A Ba Ba Boom Festival

By Sade Gardner
Observer writer
gardners@jamaicaobserver.com

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

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This month the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission (JCDC) will crown the 51st Jamaica Festival Song Competition winner. The Jamaica Observer presents the sixth in a 10-part series on the contest which started in 1966.

FOR Tommy Cowan, founding member of rocksteady group The Jamaicans, the Festival Song Competition was a perfect platform to prove his artistry in the late 1960s.

The quartet, complete with Norris Weir, Owen Hylton and Martin Williams, formed in 1966 and within a year secured its spot in the mainstream market with the song Things You Say You Love.

The Jamaicans entered the second competition in 1967 and won with Ba Ba Boom.

“The competition in that season was a big thing for everybody because, if you won, it gave you a different kind of recognition,” Cowan told the Jamaica Observer. “Now, we are in a different time in Festival, but in those days you were up against people like Derrick Morgan, Desmond Dekker, The Maytals. As a matter of fact, I think it was the same year Bob Marley and the Wailers entered and didn't make it,” he continued.

Ba Ba Boom, penned by Cowan and Weir, was produced by Duke Reid for the Treasure Isle label. It beat U N I T Y by Desmond Dekker and The Aces, which placed second, and Jamaica Move Up by Al and The Vibrators, which came third. Cowan recalled touring the Caribbean, Canada and the United States as a result of the song's success.

“With Ba Ba Boom, it was covered all over the world and has over a 1,000 versions. There's even a Bababoom festival in France.”

But Cowan said the culture of Festival changed in 1971 when Eric Donaldson won with Cherry Oh Baby which he produced.

“There was an upset that year and that win changed up the Festival,” he said. “The established acts saw that an unknown person that no one ever heard of won the festival song and a lot of people got cold feet after that. Imagine their thought process then: 'Now I can go out there as a big artiste and some unknown person can beat me?'”

Donaldson went on to cop the title five more times.

“But look at Eric, even though in Jamaica he is known as a Festival artiste, he has broken barriers outside of the festival song competition. He's big in Africa and Brazil,” Cowan added.

He also lauded Toots Hibbert and The Maytals, another multiple winner of the competition, for becoming an international act.

Today, Cowan is producer and organiser of Jamaica's Fun in the Sun. Weir is an ordained minister, while Williams and Hylton live in the US.

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