Tue | Oct 16, 2018

J'cans sing 'Songs of the UK'

Published:Friday | February 23, 2018 | 12:00 AMMel Cooke/Gleaner Writer
Ed Sheeran
One Direction
Amy Winehouse
The Rolling Stones
The Spice Girls perform during the Closing Ceremony at the 2012 Summer Olympics.
Ali Campbell (right) and members of UB40 at bMobile Reggae Sunsplash at Richmond Park, St Ann, in 2006.
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From solo vocalists Dusty Springfield to Amy Winehouse, Sam Smith and Ed Sheeran, the duo Wham!, the Spice Girls quartet and One Direction quintet, self-contained outfits like The Beatles and Rolling Stones (whose Salt of the Earth is a staple toast song at Jamaican sessions), entrants in the 'Songs of the UK in Jamaica Competition' have had a lot of performers to choose from.

And that is a very short list of British popular music performers, as there are groups like Simply Red and The Police, whose lead singers (Mick Hucknall - who covered Gregory Isaacs' Night Nurse, and Sting - who performed at this year's Shaggy and Friends fundraising concert - respectively) have a strong individual presence. There was reggae to choose from, in UB40, Steel Pulse and Aswad, among others.

Still, as much as the contest is about music, the top five entrants slated to perform at the UK Jamaica Fair on Saturday, March 3, at the British High Commission in New Kingston, it is also about the connections which music facilitates and reflect. Asif Ahamad, British High Commissioner to Jamaica, told The Gleaner, "we need to find a way of reaching beyond our walls to the wider community." The fair is for invited guests and in extending the event's reach, Ahamad said, "what better way than to tap into singing". The public will have a say via social media, with a panel of judges also assessing the entrants.

Group entries have been limited to five persons, that put down to logistics more so than accommodating the number of persons in standout units like One Direction. The winners will receive two round-trip tickets to London, Ahamad saying if a group of more than two persons wins, who gets those tickets is up to the members.

The competition is an indication of possibilities in the larger scheme of creative industries, Ahamad pointing to the growth of Jamaican popular music outside of the island, Ahamad saying Jamaica had the talent, but needed access to the international market. Much of that came through England, most famously Island Records' work with The Wailers and then Bob Marley and the Wailers, with companies such as Greensleeves and Jet Star, doing extensive distribution of Jamaican music and David Rodigan among the British selectors/disc jocks who have championed Jamaican music. However, Ahamad, who said the connections 'hold true today', added, "we do not know if Jamaican musicians are maximising that. In the past you had to physically go to the UK and do it." Now the Internet makes collaboration without travelling possible.

And, looking further back to even larger connections between Jamaica and the UK, Ahamad expects that the 70th anniversary of the Empire Windrush's journey from Jamaica to England, arriving in London in June, will bring more events.

"I think you will see more of these things happening," Ahamad said.