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What's popular and what's not

Toots Hibbert - FILE

A LONG TIME ago, I was sitting with some friends when a young lady passed by and one person pointed out that she had come second in that year's Miss Jamaica World competition. Another said "dat! So yu mean if Miss Jamaica bruck har foot a dat a go represent we? Dis worse dan when Stop and Go win festival!"

The young lady was not amused, of course, but the comparison underscored the depths to which the then Festival Song Competition (now Popular Song Contest) had sunk in public opinion.

I went to the launch of the album containing the songs of this year's finalists, entitled Buss Out, and when I heard guest speaker Clyde McKenzie speak about the divergence between what was considered festival and what was considered popular, it struck me that you cannot dictate culture.

Genuinely popular

The festival songs of Toots and Eric Donaldson (to a point) were genuinely popular, but after a time there was no way that a mento sound could be superimposed on a culture in tune to Yellowman and Admiral Bailey. There would have been, of course, the considerations about what is 'decent' - but would Shaving Cream have won a festival song contest?

I watched the clips of the videos that were shown and listened to the songs (briefly). I heard a couple genuine dancehall tracks and lots of roots reggae - none that jumped out at me, but I did not hear anything that sounded like it should be played by four men in wide brimmed straw hats.

I also noticed that there were a good number of Rastafarians - not overwhelming, but very much present. This changes the tone of things immensely.

I do hope the competition (with bMobile as the major sponsor) makes a major impact. And I do hope that it does get into the mainstream of popular culture. However, there is a fine line between attempted dictatorship and holding a standard. Dictating culture has, obviously, failed. Standards now, should not be relaxed.

I am always mindful of the Tastee Talent Contest when discussing these ventures. They have struck the balance and I note that they are a continuing sponsor of the contest. I do wonder if their advice is being sought in the matter.

A few days ago I saw Toots Hibbert in fine fettle at Emancipation Park, 39 years after he won the first festival with Bam Bam'. I can only hope that 40 years from now my children will be able to take their children to see someone with similar roots in Jamaican music.

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May 20, 2005

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