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Tinga Stewart is congratulated by a member of the audience as he performs on the 1974 Festival Song show in which he took the prize singing Ernie Smith's 'Play De Music'.
Tinga Stewart is congratulated by a member of the audience as he performs on the 1974 Festival Song show in which he took the prize singing Ernie Smith’s ‘Play De Music’.—-

By Sadeke Brooks—

While Jamaica celebrated its 50th year of Independence last year, the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission (JCDC) is now celebrating 50 years as the official cultural agency in Jamaica.

While the major plans for the celebration will be announced on July 3, Stephen Davidson, director of marketing and public relations at the JCDC, emphasised that 2013 is important for the organisation.

“It is extremely significant as the JCDC – then called the Festival Office – was set up to mainly stage the Independence celebrations. Fifty years later, the JCDC is the premier cultural agency that has shaped the image and cultural landscape of Jamaica,” Davidson told The Sunday Gleaner.

“To this end, the commission has kept true to our current mission of enhancing national development through cultural practices by creating opportunities to unearth, develop, preserve, and promote the creative talents and expressions of the Jamaican people,” he said.

This is despite the talent competitions which have started in the post-Independence period, a few of which have grown into television programmes. The Tastee Talent Contest started in 1979 and developed into the Tastee Talent Trail in 2006, with a reality television component introduced three years ago. Digicel Rising Stars started in 2004, and along with Magnum Kings and Queens of Dancehall, continues to be a major draw in its televised stages. Also in the talent exposure mix are Dancin’ Dynamites, with Comedy Buss and Star Search at Traxxamong those which have faltered.

1971 Festival Song winner

1971 Festival Song winner


With some elements of the anniversary programme yet to be announced, Davidson said that the annual competitions and events had been doing “considerably well” so far this year.

“We are in the final stages of most of our competitions, having gone through submission, audition, elimination, and semi-final rounds,” he said.

Parish coronations for the Miss Jamaica Festival Queen Competition have been completed and the finalists for the Jamaica Gospel Song Competition have been named. Also going well, Davidson said, is the National Finals of the Performing Arts Competition – in music, speech, drama, dance and traditional folk categories – which, he said, “has seen a 10 per cent increase in the number of entries over the previous year”.

In addition, the Jamaica Children’s Gospel Song Competition was held last month. The remaining competitions are the World Reggae Dance Championship (to be held on Monday, August 5), the Creative Writing Competition, Visual Arts and the Festival Song Competition.

The Festival Song Competition tends to attract the most public attention of all the contests. Davidson said this year’s competition would not be held in its traditional form, but the public would not miss out on anything. “There will be no void left. The Festival Song Competition for 2013 pays tribute to the JCDC’s 50th anniversary as we will engage members of the public in voting for their favourite festival songs since the competition began in 1966. We hope to use this information to compile an album so that persons will be able to have a treasured part of the Jamaican cultural heritage,” he said.

“Our aim is to bring back a spirit of nostalgia, and this year, we will allow the public to have greater participation in the Festival celebrations, as well as to stir the pride of our nation as we celebrate our 51st year of Independence.”

Abbygaye Dallas (center) 2012 Festival Song winner

Abbygaye Dallas (center) 2012 Festival Song winner

Last year, the JCDC received some negative press when it was disclosed that the winner of the Festival Song Competition, Abbygaye Dallas, and runners-up Tashina McKenzie and O’Neil Scott did not receive their prize money at the slated time. However, Davidson said the JCDC was not negatively affected.

“It’s regrettable that there was a delay, but the JCDC remains an important part of national life as it continues to unearth the talents of the Jamaican people,” he said.

Moving forward, he said the public can expect “high-quality celebrations across the island during the Festival period, with added flair throughout the rest of the year”.


This extends to Jamaicans abroad. “We expect the usual support of Jamaicans at home and in the diaspora as we lead the country in its national commemorative events and through the programmes of the JCDC that continue to positively impact Jamaicans from all walks of life,” Davidson said.


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