Garfield McCook’s J’ca Int’l Independence Foreign Song Competition looms large
Garfield McCook, founder of the Jamaica International Independence Foreign Song Competition

An Atlanta-based Jamaican believes his Jamaica International Independence Foreign Song Competition (JIIFSC) is a suitable replacement for the cancelled Festival Song Competition.

Garfield McCook, who launched the competition last year, told the Jamaica Observer that it has enough quality to produce a song worthy of Jamaica’s Diamond Jubilee.

“I think we can do that. The song we had last year is a quality song and we have 12 great songs of high quality this year, so we are up to the task. Timing is everything, so I think we’ll be able to fill that gap,” he said.

On June 8, Culture and Entertainment Minister Olivia “Babsy” Grange announced in Parliament that the 2022 Festival Song Competition would be cancelled due to sub-standard entries.

It is the third time the event — a staple of Independence celebrations since 1966 — has been cancelled.

Radio disc jock Richard Hugh Blackford says the Festival Song Competition no-show is “disembowelling”.

The second JIIFSC winner will be decided on July 31, 2022 in Atlanta. This year’s entries include Lavie Lujah out of Canada, winner of the inaugural event with the catchy Certified Yardie.

That song topped six rivals from the United States.

This year, there are contestants from Canada, the United States, and United Kingdom. Prospects have to be Jamaicans living abroad or have Jamaican heritage.

McCook, a real estate broker, has lived in the US for 35 years. Born in Old Harbour, St Catherine, and raised in Harbour View and St Andrew, he attended Kingston College during the 1970s when ‘Festival’ was still a hot ticket.

He started the JIIFSC after getting no response to e-mail for three years from the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission (JCDC), organisers of the local Festival Song Competition, about the possibility of him entering a song he had written.

Twenty artistes answered the call for his Diaspora festival in March last year. Seven of them made the cut.

The JIIFSC, McCook noted, is funded entirely by him. There is a winner’s prize of US$8,000; US$4,000 for the runner-up; and US$1,000 for third place.

He refused to comment on the cancellation of the Festival Song Competition, but agrees that its content has deteriorated significantly in recent years.

“When you listen to songs like [past winners] Cherry Oh Baby and Bam Bam, they live on with you because they had a vibe. Right now we have that vibe in the Diaspora because we have the artistes with that vibe who want to express it, and my platform is giving them that opportunity,” said McCook.

Meanwhile, host of a two-hour music-driven Internet show Sunday Scoops on yaawdmedia.com, Richard Hugh Blackford described the absence of the Festival Song Competition in the 60th anniversary year as “disemboweling”.

In an article on Jamaicans.com, Blackford said: “Like Christmas, Easter, the Olympic Games, and World Cup football, we knew five, 10, 20 years ago that 2022 would have been Jamaica’s Diamond Jubilee year.

Lavie Luja, last year’s winner of the Jamaica International Independence Foreign Song Competition

“We knew this long enough ago to have been able to put in place a secretariat replete with a planning committee to attend to planning and strategising to seek to use the occasion to mobilise Jamaicans from all walks of life to become involved in the celebrations.”

He suggested, however, that Jamaican Garfield McCook, who has been promoting JIIFSC could fill the gap left by the local competition.

“McCook, despite not receiving much support for his efforts, has nevertheless persevered and earlier this month announced 12 songs shortlisted for the finals of his US-based competition… McCook’s JIIFSC’s winner will get the prize as the Jamaica 60th festival song.

“Not only that, but his song will be that which not only removes the sting and stench of failure at home but also serves to demonstrate the relevance of Jamaica’s Diaspora,” said Blackford.

By Howard Campbell Observer senior writer campbellh@jamaicaobserver.com

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