Patois to di worl'

Patois to di worl'

Observer senior reporter

Friday, December 13, 2019

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As the debate rages regarding the formalisation of the Jamaican native tongue as an official language, the proponents of this moot were quietly celebrating last Saturday night with the performance of Dr Andrew Marshall's patois cantata, Jiizas A-Go Baan, staged at the Courtleigh Auditorium in St Andrew.

The 70-minute-long production was brought to life by the Philharmonic Orchestra of Jamaica, The Jamaica Choral Scholars and a quintet of soloists breathed life into the text drawn for the Jamaican Patois Bible.

In listening to the work it is easy to draw paralells to The Messiah, the celebrated English-language oratorio composed in 1741 by George Frideric Handel.

As with Handel's work, Jiizas A-Go Baan captures the prophecy of the birth of the Christ child; the angel's visit to Mary; the appearance of the angels to the shepherds; no room in the inn; the birth of the child in a manger; among other key aspects of the nativity story.

However, Marshall is able to securely anchor this well known story in the Jamaican patois, making clear some of the references unfamiliar due to the passage of time, and the King James and other subsequent versions of the Bible. At the same time he injected humour and other contemporary devices to make it a thoroughly enjoyable piece of work. The fact that about the work is set to classical music adds to the layers one can appreciate the work.

This performance of Jiizas A-Go Baan was made even more enjoyable with the talents of the soloists, particularly tenor Karim Chang.

Chang was the only soloists to return to the production from the staging two years ago, and this time he brought an even fuller understanding to the text. In his role as the narrator, Chang was able to effortlessly guide the audience through the piece injecting his own nuances to bring the story to life.

His delivery of the reggae-tinged aria, No Spies [Space] Neva De De, which captured the search by Mary and Joseph for a room at the inn, was masterful. With a gently 'skank', Chang made the piece relatable to his Jamaican audience. He would shift his tone and texture for Yu A Mai [My] Pinkni, a soft, tender work describing the baby Jesus, and earned the applause of a full auditorium.

The Jamaica Choral Scholars, a chorus founded by Marshall, is a well-trained outift. Despite the fact that the female voices were too loud in some instances, they managed to pull the choral pieces together and present what is a world-class work by the gifted Marshall, who is currently associate professor of music at Oakwood University in Huntsville, Alabama, in the United States, and was formerly an associate professor at Northern Caribbean University in Mandeville.

The presentation also benefited from the input of the other soloists Denise Grant, soprano; Rosette Salazar, mezzo soprano; and Miguel Lowe, bass. For this occassion patois consultant Joan Richards Goffe assisted with some of the spoken word narration to great effect.

Jiizas A-Go Baan is also about the music. The Philharmonic Orchestra of Jamaica did its part in lifting the work off the pages. Ahead of the main performance this orchestra treated patrons to a few selections including Franklin Halliburton's Ave Maria. This piece which was originally composed for the University Singers for which Halliburton is also director. The dynamism of the work is not lost due to the missing vocals. The ending is just as dramatic and Halliburton can take full credit for this inspiring work.

Both Marshall and Halliburton can stand tall for providing a culturally rich evening of music firmly rooted in the talent that exists here in Jamaica.

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