Sunday Songs

This week’s post will be somewhat abbreviated. I am in study mode – I am taking the Diplôme d’Etudes en Langue Française Niveau B1 (DELF exam level B1) in French. I have been preparing at the Alliance Francaise de la Jamaique and would highly recommend their classes. The summer classes – focusing on conversational French – will start soon (see link below) so why don’t you get Frenchified, now! Anyway – exam on Tuesday morning and I am truly out of the habit of studying, revising etc. It is an effort; my attention span seems to have shortened considerably since my student days, which is worrying. Wish me luck!

I called this post “Sunday Songs” because for the entire week (and the previous one) much media and public attention has been focused on a song (or songs). What song are we singing now? Well, your guess is as good as mine. Confusion and contention surrounds the issue of the “Jamaica 50″ official song, intended to raise our spirits and uplift our hearts as we celebrate our half century of independence. The traditional media has been trying to interpret the back-tracking, denials, confirmations and the ultimately contradictory statements emanating from the halls of government. In the background, there has been a ever-louder chorus of disapproval, recrimination and regret in the social media and among local bloggers (see links below), on talk shows, letters to the editor, vox pops and other outlets. Wails of “Oh, why can’t we just all get along, forget the ‘cass-cass’ and enjoy the celebration?” have been barely heard above the rising tide of anger and disappointment. The Minister in charge, Culture Minister Lisa Hanna, knit her brows prettily and said she didn’t know what all the fuss was over the reported sidelining of an official song written by Mikey Bennett (which has some merit, and a more traditionally “Jamaican” feel to it). That was before more was revealed, online and elsewhere. It appeared, for example, that the “new” song – a highly polished, generic pop song performed by Orville “Shaggy” Burrell (a man not unconnected with the current political administration) – was also launched as the “official” song for Jamaica 50. The video, and the program inviting journalists to the launch, appear to confirm this. The Ministry initially tried to say that there are many and varied Jamaica 50 songs, and that various songs had been approved by the Jamaica 50 Secretariat. The Secretariat, headed by a marketing “whizz kid” called Robert Bryan, then denied that Shaggy’s little ditty was the official song, despite what seemed to be evidence to the contrary. Now it is said that the public may be able to vote for a song. Conversations on this topic tend to begin with, “But…” “No, but…” “Well, didn’t they…” and end with question marks.

Minister of Culture Lisa Hanna
Minister of Culture Lisa Hanna

So, the song celebrating the fiftieth year of our independence seems to be wallowing in a mire of utter confusion. One can use several phrases to describe this state of affairs. Fiasco. Debacle. Mess. Public relations disaster (yes, certainly). I would call it, to use a colorful English term, a right cock-up.

Songs of lamentation at the end of this article, as I had promised to do, every week, as a reminder of Jamaica’s affliction – a fever which never breaks, that of crime and violence.

Moving on, with a sigh…

The People’s National Party administration is again teetering on the edge of a “donation scandal,” this time related to funds that Mr. David Smith, the incarcerated head of the failed Ponzi scheme Olint, says he donated to the party (US$1 million). Let us not forget that Mr. Smith told lawyers that he also donated $2 million to the Jamaica Labour Party, whose representatives become very vague when questioned by journalists. The question is whether the funds should, or will be, returned, as the authorities in the Turks & Caicos Islands have requested. Smith is spending a few years in those islands before moving on for a considerably longer period to the U.S. prison system. The PNP’s chairman Mr. Robert Pickersgill said that there was “no moral obligation” for the PNP to repay the money (I think it is always unfortunate when a political party is linked with the word “moral” in the same headline). With the mood of the Jamaican people as it is, this was altogether a most ill-conceived remark. As one columnist observed caustically, “We allow our MPs and Cabinet ministers to wear the title “honourable” before their names.” 

The week has passed very quickly, and I have been too busy to follow every detail in the news, so I will cut this short as my French books are beckoning me. However, I must note in passing that the following items washed over my head during the week:

