Grand Gala and Jamaica 100
Never say never, we've been advised by some sage. But very probably I have just attended my last Grand Gala - or any other national function on the scale and with the logistic complexity of the Independence Grand Gala.
As a youth, Grand Gala hardly missed me. It was the Jolly Joseph bus right up to the National Stadium, simply walking in, having a really grand time, and hoofing it to Cross Roads in a crowd of happy Jamaicans to catch the bus back home. And that was in the violent '70s and early '80s.
As the challenges of getting there and getting in multiplied and the quality of the show declined, I stopped fighting it. As a big married man, I took the children once to let them see what Dad used to enjoy, and for them to be immersed in a massive display of Jamaican culture in one place and packed into a few hours.
My last attempt to attend a couple of years ago after Grand Gala was restored was frustrated by the failure to get tickets despite roaming around advertised outlets in Kingston. For Jamaica 50, I wanted to attend with my family - one last time. But first we had to clear the ticket hurdle. In the opening moments of the Great Ticket Fiasco, no ticket could be had at any advertised outlet, including the offices of the JCDC.
SCRAMBLE FOR TICKETS
One outlet in which I had an inside contact, through whom as a true Jamaican I was seeking a 'bly', did not receive a single ticket for distribution before they were 'done'. The day was saved by another contact securing tickets in Mandeville and bringing them back to Kingston! But, according to news reports, tickets were on sale outside the stadium for up to $1,000.
The Grand Gala, according to the ticket, was to be on Tuesday, August 6, 2012! The blatant error in the day a premonition of more troubles to come. Motorists were to park in designated areas and be shuttled in air-conditioned JUTC buses to the National Stadium. We opted for the King's House lands parking area. Parking was easy. Getting on to a bus was a nightmare produced by sheer bungling.
Hundreds of people were allowed to walk into the bus enclosure with no direction or order for purchasing tickets and boarding the buses. The simple crowd-management technique of single-file entry point with directional flow to destination was completely ignored, with rather nice police officers and security guards as much at sea as bothered passengers. The buses drove through the crowd to exit the chaotic enclosure.
We are now at the National Stadium with zero time left to showtime, having lost an hour and a half between arriving at the car park and getting there. There are no directional signs and no one giving directions. In any case, we can't hear. A sound system is blasting away. We follow the crowd. There are four security/ticket checkpoints and only a few of the 10 bleachers gates are open to admit 35,000 people.
TROUBLES AND MORE TROUBLES
We are finally inside, and so are the vuvuzelas. But our troubles are far from over. The stands close to the open gates are now solidly corked and 'later-comers' must walk halfway round the stadium to reach available seats on the far sides.
At pee time, we find a men's toilet opened. The women's, on the other side, is closed. Men and women crowd into the men's. There is no light, which turns out to be a good thing. I have to coax my wife to use the facility, since 'nobady nuh know har an' dem caan see har in a di dark, anyway'.
A generally great show was marred by the blasting blasted vuvuzelas. JCDC chairman and co-MC, Fae Ellington, wasted her time appealing that the vuvus, which were distributed free by some corporate sponsors and sold inside the stadium, should not be used to disturb the presentations. 'Nutten caan gwaan again inna de country without Big Noise.' I quietly object. As I grow older and more pot-bellied - and cynical - I am not prepared to put up such a fight and such endurance for patriotism or just having a 'good' time.
But the people were well ahead of the public authorities. At the bus park, getting into the stadium, and handling its challenges for close to five hours, they were remarkably disciplined and orderly, despite the many provocations for going on bad.
The MCs said we started independence with ska and we were celebrating the golden jubilee with dancehall as 'the music'. It will be far easier to fix the logistics nightmare of staging a major national event than it will be to repair the degeneration of culture which dancehall (non)music represents. While clean lyrics were obviously selected for Grand Gala, it was the little children and teenagers who were most engaged in doing the dutty wine to the brayings of the DJs played. Dancehall bareness fashion was out in some force.
