A spectacular Independence celebration - We will survive Sahara dust and COVID-19 – Grange
The Grand Gala, that annual feel-good, makes-you-proud-to-be-Jamaican curtain closer of the island’s Emancipation and Independence celebrations, came under attack from COVID-19, but the virus was clearly no match for the resilience of the Jamaican people. The spirit of independence soared as the Ministry of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport, in true Jamaican style, “wheel and come again” with a bar-raising Independence Spectacular.
On display at the National Arena in Kingston was all the vibrancy, glitz and glamour usually associated with the gala, even as this year’s event was scaled down to a two-hour, mask-wearing “kip yuh distance cultural kaleidoscope”. With a distinct pantomime flavour, powered by flamboyant dancers, along with performances from some of Jamaica’s best entertainers, and expertly guided by Oliver Samuels, Karen Harriott, Ity Ellis and Deon Silvera, the Spectacular had viewers engrossed in a post-Independence journey through the decades.
“COVID mek we run outta the National Stadium, but a we seh tun yuh han’ mek fashion, a we seh we lickle but we tallawah,” Silvera declared at the start of the programme that was viewed by thousands at home and throughout the diaspora.
REASONS TO CELEBRATE
The early Independence street dances under the landmark Half-Way Tree clock; the island’s first Miss World, Carol Joan Crawford; Emperor Haile Selassie and Nelson Mandela’s separate visits to Jamaica; the music of superproducers Sir Coxsone, King Tubby’s, Arrows and more, were all parts of the reason to celebrate. On another note, however, were the times when Jamaica weathered literal storms. In 1973, “Gilda tear dung bridge and wash whey house, Hurricane Carmen wipe out the banana in ’74 and June flood of ’75 lick we fi six”. With a straight face and, releasing a floodgate of shade, Ity declared, “Is like the universe decide seh America nuh more than we, and so it gave us our own personal Watergate.”
Among the highlights of the evening, which got off to a high-energy start from gala favourite, Minister Kukudoo, were the Jamaica Reggae Icon Award presentations to three outstanding artistes, Ken Boothe, Marcia Griffiths and Shaggy. Immaculately attired, the smooth and suave Ken Boothe graced the stage and showed his appreciation in speech and in song. Reggae Queen Marcia Griffiths was bold, representing in Jamaican colours with a long black jacket, matching pants, yellow shirt blouse all pulled together with a Jamaican necktie and a hat ribboned in the island’s colours. Gracious as always, the singer delivered classic I Shall Sing and flicked the switch for the megahit, Electric Boogie. Mr Boombastic, Shaggy, opted for a more casually elegant look, and while the platinum-selling Grammy winner and philanthropist didn’t sing any of his hits, his words said it all.
“Thanks to Minister Grange and the people of Jamaica. This culture is the main culture that every other culture pulls from, and has birthed so many genres,” he stated. Shaggy said he was honoured to be in the company of “the other recipients who are stalwarts in this game”.
Performances came from Jamaica Festival Song Competition winner, Buju Banton, who entertained with his winning song, I Am A Jamaican, and Buried Alive, one of the songs from his recently released Upside Down 2020 album. The Independence Spectacular also featured reggae singer, Dre Island, with his hit, We Pray; Sauce Boss, Kemar Highcon; Christopher Martin; Richie Stephens; Tessanne Chin, whose Redemption Song cover hit the mark, and Kevin Downswell. Downswell called his friends Wayne Marshall, Ikaya, Shereita, Beenie Man, Chris Martin, Richie Stephens and Tessanne Chin, to bring the curtains down with the inspiring Stronger Remix.
The Gleaner caught up with Minister of Gender, Culture, Entertainment and Sport Olivia Grange, who was monitoring the event online via her cellphone. On her own page, there were close to 1,000 views. Minister Grange said that the virtual productions which have been presented by the ministry, including the record-breaking Jamaica Festival Song Competition, were fuelled by the creative brilliance of the Jamaican people.
“I’m feeling very good about it,” she said. “I am always very critical of the things I do. I am always saying this could be tighter, it could be better. We assembled a team and we have been able to produce what I would say has been an exciting Jamaica 58 celebration. And although we have promoted it and taken it virtually, it has still excited the people. Jamaica is blessed with creative people, and I am inspired by them. There are times when things look impossible, but we do what has to be done. These performers gave from their heart, we could not pay them for all they have done, and we express our gratitude to them,” Minister Grange told The Gleaner.
With the feedback from the livestream being so overwhelming, the minister has promised to keep that aspect of the celebration going forward.
The theme chosen for Independence 2020 was ‘Resilient and Strong … Let’s Celebrate Jamaica ’58 and, among a plethora of quotable quotes which empowered throughout the evening, one which summed it all said, “If our ancestors survived slave castles and the Middle Passage, we will survive Sahara dust and COVID-19.”