Musical Chairs | Dr Fenton Ferguson, old school with a young spirit
Once you start dancing with Member of Parliament for Eastern St Thomas Dr Fenton Ferguson, it's almost impossible to stop.
The sprightly politician who is a lover of ska, reggae and rocksteady, is very knowledgeable of the genres, and is ready to teach anyone willing to learn, about the various artistes, songs and dance moves.
Ferguson tells The Sunday Gleaner, that his exposure to music and culture can be traced back to his childhood, when he became a member of the Jamaica 4H Club. "My parents were big on education, but by virtue of the exposure we had at the community level, back in Jones Town and in Marverly where my mother was the housing officer, my involvement in the 4H clubs got me into dancing and charity as well as activities such as public speaking."
He continued: "Now you can find me dancing for charity, and I enjoy music - much of that is owed to my growing up in the dance culture of the '60s."
As he matured, Ferguson began to frequent hot spots such as Priscilla's on Constant Spring Road on Monday nights where persons could catch a good mix of ska, calypso, reggae, dancehall, soul music, and even participate in salsa sessions.
A dentist by profession, Ferguson said music has played a role in that area of his life. "In the early days of my practice, I played records or at that time LPs in the office, and more recently CDs or via MP3 players, because I found that it was soothing for patients (during a procedure) to have music in the background," he said. "Many persons are afraid of dentists, but it helps, and I also want my patients to have something good to remember after they leave my practice."
Hits such as: Occupation by Skatalites and Don Drummond's Eastern Standard Time as well as Prince Buster's Hard Man Fi Dead and since its release in 2016, DJ Bravo's pop single Champion, are songs that the 25-year-serving politician uses on the political platform. "I tend to be resilient and look at music that tells that story, plus it brings a little energy to the political atmosphere before delivering an address."
Describe your entertainment tastes.
I go to theatre from time to time as my partner enjoys it, but I am a music man specifically an old hits man. Musicians such as Gladys Knight, Millie Jackson, Alton Ellis and Delroy Wilson are some of my favourites from the older musical eras. When it comes to the present day artistes, my preferences are for artistes like Tarrus Riley, Bushman, Morgan Heritage, Chronixx and Popcaan. My taste for music are usually those that have a social message, because often times what it does is tell a story whether or not it gets on the charts, once the lyrics are good and relevant.
How important is entertainment to the political arena?
I believe it is very important not only for relaxation or inspiration, but it is fundamental from the developmental perspective especially in politics. As a politician, you want to know what the people are saying, and in a culture where you have entertainers picking up on the daily issues out there to make music, it sends a message, and some of them also choose to send that message directly to politicians. There exist successful entertainers who have been able to get critical societal messages out that politicians cannot get out in a speech. I am definitely of the view to use it in the political campaigns. Music of artistes that have been put on the table within the political arena are usually remembered, and we still revere them for it years after. I personally, like when I go on the platform and hear a little music whether it be ska or another genre.
Which politician would you say is the best dancer / best singer?
Well, I know I am not a singer, but I regard myself as a reasonably good dancer, or named among the best like Bobby Pickersgill. From old hits coming down the years, Rocksteady and Ska, doing the shuffle, I have had my good days. My colleagues like Damion Crawford will have to enter 2018 dance moves to be able to dance better than I can. In terms of singing, Natalie Neita Headley is the best, undoubtedly and unchallenged.
What do you think is the most fundamental issue affecting the entertainment industry?
Entertainment as part of our culture should be used as a greater developmental tool. I believe that as a country that does well in entertainment (music, dance and theatre), we could be making much more capital from our culture. The question of protecting our brand is also important we have been able to sell that brand Jamaica to the world, but we have not built on it. Without building the proper infrastructure to facilitate young people that are transitioning from school into the working society, the industry will not improve.
If a young person goes to their parents and say, 'mommy, daddy I want to be an entertainer', some will look at it as a worthless decision, but the more it is structured on a level where individuals can demonstrate that independence and earning ability it will improve. When you look at it, there are many successful persons, that 'bruk out' or 'buss' that are doing much better than some who hold PhDs. I am not discounting academics, but we have to look at it with the opportunities for talent identified across the island simultaneously. I want to emphasise that from the developmental side, there are a lot of issues and as leaders we need to promote, fund and facilitate it, something as simple as creating a place for talented people to perform and for people to see entertainment as a career path that is worthy of recommendation as is done in bigger cities worldwide.
What comes to mind when you hear these artistes' names?
FF: In Buju's own way his music has been a form of social commentary, to speak to controversial issues, and he is well known for it. With this he has not held back because he is a fearless man, so I consider him a leader in his field.
FF: I like his music and how he manages the stage. There are many great musicians who cannot dance. His energy, the ability to captivate a crowd with lyrics and as a dancer he is one of those that can do both. Just by looking at him, you see an entertainer.
Lady Saw / Sister Marion Hall
FF: I love her interviews Lady Saw or the now Minister Marion Hall always appears to have a clear calm head. She is outspoken, a great entertainer and performs well in various aspects and the transition she has gone through has done her well. Then her love of children shows she has compassion and that touches a soft spot in my heart.
FF: The world has come to see MJ as one of those legends. He is exceptional. He brings life to entertainment second to none that we all will continue to remember.
FF: Great voice. When she did the rendition of Etta James' At Last for President Obama it was absolutely excellent.
FF: Influential is the word I use to describe him. Yes, Vybz Kartel is known as a man who gets into controversy, especially with the various alliances, but we see even as he is incarcerated his music still stays on the chart. It is obvious he spent a lot of his time making music as he continues to be on top.
FF: Definitely a performer that I love. The quality of his voice, the way he uses the stage that few artistes are able to do. Beres Hammond is the consummate performer and a man who musically, is just great.
FF: Another entertainer who is controversial at times. One thing I have recognised is that many times persons have said they don't like how Spice dresses, but she has made it in some of the biggest magazines specifically for them loving her style.
If you were a recording artiste what's one experience you would like to have or like to do to impact your country?
For any recording artiste, the goal would be to make music that people will love; get to number one spot and last from generation to generation. Providing mentorship is part of that process many times just by virtue of being around entertainers or serving in a different capacity are invaluable experiences. That too is raising the level of consciousness of our people. For instance, when reggae artistes like Chronixx sing songs like They Don't Know which is a day to day experience, it is then that many people hear the true stories. That is the kind of impact I would want to make. In my current capacity as a vice president, I am easy to speak to, available and make myself accessible, and I would do the same in any other capacity. It is all about service at every level and as I have always said, in giving service you must be able to survive over the years with your integrity, stability and humility intact.