Celebrating Jamaica’s 50th Year of Independence

Yesterday I sat down to share my thoughts about the celebrations for Jamaica’s 50th year of independence. Despite saving throughout, Word crashed as I was about to print for a final edit. When I restarted Word and opened the file the ready-for-editing version wasn’t there and Auto Recovery couldn’t open its last saved version. So I was annoyed and decided to step away from the computer and restart today; I still had my notes and the framework in mind. Make of that what you will. These were my original opening paragraphs:

It’s with some trepidation that I publish this post about Jamaica’s 50th Independence celebrations, but the plain truth is that I am not feeling the heart and soul of a nation. Something seems not quite right with these celebrations. Though my Twitter timelines and Facebook and personal interactions are not representative, I am sensing a distinct lack of excitement for and engagement in these celebrations. I’ve seen more excitement and awareness about the spats between Babsy and Lisa about the celebrations than I have about any actual celebrations. And the blame game between these two ladies is moot because both governments are responsible since these celebrations should have begun August 7, 2011.

Perhaps this is symptomatic of the state that Jamaicais in: broke and listless despite our talent + rich, celebrated, and famous traditions, culture, and people. I mean there’s no getting around it since the recent budget presentation began with lots of discussion of debt servicing ($0.79 from every dollar I think was the figure), and that presentation is followed by lots of consternation by needed but the wrong sort of new taxes. Some may say this begs the question of what exactly do we have to celebrate if this is what independence has brought but I reject with that line of argument even in my state of underwhelmment. I’m so discombobulated that I’m making up words à la LA Lewis. O dear.

Now I don’t feel any trepidation writing and publishing this. Now I’m just annoyed and a little sad.

About 5 hours ago I heard the official Jamaica50 song “On A Mission” (listen for yourself here) and what I was going to recapture this evening shifted a little. Listen I’m not going to criticize too harshly because I respect the artists who, I expect, volunteered their time and talents to help celebrate. I respect the effort that I expect went into organizing everything including the simulcast. The lyrics are also quite powerful and I like them. Big up and I appreciate it. But the actual song, the totally of the song, the feel of the song, the style of the song…left me feeling…sad. As I rode the train home I realized that I also felt ashamed. I didn’tfeel any surge of pride or excitement or other good feeling during the song or when finished. Not one goosebump. One friend wondered how, as the birthplace of Reggae music, this could really be offered as the official song of 50th independence celebrations? Yes, I was similarly disappointed. I wasn’t expecting a Mento, Ska, or even a Reggae tune. I expected a Reggae influence. I expected something more contemporary leaning toward Dancehall. I did not expect a wannabe Euro-pop “island pop” tinged tune. I did not expect to at first wonder whether this was a Soca tune (because when I tuned in to MegaJamz and heard the song I thought, “O good I didn’t miss it. Once this song is finished it should be next”). I did not expect to listen again and hear things that reminded me of Bob Sinclar and Diplo. I did not expect a song that made me wonder when The Rock had become Ibiza. I expected something that represented Jamaican culture, not some fusion of things that are not ours but only things that we enjoy.

The song will grow on people though because it has the necessary elements to be catchy and to make you want to bounce in the club. Nice and poppy. Heck it might even grow on me and I may bob my head to it as I clean but it will never, for me, represent an accurate or appropriate celebration of my country’s 50th year of independence. I think that it will be memorable for the wrong reasons.

I wonder about the anthropological and sociological analyses of this that will one day be done and wonder if they’ll arrive at the same conclusion I have: that Jamaica has lost its culture. To my mind we have disowned what is ours and dashed to pick up something else…while others are gleefully picking up our culture, embracing it, mastering it, and exploiting it. There’s been no evolution of sound so much as there has been a rejection of a solid, famous foundation in favour of God knows what.

Symptomatic I tell you.

So back to what prompted me to write this post in the first place: my observation of lacklustre celebrations and engagements surrounding Jamaica50. We have decided to celebrate this occasion; I don’t see it happening with other countries that became independent in 1962. We’ve made a big deal out of this. Why hasn’t this been spectacular?

