PROUD AND FREE: A kaleidoscope of vibrant colour added to the sparkling musical celebration.
“One good thing about music,” Bob Marley famously observed, “when it hits you feel no pain.” What we felt while watching the spectacle of the 2015 Independence Grand Gala unfold inside the National Stadium on Thursday was sheer tuneful pleasure and immense island pride, as the rich diversity of Jamaica’s musical heritage was showcased and paraded, with much pomp and pageantry, for all the world to see. Indeed. Triumphant, proud and free: Jamaica 53.
Patriotic Jamaicans live for festivities like the annual Grand Gala. On Thursday, a sea of black, green and gold brought the Stadium to roaring life, as performer after performer graced the stage to add their voice to the sparkling musical celebration, complete with marching bands, dance groups, vrooming motorbikes and a palette of kaleidoscopic colour.
The NDTC Singers led the way, opening the performances with a suite of lively folk gems and traditional Jamaican tunes that had the place awash with nostalgia and consistently melismatic melodies. And speaking of nostalgia, Festival Song titans Eric Donaldson and Roy Rayon kicked things up a notch with classics from their individual repertoires that had the desired effect: a mix of fervor and sizzle that sent the home crowd into a tizzy. The newest addition to their dynasty, Lee-Roy ‘Ancient Priest’ Johnson, also got the people in on the act, when he breezed through his triumphant 2015 anthem “Celebration Time,” an ideal selection for the occasion.
We got our praise on with Kevin Downswell, grooved to the magical strains of a 130-voice choir of teens and tweens, and went back in the day with Noddy Virtue and Lloyd Lovindeer. For the dancehall lovers in the house, I-Octane was in unflappable form, delivering a handful of the hits for which he’s earned renown in local and international circles.
And then there’s the legendary Fab 5, the band on the stand and an enduring symbol of longevity and commitment to excellence that kept the party vibes on a high. Grub Cooper and his merry gang of melody-makers don’t lack for accolades, but it was a gesture befitting the national celebrations when Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller and Culture minister Lisa Hanna paused the festivities to honour the band with a commemorative plaque of gratitude and appreciation. And then, the music played on.