It was Monday morning at the British High Commission, and on the lawn some guests were getting a little restive under a tent. Calming music played, however, as High Commissioner Asif Ahmad and his staff waited politely in ones and twos for the Minister to arrive. A large banner in red, white and blue – “Welcome to GREAT Britain and Northern Ireland” – stood under the trees. The morning had decided to warm up a bit.
As we were still waiting, the High Commissioner decided to get things started, and talked about the sponsors – the main one being the Jamaica National Group, which already has a presence in the UK and is seeking to expand its footprint there. Other sponsors were National Bakery, Rainforest Seafoods, Jaguar, Land Rover, BluePrint, Sandals and British Airways.
We learned from High Commissioner Ahmad, who has a background in banking, that he has a taste for Jaguars, Range Rovers, and other luxury cars. We also learned that this is an initiative of the UK Department for International Trade, represented in Jamaica by Racquel Peters. Apart from the upcoming trade fair, Jamaicans are invited to enter a singing competition called Songs of the UK in JA. You have to make a video of yourself singing a song written in the UK. It must be a British song – by the Beatles, perhaps, or Elton John, or whoever the latest pop sensations are. Anybody and everybody can enter – anyone over 18 – and details are in the link on the UK in Jamaica Facebook page. Deadline is 11:59 p.m. on Friday February 16th. Yes, very little time, so quick – get your singing act together and send in your video today! The prize: A trip for two to the UK. The winner will perform on stage at the trade fair and could be “the next big thing” in the UK, suggests Mr. Ahmad.
Since this was a press launch, the High Commissioner gave us a quick run-through of the UK-Jamaica relationship, as it stands. The British are making an effort to “demystify” the UK for Jamaicans (is there a sense that the connections have become more tenuous, in recent years?) and they are also “all about people” (as diplomacy is). There are 800,000 Jamaicans living in the UK and 200,000 Britons living in Jamaica, so there is a total of one million to work with. Moving swiftly on to immigration issues, Mr. Ahmad informed us that 86 per cent of visa applications to the UK in Jamaica are approved (contrary, perhaps, to popular belief). Moving on again to business links, he told us that some British companies are returning to Jamaica (for example, Shell); and that a major focus is on nurturing small and medium enterprises – the “real gold,” as he described them. Moving along once more, this time to culture, he cited the popularity of reggae music in the UK, suggesting that the UK had given our musical genre a boost to become a “global phenomenon.” Then there is Usain Bolt, of course, and the spirit of Jamaica that you could “bottle and sell” during the World Athletics Championships. And then, there is food.
So, what are the UK’s priorities in Jamaica? Climate change and disaster preparedness is one; and crime, justice and security, which has always been one.
Now, another interesting point to note was the High Commissioner’s reference to a waste to energy project, which appears to be a joint project with the Chinese. An enterprise team has been working on this idea since 2016 and it seems that at last something is on the horizon. This is welcome news.
Minister of Gender, Culture and Sport Olivia Grange spoke of UK-Jamaican cultural links, including Notting Hill Carnival (which I always thought was founded by Trinidadians?). She also mentioned that this year is the 70th anniversary of the Windrush, the ship which brought 492 passengers and one stowaway on a voyage from Jamaica via Trinidad to London in 1948. It departed Kingston May 27 and arrived in London on June 22. I understand there will be a commemorative event at the docks downtown in May.
After Kevin Clarke had explained all the rules of the singing contest to us, it was time to retire under another tent for refreshments. By that time, the birds were singing fit to burst, and I was hungry.
Good luck to the singers! If I could actually sing, I think I would do a wicked version of this one…