Friday, 23 June 2017

LAND OF MY BIRTH: University Singers’ delightful 2017 season celebrates Jamaica’s rich musical heritage

FEELIN' IRIE: The choir's latest season overflows with songs jammin' to the reggae beat.

THE second half of a University Singers concert season performance is when they really get into their groove, unleashing a torrent of magic and melody (spanning reggae, folk, showtunes) that culminates in a delightful curtain-closer.

We got all that and more taking in their 2017 concert season (currently thrilling audiences at Mona’s Philip Sherlock Centre), an endlessly entertaining show that climaxes with a jubilant and fitting Jamaica 55 tribute.

Among local performing arts troupes who’ve stood the test of time, you can’t find a more patriotic group than the Singers who consistently explore our deep cultural forces in their repertoire with outstanding results. This year, the show overflows with tunes jammin’ to the reggae beat, while reminding us that, when all is said and done, Jamrock is truly a cut above the rest.

While the “Rocksteady Suite” (creatively arranged by Djenne Greaves) tackled romance, loneliness and island fervour via songs from era icons John Holt, Phyllis Dillon and Marcia Griffiths (among others), it was the “Sweet Jamaica Medley” that proved most unforgettable, fusing hits from Tony Rebel, Buju Banton, Popcaan and Damian ‘Junior Gong’ Marley.

Innovative choreography from Kevin Moore and regal dashikis contributed to the appeal of the folk segment, which included, as is customary, notable selections from the Noel Dexter songbook (“Fan Mi Solja Man,” “Dis Long Tim Gyal,” “Tief Tek Over Town”). The men took centrestage for “Half Way Tree” and “Daphne Walking” while the sopranos and altos stole the spotlight with their irie interpretations of “Good Advice (Treat Yuh Woman Right)” and “Lioness on the Rise.” 

As far as soloists go, Franklin Halliburton (doubling as musical director/conductor) was in splendid form, giving a rendition of Oscar Rasbach’s “Trees”, one of the bonafide highlights of the first half, which served up classical numbers, sacreds and some Negro spirituals. Dynamic divas Carolyn Reid Cameron and Althea McKenzie took us to church with their glorious duet “Ride the Chariot”, while Christina Walters shone as she led the powerful “Honour Honour.” 

Talented tenor Christopher Whyte, who arranged quite a few pieces this year, gave the audience goosebumps as he sang the lead on the moving “I Couldn’t Hear Nobody Pray,” making way for Ranice Barrett’s laudable take on “Ride on King Jesus.” 

Meanwhile, the choir’s treatment of “Seasons of Love” from Rent doubled as a touching tribute to their forebears (Nettleford, Dexter), which segued into the Kathy Brown-arranged “South African Medley,” a showstopping blend of harmony, movement and live drumming. In other words, a triumph.

> INTERVIEW: Actor-singer Andre Bernard on legacy, linguistics and UWI Singers

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