I cannot help but think about the Diamond Jubilee celebrations happening for Queenie and take note of the way in which those were handled. The excitement surrounding the celebration of an all but dead institution beats the excitement surrounding a momentous, usually one-time, occasion in country’s existence? I am not amused.

And to be clear, these celebrations transcend politics so I don’t give two kicks about what happened in December 2011. I’ve looked at the Jamaica50 website (still under construction apparently) and though I first (shamefully) missed the downloadable calendar of events, I was still underwhelmed by what I saw. There is a JIS-hosted website but it’s not complete either; some links and functions don’t work, articles and information are old, and the information in the parish profiles is…weird? The profiles read like (FD) investment brochures…yeah, it’s weird. I’ve now scrolled through the local and Diaspora lists of events and, well, I’m wondering who put this together and who approved it. Where’s the vision? Where’s the excitement? Where’s the energy? I’m seeing a list of events dominated by annual events, events tied to some other notable calendar day, or events that were put on the list simply because they happen during the 50th year. Is the annual Penn Relays really a Jamaica50 event? True we’re well known there and received special recognition this year but that’s hardly worthy of being on the list of Jamaica50 events. The World Annual Domino Championship is listed. Really? Like the Olympics are coinciding with our 50th year but it’s not a Jamaica50 event. Nevertheless we can create a big deal around it by highlighting Instead of just plopping events on a list and calling it Jamaica50 events, why not showcase the highpoints related to Jamaican involvement in these events? That could have been and can be done in the days leading up and during the event. Ride the symbolism of the 50th and create 50 Golden Moments: tell Jamaican history and help to build a sense of pride for this particular independence celebration + build some momentum leading up to and for after August 6, 2012. Take this even further and produce daily Golden Moments for Twitter, Facebook, radio, television, and print; highlight stories, events, milestones, general knowledge about the pre and post colonial Jamaica. In an inspiring and factual way tell the story of independence, the feelings surrounding it, the mood of the country, the milestones achieved thereafter. Use the official Jamaica50 Twitter account better. Have companies been doing things? Has the UWI? No, please, I really want to know if I have been missing something?

I want to be bombarded with positive, good information about Jamaica’s 50th! I am greedy forJamaica! What are we going to do, make up for this in the 51st year???

Still, that greed is tempered by that stark reality that we are broke and therefore cannot be extravagant. It seems dumb to have celebrations that increases our indebtedness. I would have been OK with small events that celebrate us and of our country.

Because simple need not mean ordinary, I would have been OK with a series of small community events – like dance classes, visiting historic sites, community exhibits – highlighted by larger events like fireworks displays, concerts, church services, fairs. Theme months even? Simultaneous island-wide events? Dig into the archives of the JBC or whoever else for old programming, organize thematically and broadcast a series of programs on Jamaican history & culture; have community watch nights. Hill & Gully Ride seems as good a place as any to start. I would have loved to see the focus be firmly on celebrating our culture and history alongside events that are forward looking like seminars, workshops, and working on our schools, giving children a safe & bright space to learn, play, interact; working on our parks and other common spaces so that we all have places to retreat to. Likkle white lime and trash clean up and bushing. Fully engage the population.

I would have loved to see events that use our strong oral tradition. There are so many storytellers among us. Not all are official authors or poets or writers but our family members, neighbours, friends hold a lot of Jamaican history in their memories. So many Jamaicans alive around the time of independence are still alive and, I think, it would have been fantastic to mine their memories for reminiscences. They are an asset. A treasure even and, generally, we don’t acknowledge and take advantage of this enough. Is this kind of thing happening? Anywhere?

Engagement in activities that 50 years later people could remember fondly and feel proud for having participated. That’s what I would have enjoyed seeing leading up to August 6, 2012.

But you know, I think that this is partly our fault. Once again, we’ve left this up to the government…and it really isn’t all their responsibility. For me it’s another example of depending on some central authority to be the only leader on things, completely rejecting our own personal responsibility and abilities. We didn’t take ownership over something that is important and affects us all.

So here it is June 15, 2012…51 days before August 6, 2012 and I have yet to feel the heart and soul of the nation (well, except when Usain, Asafa, Shelly-Ann, VCB, et al run)…and while I hope that it’s just me and that I’ve been unobservant and disconnected I fear that is not the case….

