Musical Chairs | Wykeham McNeill, not one of the 'musically challenged'
As we continue our focus on the six candidates vying for the four vice-presidential seats of the People's National Party (PNP), five- term Member of Parliament for Westmoreland Western Dr Wykeham McNeill this week takes a seat in the musical chair.
Musicals have always been a big part of the politician's life, and many numbers from different musicals have become singalongs (although he admits singing is not one of his talents) for his travels. McNeill does not remember when his love for musicals started but explained, "It was from a very early age."
He noted: "Entertainment in general is a medium of expression." The mere mention of musicals such as Cats, The Phantom of the Opera, Mamma Mia and Hamilton (which actually has a political message) will get the most youthful expressions out of the 60-year-old. With a big smile, he said, "I think the sounds of musicals are phenomenal, and I have ensured that my family - my son and daughter - have been properly exposed to them."
As a former minister of tourism and entertainment, McNeill has the desire to connect with the arts and various forms of entertainment and is passionate about educating and exposing youth to local and international culture. "I am anticipating how and when Jamaica gets on to Broadway, too, given our strength in music and theatre," he said. "If you look at it from a broader scope, Jamaica is blessed that there is an energy that gives a vibe to creativity that so many artists (musicians, painters, and designers like Ralph Lauren) come here to recharge their batteries. The place we have had the strongest expression of it is through music."
Describe your entertainment tastes:
WM: I like both the visual and performing arts across the spectrum. When persons speak of entertainment, automatically, it is about music, and mine is not limited to local productions. I like it in its broader sense - music to stage, the plays we do in Jamaica to ageless musicals. I have seen all the Broadway shows in New York. As a matter of fact, the soundtrack of musicals such as Mamma Mia and The Phantom of the Opera are always part of my 'driving music'. These are some of the albums my children would have to listen to while driving to the country. Come in the car with me, and any type of music will hit you at any moment because I also love Bob Marley, Jimmy Cliff and Dennis Brown from that generation, and from the younger set of artistes, Damion Marley, Chronixx and Protege. It is quite broad, it depends on the mood.
How important is entertainment to the political arena?
WM: As a politician, you are almost an entertainer because a lot of what you say and do is to entertain and be relatable, although some persons take it further than others. I remember while in St Vincent, Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves was doing a presentation and started singing one of Buju Banton's songs that grabbed the audience's attention. Others dance. You can have a song that is very popular, and it sets the mood or awakens the crowd. And secondly, we have to find specific songs that describe us or what was want to portray.
Which politician would you say is the best dancer/best singer?
WM: With singing talent, the only one that is currently marketable is Natalie Neita Headley. On the dancing side, there is a lot of contention and rivalry. I am not one of the contenders. Only person I could beat is Mikael [Phillips] with his cast, and although Damion [Crawford] considers himself a great dancer, Fenton [Ferguson] would be more marketable. We need a proper dance-off as a fundraiser - put Phillip [Paulwell], Fenton and Damion on the stage to see which of them deserves the title of best dancer. I will produce the show - that's where my strength lies.
What do you think is the most fundamental issue affecting the entertainment industry?
WM: I would say support, or lack thereof. Back in the early 2000s, entertainment was a standalone until it subsequently became a part of ministries, but there is more that needs to be done to support it among the ministries that contain entertainment. Music is one aspect of the industry that has brought us glory all over the world. Go to Japan, China and Europe, the first thing a man says is the name of a popular artiste that put Jamaica on the map.
Some of the things that should be looked at are the level at which music is taught in the schools and the cultural exposure that all artistes receive. There needs to be an aggressive push to have formal music taught in school and for training opportunities and structure. While subsets in government are trying to put it together, it should be further ahead, especially because it is the one area in which our country has a competitive advantage.
There is a lot of raw talent, but can you imagine if from day one, individuals got the formal training, how far they could go?
What comes to mind when you hear these artistes' names?
WM: Til Shiloh. it shows Buju Banton has strong messages to share. Unfortunate events have transpired, but he certainly remains one person with a powerful impact and message.
Lady Saw / Sister Marion Hall
WM: From what I know of her, she is a very nice person and, of course, a versatile one.
WM: The greatest entertainer of all times with an ability to put out good music and an equally good show. It was impressive to watch the stages of his life from a young boy.
WM: I like Beyonce, although I would choose Rihanna over her because of the Caribbean link and style of music.
WM: He has a tremendous ability to connect with generations of music lovers, but again, unfortunate events transpired. He is one of the artistes with an ability to tell his story.
WM: Definitely one of the greats. While in London talking to producers, the discussion about artistes who can fill the Wembley Stadium came up, and they said Beres Hammond and Jimmy Cliff are two of the few who can. He put our music on the world stage and is always out there, never losing his popularity.
WM: Her name says it all. She is a performer and an entertainer.
If you were a recording artiste, what's one experience you would like to have, or what would you like to do to impact your country?
WM: I would first want the ability to connect. Out of a number of things artistes do, almost all are poets that write to tell a story being their realities. If given the opportunity, I would want to look at what issues people would want to change in their lives and to be able to tell the stories. Whether artistes sing a song about love or another timeless topic, to a certain degree, it is about saying something meaningful rather than catchy for the moment that will give it enduring success. So, take, for example, early music that spoke about the apartheid system and the effects of slavery, or the music of Bob Marley that even the young generations still listen to. This shows that the messages are timeless and important. Redemption Song, once translated, no matter who is singing, it connects with people. I think that is what is important. what made it strong in its time was that it was almost revolutionary in nature, and much of our music is used for revolutions of change all over the world. That's how I imagine making an impact as a recording artiste.