ELECTRIFYING HIGH POINT
But, based on audience response, Eric Donaldson's live performance of his Festival-winning anthem of 1978, Land of My Birth, full of melody and harmony and meaningful lyrics and which I first heard live at Grand Gala 34 years ago, was far and away the electrifying high point of the Jamaica 50 Grand Gala.
I may be part of a vanishing minority, but I am not prepared to endorse a culture whose defining musical genre is dancehall. The powerful ecstatic audience response to Land of My Birth may suggest, though, that the people are hungry for better, and have deeper patriotic feelings than may at first be imagined.
And what will the country and its leaders do with the energy, creativity, aspirations, and, yes, the patriotism of the people over the next 50 years? That patriotic attachment extends even to the second and third generation of diaspora Jamaicans.
We have a decent road map in place to take us up to 2030. Eighteen years of this 20-year plan, crafted by a 'constituent assembly' of patriotic Jamaicans, is left and something can be done with these years to make "Jamaica the place of choice to live, work, raise families and do business".
The first couple of years of the plan period have not been very encouraging. We will need strong, disciplined and visionary leadership for Vision 2030 to make it happen. The inter-tribal 'cass-cass' attending planning for Jamaica 50, the logistic foul-ups for Grand Gala, and the state of the culture do not inspire a great deal of confidence. But change is possible.
What does the Vision mean? "1) Jamaicans are empowered to achieve their fullest potential; 2) the Jamaican society is secure; cohesive and just; 3) Jamaica's economy is prosperous; 4) Jamaica has a healthy natural environment."
And where do we want to be by 2030? "A healthy and stable population, world-class education and training, effective social protection, authentic and transformational culture, security and safety, effective governance, a stable macroeconomy, strong economic infrastructure, energy security and efficiency, a technology-enabled society, internationally competitive industries, sustainable management and use of natural resources, hazard risk reduction and adaptation to climate change, sustainable rural and urban development."
And Vision 2030 clearly sets out "what we have to do" to get there. And we are not starting from scratch. We can build on the achievements of the first 50 years. Jamaica, despite its many problems, is solidly a medium-development country on the UNDP human development index and, pound for pound, an unparalleled powerhouse on the world stage. At 79th out of 187 countries ranked last year, we are well ahead of developing-country big leaguers like Brazil (84), China (101), India (134), and South Africa (123).
Who owns Vision 2030? Apparently no one. And what everyone is responsible for, no one is accountable for. Vision 2030, a cross-ministry, long-term development plan, should be owned by the minister of planning. (I didn't say the minister of finance and planning). A minister of state should be given direct responsibility for the plan. The prime minister should be queen for the plan, taking regular briefings on its progress from her point man minister and issuing broad directives for action. The Opposition Shadow Cabinet should have similar arrangements. A unit of the PIOJ should be a dedicated, properly staffed secretariat for Vision 2030 with consultative mechanisms and authority akin to the ECJ's whose reports by convention receive bipartisan consensus acceptance.
The current chairman of the ECJ, Professor Errol Miller, in another capacity delivered the GraceKennedy Foundation Lecture of 2001, 'Jamaica in the 21st Century: Contending Choices'. Boiled down to 'run dung', the three choices faced by our country are: repeating the past with the marginalisation of the majority, violence and sporadic rebellion and suppression, with a little amelioration here and there, which could continue indefinitely.
Living in a constant state of flux, which is inherently unstable and in which the visible push for change, is counterbalanced by the resistance and stasis of the past. Fashioning a just society, which today we could call a Vision 2030 society.
A pre-Independence child with vague but sweet memories of the August 6, 1962 celebrations in our one-room village primary school which I was not yet attending, I will not see Jamaica 100. And I may never see the Independence Grand Gala live and direct again.
But allow me to hope today that I will see dedicated effort towards fashioning a Vision 2030 society out of the energy, creativity, capacity, and simmering "land of my birth" patriotism of the Jamaican people.
Martin Henry is a communication specialist. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.