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A Rich Tapestry of Jamaican Folk Music - Ja Folk Singers

Jamaica Folk Singers delve into Revival

Songs of work, play, love, and sadness made up the repertoire of the 45th concert season of The Jamaica Folk Singers. The season took place at the Little Theatre, Tom Redcam Avenue, September 14 -16, 2012. The songs selected highlighted the breadth of Jamaican folk music and its ability to paint an interesting tapestry of Jamaican life, going into the roots of the nation's culture.

The Jamaican Folk Singers have always selected a musical aesthetic which combined the Afro-Jamaican rhythms and lyrics with a more Eurocentric style of singing. Nonetheless, the songs selected certainly allowed them to showcase a deep and textured view of Jamaican folk life and the nuances brought out in several of the songs were often interesting.

The performance was Jamaica Folk Singers Deliver a Work Songseparated into five categories according to the type of songs. The opening segment, ‘Work’ provided a reasonably tame opening to the concert. However it receives some kudos for being was a clever tribute to the work of the group’s founder Dr. Olive Lewin, who collected much of the material in their repertoire. Her work was dramatized by the performance, and ao as the singers delved into work songs such as ‘Mi Cahfi’, ‘Joe Linah’ and ‘Missa Potta’ they dramatised a how Dr. Lewin would have inserted herself amongst the villagers, becoming a part of their community while all the time documenting the music that was a pivotal part of their daily lives.

Though dubiously named ‘Heritage’ (suggesting that the rest of the music belonged to some area outside the scope of Jamaican heritage), the second segment highlighted the importance of folk music for documenting history. This segment included songs about slavery - ‘Slave Lament’ and ‘Tambo’, as well as pieces highlighting the 1865 Morant Bay Rebellion - ‘Bogle’ and ‘Monklan’.

The segment ‘Set Up’ brought much needed humour and drama to the concert. Though named for a Ni Night or Set Up thThe market is a space for commerce and socializinge songs combined both from funerals and Set Up. Indeed both the costuming and the choreography for the seemed more funereal, as the sad nature of the several of the songs belied the Ni Night’s tendency to celebrate life through levity and humour, rather than mourn the death.

It was however, the segments in the second half that truly lifted the performance. ‘Market’ highlighted the importance of the market for commerce as well as socialization. The music in the segment included ‘Solas Market’, ‘Fi Mi Love’, Coconut Tree. The market songs were wonderfully woven together with links providing the relevant segue and bringing additional touches of humour. Many of the songs are built on the Jamaican keen sense of humour and penchant for satire, but some also delved into the wider emotional landscape. Interestingly, in one of the few quesitonable arrangements, the musical director, Christine McDonald Nevers, chose to dramatize ‘Fan Mi Soljah Man’ as celebratory, although the song’s lyrics are the very opposite. On the other hand ‘Lizzy Jane’ was wonderfully portrayed, providing both humour and sadness. Similarly, ‘Linstead Market’ delivered sadness and poignancy and was dramatically heightened through a mash-up with ‘Eva’, a mother's lament about her wayward daughter.

Interestingly, the 'Market' segment extended beyond the folk songs, as a few popular festival songs were added to the repertoire. As such, 'Bam Bam, 'Cherry Oh Baby' and 'Land of My Birth' were included in this segment. Unfortunately, they were unceremoniously squashed between ‘Jubalee’ and ‘Mango Time’ therefore breaking the otherwise commendable thematic flow.

A touch of sadness is not out of place in the folk repertoireThe ‘Revival’ segment brought the evening to a energetic close. The segment, which dramatized the meeting of three Revival bands included songs such as ‘Wash an be Clean’ and ‘Suppose We Doan Meet' culminating with a rousing mash-up of 'Daniel Saw the Wheel' and ‘Keyman'.

Overall, the evening benefited from choreography by Paul Shaw as well as lighting design by Franklin ‘Chappy’ St. Juste. The singers were ably accompanied by a group of talented musicians’ whose delivery of instrumental versions of select festival songs was one of the highlights of the performance.