The kings of festival - Then and now of a national tradition Pt 1
As this year's Jamaica Cultural Development Commission (JCDC) celebrations get into high gear with the approach of the Grand Gala and other celebrations surrounding our independence, songs such as Eric Donaldson's Land of my birth and Roy Rayon's Give Thanks and Praise may come to mind. These songs, decades after they won the JCDC Festival Song Competition, seem immortal.
But this Independence Day, we should all learn the song Jamaica a Wi home. This is the winning song of this year's competition, by Oneil 'Nazzleman' Scott. This year's win places Nazzleman in a crew of few the 'Kings of Festival' who have conquered the event and won multiple times.
"I wanted to enter from a tender age. There is no feeling better than being in the middle of the stadium on the sixth of August. It makes you feel welcome and important," Nazzleman told The Sunday Gleaner.
After taking the title in 2015, the competition went on a hiatus. But Nazzleman was patient. "It is the national competition. It's a prestigious competition. It was great waiting, building anticipation," he said.
Nazzleman joins the likes of seven-time winner Eric Donaldson, four-time winner Roy Rayon, three-time winner Toots Hibbert, and two-time winner Tinga Stewart, among others. The latest winner lists the other Kings of Festival among his favourite champions. "You have a few I love. Cherry Oh Baby - dat bad. I love Roy Rayon's songs, and I love Tinga Stewart," he said, before singing a few lines from Stewart's '81 win Nuh Wey no Betta Dan Yard.
The Kings of Festival
According to Tinga Stewart, who first won the competition in 1974 with Play Di Music, "Entering the competition was a joy at the time. You young and you just want to sing. I just wanted to sing when I entered the first one," Stewart told The Sunday Gleaner. Stewart's second win was in 1981 as both singer and songwriter for Nuh Wey Nuh Betta Dan Yard.
Rayon entered the competition three times before he won. "I actually entered the festival song contest for the first time in 1980. I was part time at Edna Manley School of Drama. While at drama school, I would have entered a couple contests. I entered competitions at UWI Carnival, and in 1980, I started hanging around Fab Five and Unique Vision as a roadie and sometimes lead singer." He continued, "Then in 1983, I entered again with Celebration Trian, which was written by Grub Cooper and Ricky Cooper. I was still doing the circuit, and that's when I became a household name."
But Rayon didn't win until 1985, with Love Fever. "Everybody likes winning. There are no rules that you can't enter again," Rayon said.
Then and Now
Those who have witnessed the competition over the years will have seen changes from its format decades ago. "What it was like in those years, they would select the top 10 songs and go islandwide. It was excitement. You have your campaign. It was almost like a political campaign but friendly rivalry. There would be town criers and people passing out flyers. We would go into the main town and try get people to come and cheer for you at the finals," Rayon reminisced. That format was revived this year.
He also remembers local radio stations keeping the competing tunes in constant rotation. Rayon believes that the absence of this element has contributed to a decline in public interest in and knowledge of the music. "Now, we have Jamaicans not knowing the songs. The media is not supporting the national cause because the mighty dollar is more important than the national cause. Festival Song is the pulse of the independence celebration. it's a song we should circle and party around. That's what the festival song is supposed to be," he said.
Rayon also combats the argument that productions in recent years have not been up to par. "It's unfair to say the songs are not good. We learn by repetition, so after hearing it 20 times, you start to sing it."
Stewart also has his grouses. "I have a little problem. I don't see why it must have a mento or calypso feel when we're a reggae country," he told The Sunday Gleaner. "No One Drop not even a dancehall in it. There should be a dancehall beat for the young people and an authentic reggae rhythm."
Along with the genre, Stewart is looking for varied content. "I want songs that are catchy, talking about dancing and niceness ... Jamaica dis, Jamaica dat steer away from it. That's my belief. I want some authenticity," he said.
Despite this disappointment, the Play Di Music singer is satisfied with this year's result. "Nazzleman deserved to be the winner. He worked hard. I'm always encouraging him to come out as a regular artiste. He can deejay and sing. 'Sing some other songs because you're talented,' I keep on telling him."
Stewart revealed that he wrote and submitted a song called Shake Shake Shake (vocals by Chris Demontague) for consideration for this year's competition. Because it was not selected, he plans to release it as a single available on all digital platforms soon.