On Tuesday, May 15, the General Assembly Hall at the United Nations Headquarters was filled to capacity as a diverse audience turned out to support the 2012 Annual Gala Concert in support of a permanent memorial to the victims of slavery and the transatlantic slave trade. Under the auspices of Raymond Wolfe, permanent Representative of Jamaica to the United Nations and Chairman of the Permanent Memorial Committee, the evening’s festivities featured a stellar line up of performers who span the globe.
The host for the evening was April Sutton of BET. Acting head of the Department of Public Information, Maher Nasser opened the evening and welcomed everyone for coming out in such large numbers to support a very important initiative. He introduced Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser, president of the 66th Session of the United Nations General Assembly.
President Al-Nasser spoke of the power of music and the importance of the evening’s presentation. He encouraged everyone, those in the audience and those watching around the world via the online feed, to seriously support the effort to erect a permanent memorial to the victims of slavery and the transatlantic slave trade, “as a powerful reminder of the human spirit.”
Ban Ki-Moon, secretary general of the United Nations appeared via a special video message where he echoed the sentiments of Al-Nasser and went on to quote Bob Marley imploring that “we must get up and stand up for our rights!” thunderous applause The audience erupted in a thunderous applause which led the way for Raymond Wolfe who said he was “very happy to see that the Secretary General knew the words of Bob Marley’s song.”
Wolfe spoke passionately about the project that he spearheads and pointed out that he is, “humbled by this daunting task to be the chairperson of the Slavery Memorial.” However, Wolfe reminded that, “the past is not so far behind us and the permanent memorial should stand as a stark reminder of our history and to ensure that it never happens again.”
He received further applause when he proclaimed that, “We must eradicate bigotry and racism we are all one children under GOD.” It was in 2007 that the UN General Secretary marked the bicentennial of the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade and created what has become an annual observance which is devoted to remembering slavery and its victims.
It has been estimated that over a period of more than 400 years between 15 to 20 million Africans were uprooted from their homes and sold as slaves. It is in honor of this immense tragedy and human suffering that a permanent memorial is being erected. The International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade is observed each year on March 25.
This year’s theme is “Honoring the Heroes, Resisters and Survivors.” Various activities are carried out throughout the year to recognise those who resisted against enslavement and to honor those who fought and continue to fight against the lingering consequences of bigotry, racism and prejudice that continue to plague our societies.
The 2012 Annual Gala Concert is one such activity. The star-studded evening highlighted performers from across various genres representing a wide crosssection of society from Africa, to Canada to Haiti to Jamaica. The angelic voice of Haitian Rachelle Jeanty, an accomplished singer and backing vocalist for Celine Dion stirred emotions deep within the soul.
Her rendition of the Simon and Garfunkel’s 1969 classic, Bridge Over Troubled Waters was apropos as an opening tribute to the spirit of the ancestors. Up next was the dynamic Mbaye Dieye Faye and Sing Sing Rhythm ensemble of Senegal. Mbaye is well known as Yousou N’Dour’s bandleader and is an internationally known singer and musician in his own right.
Many hail him as one of the best percussionist in Senegal. He and his group shared an exciting blend of indigenous music from Senegal known as Mbalax which is a combination of traditional group percussion and synchronized dancing. With 11 men on stage using sticks and their hands to beat the drums and three dancers flailing all over the stage, the excitement was infectious.
He and his group interacted well with the audience as he engaged in the traditional call and response which caused those in the audience to sing along while clapping and dancing. His was a very energetic and delightful set.
Workshops - When the US-based contemporary hip hop band Chen Lo and the Lo Frequency took the stage, the audience was ready for their unique sound which is a fusion of live instrumentation with electronic hip hop elements.
It soon became obvious why the US State Department recently sponsored a 10-country tour where the band performed and conducted workshops. Their set was high energy hip hop, “funkified” with smooth that had a jazzy feel.
The audience loved them and showed their appreciation. As the stage was being set up for the final performance by Third World, there was a presentation by Dr. Sheila Walker on Slavery and the Transatlantic SlaveTrade.
Dr. Walker, a cultural anthropologist and Executive Director of Afrodiaspora Inc. made a presentation that was quite engaging and informative. She provided a brief history lesson which was supported by video clips shown on the two large over head screens.
She told a story of the African resistance to being enslaved telling of revolts at sea and on land and spoke of the Africans who rebelled and set up enclaves in places like Ecuador, Mexico, and Colombia. She spoke of the fighting spirit of the Africans who refused to be enslaved and closed out her presentation by paying homage to Jamaica’s Nanny of the Maroons.
Finally it was time for Third World and before they could take the stage, the audience erupted in spontaneous harmony, singing Now That We Found Love to everyone’s delight. Jamaica’s reggae ambassadors did not disappoint.
The ten-time Grammy-nominated group opened with Spirit Lives a song which pays homage to the ancestors and heroes like Marcus Garvey. It quickly became a sing-along with the audience and Third World certainly had a good time entertaining.
When Cat Coore took his cello and delved into a rendition of Bob Marley’s Redemption Song, the audience began singing along. Chorus of voices - It was that kind of night. Lead singer, Bunny Rugs introduced the popular 1865 which many refer to as 96 Degrees in the shade.
He informed the audience that, “This song is not about the temperature in Jamaica, no, it’s about what happened in 1865 when they hung Paul Bogle.” There was a chorus of voices singing the words of the song and everyone could feel the powerful spirit of the music emanating throughout the General Assembly Hall.
People were standing up dancing and singing, clapping and just feeling good about being there. The finale was spectacular. Joining Third World on stage as they sang, the anthemic, Now That We Found Love written by Stevie Wonder, were all the previous performers.
It was absolutely an awe-inspiring tribute to the ancestors. Host April Sutton encouraged folks who were watching at home and those in the audience to support the permanent memorial by making a financial contribution.
She encouraged them to complete the pledge form and visit the website to make their contributions. The evening titled, “Come Celebrate The Musical Heritage of The Diaspora” was a wonderful tribute to the spirit of the ancestors and a fitting way to mark the occasion of remembering slavery and the need for erecting a permanent memorial.
Jamaica’s newly appointed Consul General to New York, Herman Lamont was spotted among the many dignitaries having a good time in the audience. For further information on the permanent memorial visit www.unslaverymemorial.org