Jammin' with The Astronauts

By Brian Bonitto
Associate Editor -- Auto and Entertainment

Sunday, July 08, 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 third in a 10-part series on the contest which started in 1966.

IN 1979 The Astronauts got its first taste of victory in the Festival Song Competition with the patriotic ditty Born Jamaican . Three years later, group members Donald Wright and Zac Henry decided to shake things up a bit.

“We wanted a song that was outside the box, so we decided to enter with Mek Wi Jam in 1982,” Henry, 71, told the Jamaica Observer.

That gamble paid dividends as it gave The Astronauts their second win in the contest. But it also sparked a controversy about the song's suggestive lyrics, accompanied by Henry's dancing.

“At the time, some church people and the older people were a bit ruffled by the song... but we kinda expected the controversy, as it wasn't done before. People were offended because of the way I performed it — the jammin' and 'wineing' (gyrating) ,” the six-foot three inches Henry chuckled. “Sometimes I when I go to the market some higglers see me coming would say: 'See mi man yah', while others would say: 'No sah. Him too aggressive'. But it's all in good fun.”

He recounted the circumstances that led to him pen the popular single.

“I was doing social work course at UWI extramural. While I was there, the students wanted me to enter a song competition on campus... That time we won with Born Jamaican already. So I wrote Woman Fi Jam, but I didn't bother to enter it in UWI extramural thing,” he said.

The singer-songwriter said when the Festival Song Competition came around, he and Wright reworked the lyrics and found a new title.

“It took me two weeks to come with the title Mek Wi Jam. When we entered it, we wondered if they would have thrown it out. It became a one-horse race that year. Even me was surprised when we win,” he said. “The song is still very popular today.”

The Astronauts went on to secure two more wins in the competition: Dem A Pollute (with Stanley Beckford in 1994); and Mek We Go Spree (1996).

Wright died in a motor vehicle accident in 1998. He was replaced by Michael “Sojie” Beckford.

“I think we deserve a National Honour for our contribution to culture. We have done our nation proudly,” Henry added.

In recent times, the Jamaica Festival Song Competition has lost its mass appeal. The Astronauts are of the view that past winners could assist in restoring the contest to its place of pride.

“The JCDC could call us in to work with the current crop of winners and advise them, because no festival is complete without our songs,” said Beckford.

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