Big abroad, small a yard

Eric Donaldson, the unofficial Festival king

BY SADE GARDNER
Observer writer
gardners@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, July 01, 2018

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This month, the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission will crown the 51st Jamaica Festival Song Competition winner. The Jamaica Observer kicks off a 10-part series on the long-running contest with a story on many-time winner Eric Donaldson.

Forty-seven years since winning his first Festival song competition with Cherry Oh Baby, singer Eric Donaldson is still a sought-after act in Africa and South America. He leaves for Brazil this week for five shows, from July 13 to 28.

Donaldson's unique falsetto is behind other Festival classics, Sweet Jamaica and Land of My Birth, winners of the competition in 1977 and 1978, respectively. Both tracks were penned by Winston Wallace. L and Of My Birth was voted Most Popular Festival Song after its organisers, the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission, conducted a poll in 2013.

The 71-year-old Donaldson, who has won the contest six times, believes he deserves a National Honour.

“I think I should be given one, I won the Festival seven times, but I don't really feel no way 'cause I know Babylon system don't cater to people like me already,” he told the Jamaica Observer. “Nobody at the commission even give me a work — I really feel hurt about it. Put me on a road show, put me to perform in the National Arena... I think they kill me and bury me. It's a good thing the songs I did were good enough to make me tour the world, or else I'd be dead on my face right now. The commission don't care about me,” Donaldson continued.

He also copped the Festival title in 1984, 1993 and 1997. Significantly, Cherry Oh Baby has been covered by The Rolling Stones and UB40.

Though he is often associated with 'Festival', Donaldson said his international audience favours other songs from his catalogue.

“The songs that they gravitate to more are songs that Jamaica don't even know; they aren't popular out here,” he said. “ Give Me Some Loving, Jah Love, Miserable Woman; Give Me Some Loving always gets the crowd on fire. Sometimes they ask me to sing the songs twice. Every now and then I may sing L and of my Birth or Cherry Oh Baby.”

Brazil is a special market for the singer.

“In Brazil they label the songs they would like me to sing, which I think is the best way 'cause sometimes you draw up some songs to sing and sometimes the crowd is not familiar with them. I get a good response from people in Brazil, that's my playground. I get more crowd in Brazil. I hardly work in Jamaica; I find when I do shows in Jamaica I get 20 minutes on stage, Brazil gives me an hour-and-a-half and better pay. They love me down there,” said Donaldson.

He released his 32nd album, Control Your Temper, three months ago. The self-produced set entails 14 tracks including Love and Unity, Nobody Nuh Sweet Like You, and 1 00% Love. He said the project has been well-received in Uganda and Kenya. Other albums include his self-titled release in 1971, What a Festival (1973), Blackman Victory (1993) and Young & Reckless (2002).

Eric Donaldson was born in Kent Village, St Catherine, which he still calls home. His debut as a singer came in the early 1960s when he formed the group The West Indians with Leslie Burke and Hector Brooks.

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