We can’t say we are surprised at Culture Minister Ms Olivia “Babsy” Grange’s disclosure last week that the panel of judges assigned to choose 10 entries for this year’s Festival Song Competition could not find enough quality productions and, as such, the competition has been suspended.
After all, the quality of songs submitted for this competition has been deteriorating for years, leaving the country to settle with the best of a bad lot.
One of the main reasons for the decline in quality is the cold, hard fact that Jamaica’s best artistes have, for many years, shunned the competition.
The reasons given by some are varied, but the general complaint we have heard over the years is that of copyright.
Given advances in intellectual property law over the past few years there is no reason that such concerns cannot be settled. That, therefore, leaves the issue of the attractiveness of the competition and the promise it offers to artistes and producers after the Festival celebrations.
A perfect example of that post-Festival boost is Mr Eric Donaldson’s Cherry Oh Baby which, after winning the competition in 1971 went on to become a classic and was covered by The Rolling Stones on their 1976 album Black and Blue, and UB40 on their 1983 album Labour of Love.
In fact, the rhythm remains so popular that more than 30 cover versions of the song have been recorded, including an update by Mr Donaldson himself.
Another past winner of the competition, Mr Frederick “Toots” Hibbert, who passed away in September 2020, also capitalised on the exposure he received from the competition to become one of Jamaica’s greatest artistes ever with international clout.
There is no doubt that Messrs Donaldson and Hibbert, and their handlers, understood that the Festival Song Competition gave them a platform from which to launch their careers and they grabbed it with both hands.
Save for a few others, such tenacity and acumen have not been demonstrated by most of the artistes who have entered the competition over the years. Also, the extremely tough nature of the music industry guarantees that not all who venture forth will succeed. But that is the nature of the business.
That fact, though, provides the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission — the organisers of the competition — with an opportunity to offer entrants career development guidance, probably in the form of workshops or other activities with professionals.
That, we suspect, could probably help lift the quality of some of what is being dished out to the public today under the guise of music.
This country has enough excellent artistes — among them the individuals who make up the Festival Song Competition panel of judges — who most likely would be happy to help steer misguided and inexperienced artistes in the right direction.
Minister Grange has told us that the matter of the suspension of the competition would be on the agenda of this week’s meeting of the Cabinet.
We hope that those deliberations will result in a compromise that will be beneficial to all, without yielding to mediocrity.