Festival song contest on again
Buju Banton (centre), winner of the 2020 Jamaica Festival Song Competition, with an all-star cast of contestants (Photo: JCDC)

A week after announcing to Parliament that the Jamaica Festival Song Competition would be cancelled this year due to sub-par entries, Entertainment and Culture Minister Olivia “Babsy” Grange says it’s back on the raft of activities for Jamaica’s 60th Independence celebration.

Grange made her latest pronouncement at Tuesday’s opening ceremony of the Jamaica Diaspora Conference in downtown Kingston.

“I just want to say to the Diaspora and to Jamaicans, here at home, that we will have a Festival Song Competition and we will have quality entries,” she said, adding that the deadline for entries has been extended for a week.

“What we have decided to do is to create a narrow window of one week and to invite new entries, and I have been networking the industry to get good producers, good songwriters and performers on board so that we can come up with 10 songs — and we will have a Festival Song Competition... In addition, we will have our Jamaica 60 commemorative album which will feature Koffee, Shaggy, Agent Sasco, Omi and a number of others to be announced,” she continued.

In a subsequent release sent to the Jamaica Observer, Grange said the decision to go ahead with the Jamaica Festival Song Competition, under amended rules, was decided at a Cabinet meeting on Monday.

“[And] for a limited period of one week, starting today [Tuesday], the panel will be seeking to identify an additional seven songs for the finals,” the statement read.

Last Wednesday, during her sectoral debate presentation to Parliament in Gordon House, Grange said — like 2017 — the song competition was being cancelled due to the poor quality of entries.

A total of 123 entries were received and, of that amount, only three made the cut. The decision to cancel the Jamaica Festival Song Competition did not go down well with the public.

Chairman of the Diaspora Conference Committee, Don Wehby said that he was happy to hear the competition was still on.

“I must say that I was truly disappointed when I heard the [first] news. In fact, I will share a secret with you, my first memory of a Festival Song was Cherry Oh Baby which was done by Eric Donaldson in 1971,” he told the gathering at Tuesday’s conference.

The Jamaica Festival Song Competition was first suspended in 2013 by then Minister of Youth and Culture Lisa Hanna, who wanted to reposition the contest as well as implement a voting system by which people could select their favourite Festival Song.

At the time, Grange labelled the move as a “backward step and a disgrace”.

Started in 1966, the Festival Song Competition (formerly the Popular Song Contest) is one of the highlights of Jamaica’s Independence celebrations.

The inaugural contest was won by The Maytals with Bam Bam. Other winners include: Ba Ba Boom by The Jamaicans in 1967; Desmond Dekker & The Aces’ Intensified in 1968; Eric Donaldson’s enduring Cherry Oh Baby and Land of My Birth in 1971 and 1978, respectively; and, Give Thanks And Praises by Roy Rayon, which won in 1987.

Last year’s winner was Stacious with Jamaican Spirit.

Olivia “Babsy” Grange
Balford Henry

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