FANTASTIC 50: The celebrated choir marked their special milestone with their best season yet.
FOR a 50th anniversary concert season, you expect the performers to pull out all the stops to put on a stellar show for their supporters. The Jamaican Folk Singers, now celebrating their half-a-century, took this to heart last weekend as they served up a rich musical feast, full of folk gems, standards and tunes from the Jamaican Songbook that put you in sing-along mode. Throw into the mix some engaging, innovative choreography, a lovely set design and frequently gorgeous lighting.
In the end, the show represented a rebirth of sorts for the iconic choir, while paying tribute to their founding mother, the late great Dr. Olive Lewin.
Celebrating the journey to 50, the Singers took us over the hills and valleys of history and memory with songs that speak vociferously to our African and cultural heritage. The first half (split into three segments) delved into work songs (“Rio Grande,” “Checkaman,” “Chi Chi Bud” and “King Power” among the highlights), Kumina songs (“Guinea War,” “Slow Me Gungo” among them) and a poignant In Memoriam suite, where solemn, occasionally mournful numbers like “Fi Me Love”, “Oil In My Lamp” and “Yerri Me” paid reflective tribute to Dr. Lewin.
Good old-fashioned storytelling was the order of the second half, with Coleen Lewis serving as a competent and eloquent narrator/raconteur. The choir took us all the way back to Africa, back to the slavery era and back to the dawn of Emancipation (“Bogle,” “Tambo,” “Moses”, “Jubalee”), charting a course that eventually culminated with the advent of reggae and dancehall through the ska/mento portal. With special guests The Tallawah Mento Band supplying infectious accompaniment, what played out was a sweetly festive and nostalgic delight.
The show closed with a robust revival suite that affirmed the spirit indomitable of our Jamaican forebears. Among the highlights were “Plant De Letta”, “Come We Go Up a Galalee”, “All De Ribba Dem,” a rousing “Daniel Saw/Keyman Medley” and the timeless, powerful reminder that “Daniel God surely will deliver.”