UTech celebrates Jamaica's cultural icons
Mel Cooke, Gleaner Writer
Speaking at the beginning of Friday evening's programme in the University of Technology's (UTech) Sculpture Park, celebrating some of Jamaica's cultural icons, Cultural Director Pat Ramsay remarked, "So many of them have left us over the past six months. It is unreal. We just felt that we had to pay tribute to all those wonderful folks on whose shoulders we are still standing."
Four of the six icons, Professor Rex Nettleford, Trevor Rhone, Sonny Bradshaw and Wycliffe Bennett, were honoured in the fusion of speech, film, music and drama on the big stage. Albert Huie and Wayne Brown had been celebrated earlier in the day.
Hosted by Fae Ellington, the event's format for each of the quartet was standard - a spoken tribute (Ellington delivered two), a film clip of the person speaking about his life and/or work, (Nettleford's dancing was especially remarkable), and a tribute by the university's performing ensembles.
There were two guest performances, the Stella Maris dance ensemble and the E-Park band of Peter Ashbourne, Desi Jones, Dean Fraser, Glen Browne and Michael Harris, with the choir ensemble coming close to the end with what was unfortunately a weak point in a strong evening of performance, doing a Jon Williams arrangement of Simply The Best.
In the beginning, Sonny Bradshaw had presence long before his tribute, the last of the four of the night, as an arrangement of the National Anthem had the near-capacity audience rocking at attention to the reggae beat. Ellington's irrepressible humour and sparkling irreverence held true throughout the evening, which a couple microphone glitches and a spot of blue screen during one video clip interrupted, but were not so extensive as to spoil.
Hearing and seeing the icons speak was disconcerting, yet heartening - disconcerting at the collective impact of their passing, yet heartening that there is a record in their own words of their lives. So after Ellington read the 'Legacy of Bennett', written by Paula Ann Porter-Jones ("symphony of sound and reasoning, man of many words indeed"), Bennett said, among other things, that he owed a lot to two women in his life - his adopted mother, and his wife, Dr Hazel Bennett.
Rhone's tribute, done by members of the drama ensemble, described him as "an iconic Jamaican playwright, many say our first", and with a clip from Smile Orange on the big screen, Rhone himself speculated about writing a script for London or Jamaica, concluding "yes, Jamaica!". Then, for subject matter, came a "voice in my head. Bellas Gate, the place I escaped from."
Nettleford's tribute termed him "child of the village, child of the yard, was man of the gown then came to us and challenged our senses and sensibility." The footage of Nettleford was by far the most extensive, showing him dancing in earlier as well as later years and explaining the concept of pieces such as Plantation Revelry and Bujurama.
And Bradshaw was described as a "pioneer whose work could not be quantified."
The generally high standard of the students' performances testified to the university's investment in the arts. The choir's medley of Jamaican folk songs, arranged by Paulette Bellamy, included Emmanuel Road. There was laughter at the excerpts from Bellas Gate Boy and Old Story Time, which spoke to the racial connotations behind youngsters' early romantic relationships. The drumming ensemble delivered infectious rhythm in the Nettleford section, and the instrumental band rode the A Train for Bradshaw.
Stella Maris' extended, high-energy dance and the E-Park band's music, first with saxophonist Dean Fraser and then vocalist Michael Harris out front, were excellent additions to an evening which started late due to a power cut, but did not drag once it got going.