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Best of the best hand drummers for Emancipation Park - Today's Drum Fest begins JCDC's week of music

Published:Friday | April 20, 2018 | 12:00 AMMel Cooke/Gleaner Writer
The Ikayah Drummers of Portmore Community College performing at Drum Fest.
Anthony James of Ardenne High performing at a previous staging of Drum Fest.
Avory Crooks-Campbell

The Jamaica Cultural Development Commission's (JCDC) Drum Festival made its Emancipation Park debut last year, and as music development specialist Avory Crooks-Campbell puts it, "we had such a good time we are back this year". And today's event will be bigger, too, as in 2017, the music from 54 individual and group performers' palms meeting drum skin resounded through the park. This year, there will be 72 - and there could have been more.

"We are showcasing the top gold medallists across the island. It is the best of the best," Crooks-Campbell said. So even gold medallists with low 90s scores have been sifted out, and individual performers will have two minutes to perform, while groups are allowed double that time. Adults and younger persons who are still students are involved.

There is a major difference from last year in the composition of the field vying for top honours as the concentration of top drummers from two or three parishes has begun to change. Crooks-Campbell attributes this in large part to the work of Omaro Mazlyn, who has guided Ardenne High School to outstanding results. His skills were deployed to other parishes, and, Crooks-Campbell said, the results are already being seen from St Mary and Portland, especially. "St James is asking when we are coming that way," she said.

The drummers' clothing adds to the visual presentation, and Crooks-Campbell said that "what they wear is normally one of the highlights. We want to hear good drumming, but we are always interested in what they are wearing. It usually complements what they are doing. Last year, we had some fantastic costumes and we expect no different this year".

Drum Fest starts the 2018 Festival of the Performing Arts National Finals in Music, and for the rest of the week, the JCDC's activities move to the Little Theatre. There will be performances in the instrumental and vocal categories. Crooks-Campbell expects some guests from National Integrity Action (NIA), which has been supporting the JCDC's programmes. "It is our pleasure to accommodate them and we are in agreement with all they support," Crooks-Campbell said. NIA representatives not only speak with the performers individually, but "also have a slot on the programme to come up and say what they are about and present their vision".