'The feels' of great festival songs
Roy Rayon

Dear Editor,

I have been a fan of the Jamaica Festival Song Competition since I was a child.

My first experience of it and one which remains etched in my memory was the night Roy Rayon won with Give Thanks and Praises. I was a young 80s baby, but I recall he was wearing a gown and dancing across the stage as he sang in celebration of Jamaica's 25th year of Independence. It is still a favourite of many today.

As I grew up, I looked forward to the competition every year. At the same time, I became familiar with songs that had been made before I was born. I loved all of them, many of which were beautifully penned and vocalised to a sweet combination of mento and reggae. Every Eric Donaldson is my favourite because they all give me "the feels". Something tells me he loves Jamaica as much as I do. The passion in his voice as he gives an ode to his country is unmatched.

If I were to pick an all-time favourite from his catalogue of seven winning songs, it would be Proud to be Jamaican, which he sang when Jamaica turned 22. "Twenty-two years salute, we are no more likkle yute, fi wi country a 22..." I have no recollection of that competition, but such is my love for festival songs.

As our music evolved, so did the entries to the competition, and I observed a decline around the late 1990s. They just weren't the same. They had essentially lost the festival vibe.

In response, somewhere along the way, Jamaica Cultural Development Commission (JCDC) replaced the word 'festival' with 'popular' in the competition's title. Oops! That didn't quite work, so we went back to festival. Still, we just never seemed to find "it" again. And, at that time, I would have taken Stop and Go and Chiquitita over some of what I was hearing. The night when Stop and Go won was hilarious!

Flash forward to the year 2020 and the JCDC pulls off a near star-studded line-up of contestants, which saw Buju Banton emerging winner with I am a Jamaican. I loved it! Not just because Buju Banton was in it, but it was a nice attempt at celebrating Jamaica with good music. The entries weren't bad and Buju Banton's song was the best for me.

Now here we are in our 60th year and there is an announcement that the competition is being called off due to poor entries. What a Bam Bam!

There is high drama at the prospect of no festival song for a significant year. Let's not be hypocritical in judgement. The songs of late leave much to be desired, so much so that some of us don't want to hear them. I am of two minds about it. I don't want to hear the foolishness in our 60th year and my heart is broken that our music has declined so much that we don't know how to pen good songs to celebrate it.

Still, I can't say I am surprised when our music has become so unappealing that we missed out on the Reggae Grammy Award, which was won by American band SOJA. This was another announcement which caused tempers to flare. Many argued that reggae is simply a genre and a Jamaican doesn't have to win it. It can also be argued that Jamaican-bred reggae at its best cannot be beaten. We are not at our best! Just listen to local radio and you will get the picture. Right know, dance is the best thing we have going for us. Yes, the dance moves are more appealing than the songs we are dancing to. Jamaican songwriters and artistes have work to do.

I am relieved by the latest announcement that there will be a three-song competition which includes stars like Alaine and Freddie McGregor, great songwriters and vocalists. Whew!

It would be nice to have a female winner in our 60th year. Hint, hint, Alaine! You go girl! Heather Grant was our first female winner with Mek Wi Put Things Right (1992). Great song, by the way! Big up the other females who followed suit.

But let's not be too mad at the JCDC. I really thank them for saving me from being mad at poor festival songs in our 60th year. As always, I have my YouTube mix ready to listen to festival songs in a few weeks' time. I look forward to the celebrations overall and the three-song competition.

We have come a long way from Toots and The Maytals' Bam Bam in 1966, and while we can't go back, we must go forward with music of our time which resonates the world over, thereby strengthening Brand Jamaica.

Suzette Campbell


Eric Donaldson

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