CULTURE and Entertainment Minister Olivia “Babsy” Grange has dismissed criticisms that there is political interference in the annual national festival song competition, and has indicated that the Government has no intention to privatise the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission (JCDC)-run contest.
Furthermore, she says there was a decline in the competition when it was rebranded to the popular song competition by another Administration, in 2003. At the time, there was some amount of criticism from the public that some of the songs lacked the familiar “festival” sound.
“My Administration came back in Government and reintroduced the festival song competition; it has gone through many changes [but] there is always controversy,” she stated. “We raised the quality and the level. We have always had a professional team of adjudicators, selecting the songs — the minister doesn’t select the songs, the JCDC doesn’t select the songs, professionals select the songs,” she said on the weekend.She was speaking at a virtual press conference called to address concerns around the abandonment of the competition this year, due to the poor quality of the entries.
“There is no political interference…the industry recognises the way I work, the JCDC understands the way I work. I do not interfere. I provide guidelines and I provide policy directives and I allow everyone to do what they have to do,” Grange said. Members of the adjudication panel for the competition outlined the issues, based on the criteria, which rendered them unable to select 10 suitable songs from the 123 entries, and instead settled on only three. There have been expressions of public disappointment since the entertainment minister announced in Parliament this week that the competition is off this year.
Meanwhile, Grange stressed that individuals and organisations are at liberty to stage private festival song competitions, and that there is no need for the JCDC to privatise the national contest.
“Anyone is free to have a festival song competition; they are free to have a festival where songs and songwriters compete so the JCDC and the Government doesn’t need to privatise a competition that it feels it has a responsibility to promote. The mandate of the JCDC is to unearth talent, groom talent, showcase talent and promote Jamaican culture to the world. Anyone else is free to put on a competition,” she stated. Responding to assertions that musicians have boycotted the competition over the years, the minister said industry professionals do not want to participate in a competition where they may come out on the losing end. “There may be other categories that they may be awarded for, but it’s one winner, and I think the professionals at this time don’t want to be in a competition to appear to be a loser, and so that in a way stands in the way of the industry coming fully on boards in participating in the festival song competition,” said Grange. The culture and entertainment minister also pointed out that unlike in the past, there is not much airplay support for festival songs, which has led to less exposure for the entries. “It was almost a passion, the radio personalities felt an obligation to play those songs. It’s not so at this time, at this time we literally have to beseech, we have to pay for time and we have to put that much more into getting the songs we choose exposed,” she argued. She stressed that the competition is an important part of Jamaican history and development, and questioned whether the country would be satisfied with poor entries just for the sake of having the competition this year. “They could not find 10 songs; yes, I’m disappointed, the country is disappointed, but it doesn’t mean that we will not have songs that can rally this nation for Jamaica 60,” she said, noting that with or without a Jamaica Festival Song Competition, a Jamaica 60 commemorative album will be produced, which may include the three songs. She said the JCDC was already in talks with international recording artistes such as Koffee, Shaggy, Inner Circle, and Freddie McGregor to produce tracks for the album. Grange, last Wednesday, advised Parliament that the festival song entries were much less than in previous years, and that the JCDC would refund all entry fees which amount to $123,000. She said she had instructed that festival song workshops be ramped up over the next year to ensure that the competition returns with much better entries.
“This disappointment comes after a period of tremendous growth for the Jamaica Festival Song Competition which has seen the finalists in each of the last two years appearing on several music streaming services across the world, and for the first time, earning royalties for the JCDC and the competitors. Last year, the Jamaica Festival Song album was even included on a shortlist that was considered for nomination for the reggae Grammy, so we cannot be less than we have been in the past, and so that decision as taken,” she told the House.The Festival Song Competition, an integral part of the country’s annual Independence observation and celebrations, emerged in 1966 when Toots and the Maytals won the still-resounding Bam Bam.