The Bank of Jamaica (BOJ) in downtown Kingston is as serious a financial institution as it gets. But behind the imposing statue of Noel Nethersole, up the wide steps to the front doors of the nation's central bank moves a merry beat.
A few of those who have carried the beat of mostly the sung but also the spoken word up those steps at the BOJ's free last Friday (of each month) lunchtime concerts are Fab 5, Fifty50 and Alphasonics bands, Ken Boothe, John Holt, Blacka and Bello, Mutaburaka, Easton Lee, Joan Andrea Hutchinson, L'Acadco, Tivoli Dance Troupe, Wolmer's Dance Troupe, the Kingston College Chapel Choir and Glenmuir High School Choir.
It is a long list - but it has been a long series that shows no signs of slowing down. In fact, it may be one of the few concert series where there is a waiting list - for the performers. Jacqueline Morgan of the BOJ, who chairs the committee which selects the performers, said said "we also have a long waiting list of persons/groups who have indicated they would like to perform, and we do try to accommodate them as best as possible."
The time of year is taken into account when deciding on performers. So, Morgan said, "the concert closest to Easter would have performers such as the Kingston College Chapel Choir, or Easton Lee doing poetry readings, or Dwight Richards and Velia Espeut. In May, which is celebrated as Child Month, we either have children themselves performing or a performance specifically for the children. The concert in July usually has performers related to Festival/Emancipation/ Independence."
Held in an auditorium which holds 600 persons seated theatre-style, Morgan said the concerts pull in substantial audiences. "There have been many concerts with standing room only - the more recent ones included Eric Donaldson backed by Unique Vision; John Holt and Lloyd Parkes; Fab 5 - 50 years of Jamaican music; Ken Boothe; Elva and Johnny; and the Glenmuir High School Choir," Morgan said.
Retirees are among the regulars for the series, Morgan saying "we have a group of ladies who attend regularly and have dubbed themselves 'Recycled teenagers'."
First held in mid-1991, the series was started by a cultural committee, established by Deputy Governor of the BOJ Fernando Peralto, Governor G. Arthur Brown giving his blessing. Morgan and Lenford Salmon of Jambiz Productions, then an employee of BOJ, were members of the committee.
"The mandate of the committee was simple - utilise the bank's facilities to promote cultural events (music, dance, drama, poetry) for staff and members of the public and to show that, given the right incentive, people would be willing to come downtown. At the first anniversary of the concert series, in 1992, Morin Seymour of the Kingston Restoration Company was the guest speaker," Morgan said.
There was a break in the concert series in July 1997, when the auditorium was closed for refurbishing. As refurbishing was not finished in December 1997, the BOJ decided to host 'An Evening with the University Singers' at the Mona Chapel. That became an annual event, the 15th staging held last December. The last Friday concerts at BoJ resumed in December 2006.
Before 1997, there were collaborations with the Cuban embassy, the Brazilian embassy getting involved after the concert series resumed.
The Gleaner asked Morgan to name some performers the BOJ would like to present, and the reply made the waiting list more remarkable. "As you can imagine, cost is a factor and we do have a financial constraint. We only accommodate those persons/groups who are willing to perform for our modest fee," Morgan said.