Finalists in the Jamaica Festival Song Competition, an annual competition that seeks to promote Jamaican culture and inspiration are rowing over the seasoned artistes being entered into the competition without auditioning.
The Jamaica Festival Song, which was once known as the Independence Festival Song Competition, has been held every year since 1966 and is usually focused on aspiring artistes, songwriters, and producers who try to create a new song that is reflective of the spirit of the Jamaican people. The winning song is featured at the annual celebration of Jamaica’s Emancipation and Independence, on August 6th, and is expected to inspire a feeling of celebration about Jamaica or Jamaican Culture.
This year, it seems, the revamped version of the competition has seen many stalwarts of reggae and dancehall entering the competition.
In a letter to the Gleaner today, Paris Taylor, says the rules of the competition has changed “to the detriment of the amateurs who should have been the basis of the competition. All of a sudden seasoned artistes are on the prowl in the competition,” the writer says.
The 10 finalists in the competition were announced yesterday June 16 by Minister of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport, Olivia Grange and reportedly includes Buju Banton, Freddie McGregor, Toots & The Maytals, Papa Michigan and LUST as well as newcomers trying to make their mark in the industry like Xtra Bigg, Radix OD and Sakina.
The letter writer posed a question to Minister Grange, who formerly managed Bounty Killer, and asking her to disclose “where and when did just one of them auditioned?” The writer added that there were four auditions but at none of the auditions did any of the seasoned artistes present themselves.
She said bypassing the process is unfair to those who’ve spent money and time to prepare their songs, “These thousands of Jamaicans must get a voice. By any stretch of the imagination this is wrong, very wrong.”
Paris added that she spent around $100,000 record, mix and master a song and entered the competition along with a female friend, and the disregard for personal resources is unacceptable “the Festival commissioners say they were overwhelmed with the number of persons who entered this year. If one is to add up the number of persons who entered the competition and calculate it by $70,000, you would have been amazed to know how much the common man has lost.”
Meanwhile, the contestant thinks the decision by the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission is cronyism and called on the Auditor General Pamela Monroe Ellis or Public Defender Arlene Harrison Henry to intervene and investigate “this series of wrongdoings of the state agency against the grassroots of our society. I don’t want them to insult us by saying they are trying to professionalize the competition at the expense of people, who are almost in abject poverty, using their last dollar,” she charged.
McGregor, who has confirmed his participation in the festival a week ago, noted that he and his peers were simply responding to a call from Minster Grange whose intention is to rebrand and revitalize the Song Competition.
Speaking with the Jamaica Gleaner McGregor said “We are doing this in the spirit of trying to assist with lifting the competition and helping to move it forward. At the interview McGregor disclosed that the name of his song was Tun up di sound and he is predicting “I am going to win…it’s all in the spirit of camaraderie, and somebody has to win. Plus I have some interesting plans for my prize if I win.”
Papa Michigan, one part of the famous 90’s duo Michigan and Smiley also spoke with the Gleaner. He said: “A friend told me to enter, but I was not enthusiastic. On the last day for submissions, I said I would take the challenge and wrote something on a riddim I had, hoping that if they liked it I would redo it. I wrote about the pandemic, but the committee wasn’t buying it, so I decided to have fun with it and wrote about dance to the festival. I’m glad I could contribute to my country’s heritage.”
Minister Grange revealed through a press release that this year’s competition would be held virtually and that the public would decide the winner.
“The Jamaica Cultural Development Commission, which runs the competition, is finalising arrangements with telecommunications service providers on the mechanism to enable the public to select the winning song. When that song is selected about mid-July, there is enough time leading up to the Independence celebration for the song to be known — we want to hear that song on the lips of every man, woman and child,” said Minister Grange.
The top team including the producer, the writer and the singer will share the winning prize of three million dollars for the winning song. Other prizes are to be announced.