Jamaica 56 - Bandana be bold with black, green and gold
Last Tuesday evening, government officials, festival song finalists, along with this year's crop of the Festival Queen parish finalists gathered at the National Arena to launch the upcoming events for Jamaica 56, in a ceremony that carried on for longer than it should have.
The annual series of events organised by the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission (JCDC) and the Ministry of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport promises much of the same as previous years. The celebrations will actually begin at the parish level from July 20, with the August 1-6 period occupied by the Miss Jamaica Festival Queen, Mello-go-round, World Reggae Dance Competiton, Kingston Reggae Night, Gospel Song competition, Western Street Parade, and culminating with the traditional Grand Gala event at the National Stadium on August 6.
The evening was designed to give a foretaste of the festivities to come in August. Scheduled to start at 6:30 p.m., the launch event began at 7:25 p.m., with a colourful opening dance by the Tivoli Dance Troupe.
The 10 finalists of the Jamaica Gospel Song Competition were given the opportunity to debut a snippet of their winning songs. Daynea Deacon-Jones laid down a superbly sweet, spicy and too-short chorus and verse of her song called, Worshipper's Heart, drawing appreciative applause from the audience. Khaipable, real name Lawayne Thomas, managed to pull shrieks of delight during his deejay-style song called 24/7 Contact.
Also taking the stage were the eight finalists of the Jamaica Festival Song Competition. Among the seven soloists was the 25-member choir from Escarpment Road New Testament Church of God. The group stood out not only for its size, but also with their original song - Strong Jamaica - a lively reggae song supported by strong vocals, animated faces and a full harmonious sound.
Festival fashion show director Weston Haugton took over the emceeing from Ity and Fancy Cat for a moment, to present the designs created from this year's fashion theme Bandana Be Bold with Black Green and Gold.
Amid the festival competition demonstrations, George Nooks was guest performer for the evening, in company with a freshly coiffed Wayne Marshall. At the close of the programme, the Give Me Strength singer was thoroughly engaging, pulling the audience to its feet.
The extensive programme included some encouraging and honest words from the JCDC and sponsors.
"The Emancipation and Independence period provides not only a platform for all Jamaicans to feel good about ourselves and our country, but allows for contemplation, dialogue and commemoration," said Rochelle Cameron, acting chairman of the JCDC board of commissioners.
CEO of the CHASE Fund, W. Billy Heaven, who was unable to attend, sent an endorsement: "We have been slow in taking some steps, we have wavered at times and stumbled more times than can be counted. But our struggles have not defeated us, and I believe they have instead inspired us to greater effort. Let the celebration be a reminder that we all need to come together and work resolutely for the welfare of all Jamaicans, and for the development of our nation," he said.
Minister of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport Olivia 'Babsy' Grange communicated her pride in the events to come. "I am convinced we are making great strides in the development and positioning of culture in our society. The cultural industries are no longer a hit or miss, or try-a-ting. We're now at the stage where people can feel proud to plan their lives along arts and culture," she said.
She also paid homage to two of the founding fathers of the festival concept: former Prime Minister Edward Seaga, and Hugh Nash, current chairman of the JCDC. Nash was the first-ever employee of the Jamaica Festival Commission, established by Seaga.