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Jamaica 50 Grand Gala: Spectacular!

Published:Sunday | August 12, 2012 | 12:00 AM
Members of the Chinese Benevolent Society performing the Dragon dance during the Out of Many One segment during the Jamaica 50 celebrations.
Firewords were the backdrop to our national flag at the Grand Gala at the National Stadium on Monday. Photos by Rudolph Brown/Photographer

Chester Francis-Jackson, Contributor

Luvs, every once in a while, we as individuals get to be not by-standers, but active participants in creating history.

Well, my dears, when the time comes for our successors to sit in judgment of us and our stewardship of our passage, it is reasonable to say they can conclude: we seized the day!

Dears, for all the internecine posturing leading up to the country's commemoration of its 50th anniversary as an independent nation, the people of Jamaica have spoken. And they, by their presence, fully embraced and endorsed the efforts of the Minister of Youth and Culture Lisa Hanna. Thousand of Jamaicans, at home and abroad, gave of themselves in time, resources and creative inspiration, to ensure a memorable and climactic celebration to crown Jamaica's Golden Jubilee.

And dears, let the nay-sayers and/or prophets of gloom dare say anything to the contrary. The Jamaica 50 Grand Gala celebrations held last Monday on our Independence Day at the National Stadium was a smashing social, cultural and national success, of which all Jamaicans can be proud.

If all the pre-gala celebrations were to be believed, then onlookers could be forgiven for thinking that the country was abysmally adrift and out to lunch. And, to be sure, the celebrations could have been more geographically broad-based. But in terms of content and context (the fact that Minister Hanna and her team had a mere six months in which to plan and execute their task), our golden Independence Jubilee proved an unqualified success.

To quote one observer, Serena Williams, dressed in her national colours and braving intermittent rain and the crush of bodies for the celebrations, "Nobody nuh more than we." The statement, when translated from the street slang, literally means, "No other nation or people are bigger or better than us Jamaicans."

With these words, she not only captured the essence of the celebrations, but the spirit and emotion of Jamaicans at home and abroad. Our celebrations were buoyed by the golden winning prowess of our athletes in competition at the Olympics, in London, England.

It was more than a sense of bittersweet in the fact that while Jamaicans at home and abroad were celebrating our Independence, a contingent of our athletes were in the capital of its former colonial masters, proclaiming their athletic independence, prowess and superiority. This touch of irony was not lost on many who took to the streets to celebrate the gold-medal performances of our athletes.

But while Jamaicans were basking in the afterglow of our athletes' performances, their eyes and that of the world were glued to the country's capital, and the celebrations, and luvs, how!

Dears, with a world audience, including some of the leaders of our Caribbean neighbours and South African President Jacob Zuma and his wife, Kingston put on a show that will long be remembered and toasted. The context in which the celebrations were framed - the Independence dialogue embraced the divergent character, nature and sensibilities of its myriad and diverse people, gives the country's national motto:

'Out of Many, One People', graphic and demonstrable understanding of the unique land and people.

Petty rivalries aside, Jamaicans have since the dawn of its own history embraced each other's peculiarities and/or ethnic and religious predisposition to live as equals, even if separate and apart for the most part, to forge the bond of a seemingly homogeneous society.

It was this unique quality of Jamaica's path to nationhood that was the overarching theme and character of the gala celebrations.

From the journey of the Middle Passage to the plantation and post-colonial Independence to forging our own cultural identity and the embrace of the music, fashion, language, dance, religion and folkloric traditions were on display and at their very best and it made for a beautiful celebration!

Luvs, this was the best of Jamaica, save and except the intemperate and near vulgar outburst of Tony Rebel, who sought to use the platform of our national celebration to reinforce his own prejudices and to comment on a parochial matter, albeit, one with national import. But one on which the courts have ruled in one instance, and yet to make a determination in another.

This attempt at headline grabbing aside, the tributes were fitting - from representation of our Indian and Chinese heritage in traditional cultural dance to prayers and invocation; gospel revival; and the national gospel song winner, who 'took it to the audience' in dance style and emotional content. The country's earliest freedom fighters - the Maroons and their Abeng, the historical flashback of the arrival of the flag by the Jamaica Defence Force helicopter, and presented to our governor general and then raised and went billowing in the wind. Performances by multi-festival song winner Roy Rayon, warming up for Mr Festival himself, Eric Donaldson, who brought the National Stadium to its feet, including Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller, former Prime Minister P.J. Patterson, visiting South African President Jacob Zuma, and other dignitaries to their feet and dancing made for a fabulous celebratory atmosphere!

Faith D'Aguilar hit a trying note as legendary folklorist Louise Bennett Coverley, and was not helped by screeching vuvuzelas and a Mexican wave. But, thanks to the intervention of compère Fae Ellington, the salute to the cultural standard-bearer and her signature educational children's programme Ring Ding, and the rendition of her two favourite songs - Lion Heart and Chi-Chi Bud ooh, acted as a natural bridge through the ages.

And then there was the NDTC, in full flight with Gerrehbenta. Also, the video montage saluting our sporting heroes and heroines over the years. There was the imperial interlude saluting the Rastafarian culture and religion - in flawless choreography and perfect symbolism - as a prelude to the music and video montage honouring Robert Nesta Marley. This gave way to re-enactment of '60s style tourism, it was all good. The show then transitioned to Tomorrow's People, projecting a hope for future in the dynamic world of technology, etc, as the rich texture of Tessane Chin's voice lifted spirits. Dears, this was indeed a celebration, worthy of its billing as a Golden Jubilee gala, as that it truly was, and then some!

Indeed, it was one very fabulous celebration, made even more so, because of the historic reason behind it all, and how!