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VIDEO: It was a grand gala

BY KARYL WALKER walkerk@jamaicaobserver.com

Friday, August 08, 2014    

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SIXTEEN-YEAR-OLD Vanessa Williams beamed with pride as she spoke of what it is to be a Jamaican and what Independence Day meant to her.

"I am so proud being Jamaican. I am so glad that we are an independent country and thankful for the sacrifices those who walked before us made so we can enjoy freedom," she told the Jamaica Observer as children dressed in Indian garb performed inside the National Stadium in Kingston, during the Independence Day Grand Gala on Wednesday.

And grand the gala was.

Hours before the 6:30 pm start the rain fell in torrents but that did not dampen the spirits of the thousands of Jamaicans who lined up orderly to enter the aptly named Independence Park.

The process ran smoothly for the most part although there was a mini stampede at the western end of the stadium when anxious patrons rushed through a gate leading to the bleachers.

That, however, was quickly contained by security personnel on hand.

The police reported seizing some six pairs of scissors, a few cigarette lighters and umbrellas with points.

"We are not taking away the umbrellas but just keeping them for their owners who are free to take them back when they are leaving. We have not found much weapons," a cop, who manned one of the entrances where patrons were frisked, said.

That apart, the only other incident was the fainting of a female cop.

Inside the stadium the audience seemed to enjoy the well-choreographed dances, the pomp, pageantry and musical offerings of Marcia Griffiths and Freddie McGregor -- both of whom were honoured for their 50 and 52 years in entertainment, respectively.

The Skatalites were also honoured for their contribution to Jamaican popular music.

"This is just to show the world how diverse and intriguing the Jamaican culture is. I am loving it," Paul Hanson said.

Even Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller seemed to be having a whale of a time as she could be seen rocking away as Griffiths belted out her reggae anthems.

At one point Youth and Culture Minister Lisa Hanna rose to her feet and danced away when Griffiths was joined by Judy Mowatt and both did a rendition of Bob Marley's Iron, Lion, Zion.

The Blue and John Crow Mountains, home to the indigenous Maroons, and which were recently nominated for inscription on UNESCO's World Heritage List, were highlighted, as well as the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), founded by National Hero Marcus Garvey.

An obviously pleased Hanna said the $57-million grand gala was an exhibition of Jamaica's rich culture.

"We wanted persons to understand that August 1 to 6 was a significant time. We wanted them to understand the three milestones that we were celebrating -- the 100 years of the UNIA, the 50 years of musical contribution of Freddie McGregor, Marcia Griffiths and the Skatalites, and how honourable Jamaicans and our history have taken us to where we are in terms of being independent," she said.

There were more than 2,500 performers on show.

The gala ended with a fireworks display.

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