A creole Christmas

Entertaining recital of the patois cantata

BY RICHARD JOHNSON
Observer senior reporter
johnsonr@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, December 09, 2018

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There is absolutely no shortage of creative talent in Jamaica.

The recent recital by the Philharmonic Orchestra of Jamaica featuring the Jamaica Choral Scholars of the nativity cantata, Jiizas A Go Baan, by Dr Andrew Marshall highlights this fact. This cantata is drawn from the text of the patois translation of the Bible and tells the story of the birth of Christ as told in the gospel of St Luke, was nothing short of breathtaking.

What Marshall has done with the creation of this work not only brings the Christmas story to the average Jamaican in a tongue that is familiar, but it also give even more credence to the argument that patois or the Jamaican native creole is a language which should be accorded the respect. Some sceptics may have pondered what would result from the blend of the Jamaican Patois with Eurocentric melodies. This is right up Marshall's street. Despite the setting being classical music, he makes a concerted effort to tell Jamaican stories through this genre.

In the publicity material Marshall noted: “ It is my hope that the work has captured the enduring spirit and culture of our nation, and that the music will effectively serve the fresh retelling of a well-known event in an indigenous tongue near and dear to Jamaicans around the world.”

The work, which is told in three parts, bears a similarity to the world renowned work The Messiah by Handel based on the common source and theme. But it is unmistakeably Jamaican from the very first note.

The story is brilliantly narrated by bass Calynton Blake. The rich texture of his voice eloquently conveyed the drama of the libretto. He was ably assisted by talented soloists Sashekia Brown (soprano), Danielle Brown (mezzo-soprano), and Karim Chang (tenor) and the chorus formed by the Jamaica Choral Scholars, a group founded by Marshall. The Browns (no relation) were superb. Sashekia was able to hit those higher notes with aplomb, while Danielle calm exterior belied the powerhouse of a soloist that she is. They made the nearly two hours of music from overture to the final notes an absolute treat.

In addition to the text from the 'Patois Bible' Marshall added five choral works to assist in moving the storyline.

The first work, Skyandal (Scandal) added humour and typical Jamaican 'mix up' to the presentation as they examined the scandal it would have been if Mary's pregnancy were to occur today. The patois translation also had the audience in stitches at times. When “ and laid him in a manger”, was performed as “ an put him inna di box weh di animal dem nyam outta”, the audience could not contain its delight.

There were two instances where Marshall deviated from the text completely. This was a patois cantata, therefore it is not clear why two of the choral pieces were in Standard English. It could be interpreted as the nature of Jamaicans to code switch and move from patois to English, however the native tongue could have been maintained throughout.

The orchestra which includes some of the finest local musicians may also take a bow for providing fantastic accompaniment for what should become a treasured piece of Jamaican music.

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