It was 1966, four years after the island had declared its Independence from Great Britain and things were not going well for the new Nation, especially at the social level. Most of the island’s population were caught in the midst of a significant economic and social struggle and had begun to show their disillusionment with the idea of being Independent. In an effort at raising the spirit of the island’s majority Black population, the national Popular Song Contest (known colloquially as the Festival Song Contest) was contrived. The inaugural contest was won by Toots & the Maytals, with their entry “Bam Bam” a song that in the years following, served as a clarion call for the island’s music after being sampled by artistes the world over not to mention its inclusion in multiple international movie and television scores. The National Song or Festival Song Contest (whichever you prefer) has had its bumps in the road over the years but its contribution as far as raising the visibility of participants cannot be questioned. At its creation, the intent was geared at reflecting Jamaican culture, and in the process, it has unearthed talents such as Eric Donaldson, Roy Rayon, Desmond Dekker, and Stanley Beckford (to name a few). Of course, there were a few years (2013 and 2017) when no competition was held. To my way of thinking, this should never have happened but as a people we have become so docile and neutered that we have lost connection with the value of our own Institutions and so we allow things like these to slide. With that also slides our National Pride.
Music is the one Jamaican institution that has been built by ordinary folks, so much so that we have gifted eight different genres of music to the world. We have through our music, succeeded in exporting our culture around the world, to the extent that we have influenced the creation of American Hip-Hop, Latin American Reggaeton, as well as impacted the turn of the century’s iteration of Afro Beats. It underscores the argument that for a country with a population of just about three million people, Jamaica punches significantly above its weight and sits among the top ten most culturally influential countries in the world. It is for reasons such as this that the Ministry of Culture’s declaration that there will be no Popular Song Contest this our 60th year, our Diamond Jubilee celebration of Independence must be seen as a National Disgrace. Like Christmas, Easter, the Olympic Games and World Cup football, we knew 5,10, 20 years ago that 2022 is Jamaica’s Diamond Jubilee year. 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 strategizing, to seek to use the occasion to mobilize Jamaicans from all walks of life to become involved. Here was an opportunity to demonstrate the value of Jamaica’s music, and to use the Song Contest which provides the best opportunity to engage Jamaicans at the local community level. We ought to have built a song campaign around Jamaica’s 60 years, indicating to songwriters and musicians the kind of themes that would be sung by generations of Jamaicans to come. We had years in which to put this together and did virtually nothing. The suggestion by the Minister and the minions who have embraced the argument about the quality of the entries is in my opinion an argument laced with crap. This was an opportunity to mobilize the Jamaican creative community, and the people charged with that responsibility have failed the millions of Jamaicans at home and abroad, miserably. I am hard-pressed to believe that we could not have generated positive song material from a country of creatives that have given not one, but eight genres of music to the world. It is indeed easy to sit on our laurels and criticize the music, condemn the output. What we need to be honest about is the directives that were given; the leadership that had been provided. Here was an opportunity to mobilize and motivate Jamaicans from all walks of life to get on board, and we failed. This is a failure of Leadership, pure and simple, and it is a National Disgrace.