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Jamaican Folk Singers ready for 2019 season

Observer senior reporter

Saturday, September 14, 2019

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Despite a number of challenges, the 52-year-old Jamaican Folk Singers is determined to present a concert season this weekend at Little Theatre in St Andrew.

Musical director Christine McDonald Nevers explained that among the primary challenges to staging a season is the fact that folk music is not seen as being 'hip and happening' in Jamaica and, therefore, it is an uphill task to secure sponsorship and ultimately lure a wider audience to its concerts.

“It is very, very, very challenging. The unfortunate reality is that with each passing year it becomes harder. The fortunate thing is that we still have a number of persons and entities in corporate Jamaica who still see the value in what we do. So even though it does not have the mass appeal that is likely to come from sponsoring a sporting event or along the lines of an event promoting popular culture, they still see the value. And as we say internally all the time, because there is a sincerity of purpose for what we do, things always work out, despite the challenges.”

Also high on the list of challenges is the pressure to produce a season of a higher quality than the previous year.

“With each successful season obviously you can't go below the bar that you have set for yourself. Over the years, the more I try to plan the programme and think about it the harder it is. But, as we go along, the things just come and fall into place so we'll just continue on the path of what we have been doing over the years and trust that the higher force will make a way for us. The Jamaican Folk Singers' repertoire is about 200 songs, and all having been arranged by our founder Dr Olive Lewin. One of the things we try to do is show the versatility and multiple and varying situations [in] which the same song can be used. Even though audiences might be familiar with quite a bit of the songs, it's the context within which they are used that helps to keep it fresh,” McDonald Nevers told the Jamaica Observer.

She and her team have prevailed dispite the odds and have produced a show under the theme 'Remembering'.

“For this year's season there is no one storyline running through the show. In the past we have done show's with a storyline running from start to finish, but more often than not we done have a single thread throughout. For this year we have five stand-alone themes. The first is 'Nice and Easy'. That has a more nostalgic feel to it with a lot of the familiar folk songs, with some new twists. Then we will focus on some of the ring games and play songs, some of which are very familiar but many of us may not actually be aware that they actually started out as games. Then there is the third movement which we are calling 'Jamaican History'. For this we are going to incorporate bits and pieces of songs from artistes such as Early B, Super Cat and Louie Lepkie to produce this very unexpected element. The truth is, quite a few songs from our deejays and singers have a folk root. We will then move on to 'Court in Session'. During this segment this is where we will use the folk songs in a more unexpected way; here we will show how folk music touches on all aspects of life. We will then end with 'In God We Trust', which is a more religious section.”

The spirit of giving back to the community is alive within the Jamaican Folk Singers. As such, when the group became aware of the fire at the National Children's Home in St Andrew on August 9, it was decided that the group had to do something.

“Initially we were just planning to do Saturday and Sunday, but with the fire at the National Children's Home we decided to go ahead with Friday evening — and part proceeds will go to the this charity,” said McDonald Nevers.

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