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By Clare Forrester


ALTHOUGH several other columnists have had a say about the ongoing controversy surrounding the Independence 50 song, I can’t resist getting in my “two cents’ worth”. My sentiments are very similar to those of fellow Jamaica Observer columnist Tamara Scott-Williams, as expressed under the heading: “Sing a sankey”. I look forward to her “love-in” series of columns over the next six weeks leading into our anniversary.

In addition, I think the best statement yet in response to the controversy was made by songwriter/producer Mikey Bennett, when he called on all Jamaicans to just enjoy the song chosen and not let the replacement of the original song distract them from this experience.

The good songs will live.The new, not so good ones will fall by the wayside. That’s the way it has always been in the music business. Attaching a title of “official” to any one of the commissioned songs about Jamaica’s 50th Independence anniversary will not change this reality. A perfect example to the best of my recollection was Unity by Desmond Decker and the Aces. This one never won the Festival contest it entered in 1967, but was one of the most played songs at Independence time that year and every year since.

Additionally, suggestions that an official Jamaica 50 song must speak directly to the anniversary also seem harebrained. Some of our best Independence and Festival songs never did, such as Sweet and Dandy and Cheery Oh Baby. Cheery Oh Baby had absolutely nothing to do with Festival or Independence and the lyrics suggest that it had little to do with Jamaica. Regardless, it has been a timeless hit, recorded several times by several artists.

The controversy about the choice of the Independence anniversary song is unfortunate for so many different reasons. For one, as far as quality goes, there seems to be no problem with either recording – Shaggy’s On a Mission or Mikey Bennett’s Find a Flag. Both are very commendable efforts consistent with the class of both sets of artists. Find a Flag might be more appropriate from the point of view that it may be more acceptable to a wider audience, covering as it does a range of Jamaican musical genres. By contrast, the Shaggy recording, while excellent, because it is in a dancehall-hip-hop style, would tend to appeal mainly to the under-30 age demographic.

There is one aspect of the issue that remains unclear: why was it thought necessary to recommission a song? If the organisers were dissatisfied with either the content or quality of the Mikey Bennett recording, then one would assume that the logical action would have been to allow him to revise the recording. Instead, we are advised that the relevant authorities chose to spend some $1.7 million on a new “free” recording. I don’t know how this could be done, as the explanation makes no sense. Was this $1.7 million for studio time, lunch and transportation?

Generally, though, this is one of the best selections of songs in celebration of our Independence that I have heard yet over the 50 years. Both commissioned songs are worth a listen. But incredibly, there are others equally good or better. Which is why it is reassuring that we are now contemplating opening up the party to all comers. At the end of the day it is the public who will decide which of these songs they do or do not like. It is also the radio and club disc jockeys and popular discotheques who will influence that decision.

The past week I was privileged to listen to a composition celebrating the anniversary by Fab Five maestro Grub Cooper, entitled, “50 not out”. I understand it is yet to be released to the public, so I guess I was just lucky to hear it when I did. I also suspect that this is possibly only the second solo recording by Grub (the first ironically being the folkflavoured Come Home Jamaica, for Canada’s Grand Jamaica Homecoming Committee, which has been released online for almost a year). All other recordings on which he is featured, as far as I’m aware, are under the title of his band, Fab 5. 50 not out is a delightful mento-flavoured tribute to our milestone anniversary.

Most of us know that a good mento-flavoured song tends to catch the attention of Festival song contest judges as well as the populace. And this one has all the ingredients to make it a winner in terms of its public appeal. After listening to it, I gave it my pick of those heard to date. But I may have been a bit premature, as someone subsequently shared another “wicked” song with me with an anniversary message, Rise Up Mighty People by veteran Festival song man Roy Rayon. I have no way of knowing if this is a new rendition by Roy, but whatever, it is good. The lyrics are incredibly uplifting, patriotic and inspiring. “Rise up mighty people, be steadfast and be strong. A nation united can never, never, never be wrong. In the eyes of the world we are standing tall, little though we be. With hand in hand let’s build our land, one aim, one destiny.”

When you listen to Rayon’s lyrics you can’t help but wish we could leave the fussing and fighting behind about products of our culture, which ought to be enhancing our celebration rather than further dividing us. I feel that these songs, and others which I hear are popping up all over the place, should be just what we need at this time, and it is good that we are moving away from the onesong selection this year.

Having said all of that, I am still somewhat at a loss to discover what is the “bone of contention” between the former and current ministers. The whole hullabaloo is unfortunate for so many reasons; especially as the popular thinking is that the contretemps is purely political. This has certainly created problems for the artists who are now being unfairly politically stigmatised.

From everything I have seen and heard, neither of the two politicians score any points from this controversy. We are especially disappointed that the hitherto promising minister of culture is now entangled in such a distasteful issue.We encourage her to “wheel and come again”.

Indeed, after all the hype, there has virtually been no significant announcement about the agenda for Jamaica’s 50th anniversary. We all assume that there will be a Grand Gala and that’s about it, nothing more. Many people appear to be operating under the erroneous impression that the celebration continues for a year. The reality is that it has been ongoing for a year and ends at midnight between August 5 and 6, 2012. On the 6th, the 50th year will have been completed and we will be in our 51st year.

As Tamara explained in her column, it seems that only the University of the West Indies got its act together in terms of its one-year programme of commemorative activities spearheaded by the Sir Arthur Lewis Institute of Social and Economic Studies, generally referred to as SALISES.

For now, I think we would be better served if we put the fussing behind us and spend the next six weeks following Tamara’s lead and, like Rayon, borrow from the sentiments of National Hero Marcus Garvey and sing: “With hand in hand let’s build our land, one aim, one destiny”.

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