But there is still time so I hope that we can make the best of it and really show our heart and soul.

16 Responses to “Celebrating Jamaica’s 50th Year of Independence”
  1. Sharifa says:

    The nail has been hit on the head. I have been planning to be in Jamaica this summer for years – I just knew it would be out of this world. I am proud of my little home – the people, the music, the food, and the beauty. I want to celebrate Jamaica in a meaningful way. I want to share Jamaica with my younger cousins, sibs, and family members who though they live there, stare blankly when I say Merlene Ottey or Freddie McGregor or Asham…

    Oh and that song? I enjoyed the sections that were rapped/DJ pieces – made me wanna throw off my sheets and go yes! That’s us with our bright, beautiful, & talented people. I like the selection of artists, but I hope there’s another song coming…something that will make me so proud I want to replace Jamaica Land of Beauty.

  2. petchary says:

    CCJ, as you know I am not Jamaican-born but having lived here for 24 years now I feel I have a stake… I absolutely and totally agree with you! The song is symptomatic of this country’s loss of direction. We want something to make our hearts swell with pride! I shared your blog post on a LinkedIn page (LinkIn Jamaica, it’s very good and we have had some deep discussions). I would also like to reblog it today on my blog (petchary.wordpress.com) as I have touched on this issue in past comments. Is that OK? WELL SAID. You are absolutely spot on!

    • Thanks for reading & reblogging. I really don’t understand or like what’s going on in Jamaica. This song is just a symptom of much larger issues that span culture to economy to education. Everything crash!

  3. eof737 says:

    My blog buddy Petchary encouraged me to checkout your post and I did listen to the song as well… I have to say I agree with you. As a Jamaica loving sister from the African continent, I agree we should do everything in our power to promote and maintain our cultures; music, foods, fashion and such. Even as we embrace things from elsewhere, we need to appreciate and cultivate our own. I grew up in London on reggae and ska and the Mission song, while lovely, left me saying what Yorkwin (who uploaded the song) said. “I just wished it sounded more MAJESTIC.”
    Good bless Jamaica!

  4. djmillerja says:

    Speaking of the spats………the slogan was also changed when the govt changed…it’s not longer feel the heart and soul etc it is now “nation on a mission”. I have issues with the lack of continuity, it could have been much better handled, which I’ll also be addressing in a upcoming post. I love your point about how the celebrations need not be big and expensive to be meaningful.

  5. petchary says:

    I’m also quoting from Dionne on FB, who explains it thus: The previous government commissioned a Jamaica 50 song, which was produced by Mikey Bennett called “find the Flag” – you can find it on youtube – with 15 top drawer artistes including Marcia Griffiths John Holt Konsens Agent Sasko etc. The govt. changed. The new folks in charge said they saw no documentation that the song had been commissioned. Mikey Bennet says this is because he is used to working based on word of mouth agreements and that there were disagreements over cost until he and the artistes told the Ministry that the song would be free of cost to the country. This also had not yet been put in writing although he says it was communicated verbally. His publisher was working on the agreement to send to the govt which would outline all the formalities. As I said, the govt. changed. Apparently the fact that the song had been presented to the country at an official function and agreed to by the previous govt didn’t count. They shelved the song.

    • Thanks Petchary. I’ve just now read Dionne’s own blogpost, which mentions this point & expands on the issue of planning continuity between the administrations. The latter having been woeful.

  6. As usual my darling friend, you have hit the nail on the head. You\’ve eloquently said what many have left unsaid. Jamaica 50 was supposed to be (in my eyes) big, bold and just filled with brilliant moments. I absolutely love your ideas about having community based events… now why couldn\’t someone at home think of that? Or, if they already thought of it… why haven\’t they implemented it? Anyway, I could go on and on… but I won\’t.

    Well said my dear.

Check out what others are saying...
  1. […] Small but telling to me was her mismanagement of last year’s Jamaica 50 celebrations; the song turned out to be the tip of proverbial iceberg. Perhaps it should be no surprise then that the […]

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