Winston Wallace's Land of My Birth

BY HOWARD CAMPBELL Observer senior writer

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

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JAMAICA was a flashpoint for political and gang violence in 1978. Winston Wallace was disturbed by the bloody incidents that were tearing his country apart.


The turbulent period inspired Wallace to write Land of My Birth. Sung by Eric Donaldson, it won the 1978 Festival Song Contest and has become a signature for national pride.


Wallace was a schoolteacher and member of the Trade Union Congress when he wrote the patriotic piece. The previous year, he and Donaldson won the Festival contest with Sweet Jamaica, a song he believed was superior to Land of My Birth.


"I thought people would show greater appreciation to Sweet Jamaica because it's what we call a patois song but I was wrong," he said, chuckling.


Though he had been writing songs for several years, Sweet Jamaica was the St Catherine-born Wallace's first release. It was recorded at singer Pluto Shervington's small St Andrew studio with the Fabulous Five backing Donaldson.


Land of My Birth was cut at Dynamic Sounds the following year, again with the 'Fab Five'. Jamaica was embroiled in a political civil war between the governing People's National Party, which had a socialist agenda and the conservative opposition Jamaica Labour Party.


That divisiveness also played out in the trade union movement. Concerned that Jamaicans were showing more commitment to party than country, Wallace penned Land of My Birth, calling for a rebirth of patriotism.


Arranged by Fab Five drummer Grub Cooper, Land of My Birth was a popular winner of the Festival competition. It was Donaldson's third victory in the contest; Wallace was not surprised.


"I was confident, even more so on the final night," he said.


For composing the winning song, Wallace says he received $1,200, the same amount he got for Sweet Jamaica. He continued to write songs for Donaldson and Fab Five singer Peter Scarlett, but Land of My Birth was his last Festival entry.


Land of My Birth is arguably the most popular 'Festival' song. Its reverence in Jamaica is akin to Ray Charles' Georgia on my Mind or Louis Armstrong's What a Wonderful World in the United States.


Winston Wallace, who earned a sociology degree from the University of the West Indies in 1986, has never been one for the limelight. Now in his early 60s, he says Land of My Birth's enduring appeal is all the acclaim he needs.


"I am pleased to see how everybody holds onto the song. It simply shows they love their country."


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