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Celebration takes Festival Song title

Former gospel song contestant takes crown

Published:Sunday | July 5, 2015 | 12:00 AM
Third-place winner Sherlett 'Princess' Black receives her trophy from Delroy Gordon, executive director of the JCDC.
Marsha 'Babylon' Campbell, the Online Voters' choice.
Second-place winner O'neil 'Nassleman' Scott (left) receives his trophy from CHASE Fund Public Relations and Administrative Manager, Hillary Colter.
Heather 'Brown Sugar' Grant in her guest artiste role.
Aston Cooke (left), JCDC board chairman, presents the winner's trophy to a delighted Lee Roy 'Ancient Priest' Johnson.
Guest performer Roy Rayon.
Part of the audience at the Ranny Williams Entertainment Centre, Hope Road, St Andrew, on Saturday.
Aston Cooke (left), chairman of the JCDC, looks on as Lee Roy 'Ancient Priest' Johnson, with his daughter, celebrates his 2015 Jamaica Festival Song Competition victory at the Ranny Wiliams Centre, Hope Road, on Saturday.

After months of road shows and two performances at Saturday's grand final of the 2015 Jamaica Festival Song competition at the Ranny Williams Entertainment Centre, Hope Road, St Andrew, Lee Roy 'Ancient Priest' Johnson was declared the winner with Celebration Time.

From the field of 10 finalists, O'neil 'Nassleman' Scott took second with Little But Wi Tallawah and Sherlett 'Princess' Black was third with Sweet Festival Sound.

An elated Ancient Priest, who also was awarded the sectional prize for Best Performance, spoke to The Gleaner after giving another energetic performance in his new role as Festival Song winner. He spoke candidly on how he felt about winning, his Christianity and plans going forward.

"Words can't explain how I am feeling. I do not think there is a word in the dictionary to describe how I am feeling," Johnson said.

"It has been a tumultuous task. We are here from March, so tonight was the climax. I am just giving God thanks that he has afforded me this opportunity to give a voice. I always tell people that I have something to say, and whenever that platform is created, I am just gonna shout."

Celebration Time was written by Lloyd Jones, a pastor and very good friend of Johnson's, and produced by Ryan Roberts. All three are from Mandeville. The vocal Johnson further said that Jones wrote the song and "God spoke to him and told him to give it to me and he did so".

devout christian

By that account, the young father seems to be a devout Christian. And in 2010, he placed second in the Gospel Song competition with My Prayer, which he wrote. However, by entering the more secular form of the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission (JCDC)-organised events, it may be perceived that he is moving away from this Christian roots.

"Definitely not. I am a Christian and a gospel artiste. I use the opportunity that God has given me to give the nation a message that He has given me. The message is about celebrating the positive things in our country, celebrating our athletes, our heroes, not just the crime and violence, because a lot of songs are talking about the negative things. So I use my song to highlight just the good stuff. I have a few shows planned for overseas as a gospel artiste. I will never change from being a gospel artiste." Johnson explained.

The young father also said he has an album coming out in November.

The tightly run programme was guided by Heather 'Brown Sugar' Grant and Markland 'Action' Edward. Grant, a former winner of the competition, did double duties, as in the second half of the show she was one of two guest performers. The other was Roy 'Mr Festival' Rayon, who also was electrifying in his presentation of some of his popular festival winners and other songs.

The 10 finalists each performed twice before the winner was announced, doing their entries on their second stage stint. Their first appearance produced mixed reactions from the very supportive audience.

Dennis 'Mackie Conscious' McKay's selection did not quite fulfil the requirement of setting a festive tone for the event. Instead, it was Carlos 'Kansep' Myers who got the audience singing along, but he lost some favour towards the end of his act as he shifted the focus too much towards himself.

Johnson, performing a gospel medley, appeared later. From the outset it was clear that he was there to at least take away the trophy for Best Performance, as he was a bouncing ball of energy. Marsha 'Babylon' Campbell, who took the Online Voters' Choice Award, will be remembered for her eye-catching costume - and a wardrobe malfunction.

In the finalists' second appearance, the dynamic changed. The songs seemed much better than those of recent years.

According to actor Akeem Mignott, who was at the show to support Campbell, "I think the show was a fairly good one. The songs were very good this year; a few of them 'ketchier' than others. When I hear festival songs I think of catchy song lyrics but, unfortunately, that was the song that was placed second." And while he thought the top three were correctly selected, he believed that Nazzleman's Little But Wi Tallawah fit his criteria better. "I find myself repeating 'little but wi tallawah', although I was hearing the song for the first time," Mignott said, in justifying his remarks.

Stephen Davis, marketing director at JCDC, confirmed some of Mignott's observations, as he believes this year's entries were great.

"We had a good mix of what people considered to be the traditional festival sound, as well as some modern ones. Any one of them could have won," Davis said.

There were close to 80 entrants in the Jamaica Festival Song Competition this year. The number was reduced to 35, from which the final 10 were chosen. Also making the finals were Vernon Smith, performing as Remize Yard Soul; Kirk Crawford (Septa); Victor Richards (Juke Box); and Anthony Edwards (Militancy).