Friday, 21 April 2017

RIDDIMS & RHYMES: High-school bands competition unearthing future Bob Marleys and Jimmy Cliffs

PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT: Rehearsal is a key part of the preparation process for these secondary school musicians.

PAUL Graham dreams of becoming a member of the backing band for the likes of Chronixx and Tarrus Riley and accompanying them on tour, taking reggae to the global masses. He’s getting terrific practice as a member of the Bog Walk High School band, the top school band heading into next week’s grand finals of Jamaica’s Best School Bands competition, an annual showcase for talented teen musicians and vocalists, now in its fourth year.

“I like this competition because I’m getting to make use of my talent and I get to play roots music, which is my favourite kind of music,” shares a beaming Graham, 16, who plays the bass guitar. “In the future, I want to play for artistes and go on tour and hopefully study music in college.” 

TALLAWAH hears multiple variations of his story on this warm and extremely busy Sunday night inside the Vera Moodie Concert Hall at the Edna Manley College, where the judges are checking out performances from this year’s crop of semi-finalists to select the six schools that will view for top honours at the finals on April 23.

DaWayne Wilson, the 18-year-old leader of the Cross Keys High contingent, clearly has a bright future ahead of him. Extremely tall with the vocal and songwriting skills to match, he’s been penning tunes for the past seven years. He may have a hit on his hands with “The Struggles,” a deeply resonant riff on today’s harsh socio-economic realities and the resilience it takes to pull through.

“I would say it has been an extremely wonderful experience so far. We really want to win the competition this year. We’ve been rehearsing every day after school. Some of our instruments got stolen recently, and that set us back a bit, so the song is also reflecting what we’ve been going through,” says Wilson, who is already using the stage name Prince Touriss.

In performance, he pours enormous feeling into his vocals, using his powerful tenor to awesome effect and working up a sweat. Alongside his five bandmates, they treat the audience to covers of popular hits by Bob Marley and Tessanne Chin, among others. “Music definitely chose me. I can’t think of anything else that I enjoy more,” says the Manchester native, a self-admitted fan of Romain Virgo, Sanchez and Chris Martin. “If we win the competition, it would be a great motivator for us and the school.” 

Mr. Andre Porter, chaperone of the Cross Keys gang, is well aware that his kids are beyond talented and vows to continue playing his key role as mentor. “When I first heard them perform “The Struggles”, I knew right away that it was something that deserved to be recorded,” he tells TALLAWAH. “At Cross Keys, we encourage the creativity and we use the medium of the school band and the school choir to encourage the youngsters to showcase their talent and bring glory to the school.” 

Delevante Naraga wants to make his family proud. “I started playing the drums at my church, but now I play both the drums and percussion for the school band,” shares the 15-year-old Claude McKay High student. “My family and church members encourage me all the time to continue. I want to play drums professionally.” 

Dr. Sonjah Stanley Niaah, Director of the UWI-based Institute of Caribbean Studies, hopes the competition will continue playing its important role for many years to come. “Following the great success and inspiration of bands such as Raging Fyah and NoMaddz and established bands like Third World, we stand to benefit from the encouragement of this competition,” she tells TALLAWAH. “As a country using music as one of our chief export products, we must solidify our place as a centre for the arts, and a high school competition like this will go a long way in helping that vision.”

Competition producer and founder Rayven Amani wholeheartedly agrees. “It is up to us as adults to unearth and nurture these young talents, not just vocally,” she notes. “There are so many talented children across Jamaica, and the future of the music industry is dependent on them. That’s one of the reasons I started this competition, and we hope to keep it going for the years to come.”

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