  • The Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT) results came out, whereby Jamaican children make the rite of passage from primary to secondary school. There was the usual gnashing of teeth by those parents whose children had not done well enough to go to one of the “traditional high schools” deemed superior (most are in Kingston); and celebrations by those who did well. There were the pompous speeches (or hard-hitting speeches, if you prefer) by our loquacious Minister of Education Mr. Ronald Thwaites, who in time-honored socialist fashion likened the GSAT system to educational “apartheid.” He hit the Sunday Gleaner headlines today with another grand exhortation to poor-performing teachers…“Pack up and go!”  My question, as always, to politicians who tell us (ad nauseam) what needs to be done and what the government would like to do is, “HOW?” followed by “WHEN?” Let us just see if there is any action to follow these many pleasing words (yes, I agree 100 per cent, Mr. Minister, but…)
  • There was an embarrassing episode involving the Attorney General, who was apparently not aware of a legal opinion that had threatened to turn the entire pension reform process on its head. The opinion was withdrawn…
  • There was another fashion show, or another beauty contest; or both, probably.
  • A full-scale price war broke out  between our two battling mobile phone providers – the dominant Digicel, and LIME – who fired the first salvo. The consumer has benefited greatly. Once again, all is vibrant and healthy in the telecoms sector, presided over by the highly focused Minister Phillip Paulwell (whom I seem to heap praises on every week).
  • More good news! The Minister of Finance did some further back-pedaling and jiggling of numbers, and announced that General Consumption Tax would not be imposed on any books at all. Well done to the Book Industry Association of Jamaica, who once again successfully lobbied for the removal of taxes.
Despite the Jamaica 50 imbroglio, the arts scene is looking lively, too…
Mallica "Kapo" Reynolds
Mallica “Kapo” Reynolds, Jamaican revivalist, spiritualist, painter and sculptor (1911-1989). Visit the Kapo Gallery at the National Gallery of Jamaica to get the real “feel” of the man and his work.
KOTE 2012
Kingston on the Edge 2012
  • The annual Kingston on the Edge (KOTE) urban arts festival kicked off in fine style on Friday night, and will continue throughout the week.
  • The National Gallery of Jamaica (a must-visit for those in Kingston) opened its doors today with its refurbished gallery of the sculptures of Mallica “Kapo” Reynolds, and will be open once a month on Sundays from now on with special events.
  • We had the pleasure of attending the opening night of a theater revival – a play called “Stanley, Fay Pularchie and P” written by Gloria Lannaman in the 1970s and set in 1938, the time of major labor unrest in colonial Jamaica. Congratulations to producers Pauline Stone Myrie and Marjorie Whylie (who acted in the original production), director D. Pablo Hoilett and the excellent cast. There are three performances per weekend at the cozy Theatre Place in New Kingston, until August 19, 2012. Lots of humor (I particularly enjoyed one scene in the back of a truck en route to the country); there is drama, and there is no happy ending, really. Great stuff!
Marguerite Newland (left) and Marsha-Ann Hay (right)
Marguerite Newland (left) and Marsha-Ann Hay (right) rehearse a scene from Gloria Lannaman’s “Stanley, Fay Pularchie and P.” Ms. Newland is the only member of the current cast from the original play.

In Memoriam

  • Warren Gyles, 30, in Salt Marsh, Trelawny
  • Shamone Henry, 26, in Golden Grove, St. Ann
  • Joshman Douglas, in Golden Grove, St. Ann
  • Tania Christie Lowe, 37, in Granville, St. James
  • Rohan Simpson, 39, in August Town, St. Andrew
  • Moses Francis in August Town, St. Andrew
  • Two other men in August Town, St. Andrew (names not determined)
  • Narval Powell, 16, in Christian Gardens, Portmore, St. Catherine
  • Unidentified man, found in Penwood Road, Kingston 11
  • Unidentified man killed by police in Temple Hall, St. Andrew
  • Melanie Lindo Thompson, 43, Craig Head, Manchester
  • Anita Watson, 73
I believe that there were others during the week, but the above is a list of those who were murdered in Jamaica since last Sunday. At least one police killing. My deepest condolences to all those family and friends who are mourning their loss.
Well, as the French would say, “Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.”  Which reminds me… I must get back to my books.
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12 thoughts on “Sunday Songs

  1. Thanks for an informative and touching post. (The death toll at the end is alarming). Bonne chance avec votre examen!


      1. It seems there is indeed a war going on, and the sad fact is that everybody’s losing. Just this week, a British co-worker asked me if Jamaica is really as dangerous as everyone says. She also told me that she’d never consider going to JA, because she was informed that tourists can’t leave their resorts. Hm. How do I respond to that? Telling her that “you just need to know where to go and when to go,” sounds as ridiculous in writing as it did when I told her.


      2. I know. I have the same problem when people ask me that question. I sound as if I am making lame excuses. I remember going on holiday to St. Lucia (many years ago now) and overhearing some tourists talking about the best Caribbean islands to visit. They all agreed that they wouldn’t be going to Jamaica, because of the violence. I felt so bad. But to a large extent it’s true – most tourists at the all-inclusives don’t leave the resort, not even on day trips organized by the hotel. Just like a lot of them don’t get off the cruise ships when they dock in Jamaica. What to do…


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