the group - and one of the encouraging things - is that The Jamaican Folk Singers continues to attract people within a very wide age range. Presently, there is a 'good' mix of young and not so young in the group, and one of the important things to note is that when we get together, there is a common, bonding factor which does not recognise age, and that is the love of music, of Jamaica and a desire to be part of the process of preserving aspects of Jamaica's folk music heritage."
"Of course, there is no denying the differences in age among members, and the benefit of that is the sharing of experiences, with that sharing being from old to young and from young to old."
As for the people that the singers and musicians are performing to, McDonald Nevers pointed out that the 2017 season incorporated a number of children, "... and this, in part, is in keeping with aspects of our mission, which includes the group being a bridge between the older folk and the youth. The enthusiasm of the children to be involved in a production of this nature is very encouraging."
The content of the repertoire is key to the connection, as McDonald Nevers said, "Part of this is, there are many life lessons to be learnt in our folk songs, lessons which will forever be relevant - lessons about life, love, community, sharing, respect for self and others - lessons that have no expiry date, thus the ongoing relevance of the work and mission of The Jamaican Folk Singers."
Still, there is the matter of getting the message across to as wide an audience as possible and so she said, "We do intend to incorporate more 'technology' in the everyday life of The Jamaican Folk Singers, as a means of making reliable resource material on Jamaica's folk music heritage readily accessible for people worldwide."
With the concert season over, McDonald Nevers said "other activities planned for the 50th anniversary year, which ends in March 2018, include a memorial service for Dr Lewin in Hayes, Clarendon, where she grew up. We also intend to start production on a new compact disc, and the celebrations will end with a banquet in March 2018".