Saturday, August 7, 2010

JCDC IN THE `*`~*HOT SEAT`*~` Aspects of JAMAICA'S HERITAGE: In Need of Preservation

I am part of a group of growing innovative music lovers on Facebook who offer structured musical entertainment via music pages on the social site as an alternative to Farmville and the other interactive games, which, while popular, do not resonate with all Facebook users. I operate a music page on Facebook; IRIE JAMZ. The popularity of Facebook pages like mine have grown tremendously on the social site, where people, especially ardent music lovers, are able to post, comment and share music videos. Youtube and the music videos that are uploaded there is what keep me and millions of other music lovers 'fed' and happy and it is a huge let down when you are searching for a music video and cannot find it in the global music video library.

The administrator of another music page; Video Sound Clash and several fans of his page experienced such a disappointment a few days ago. He lives outside Jamaica and gripped by a bout of homesickness coupled with patriotic pride, he began posting winning festival songs to his music page during an impromptu Jamaicas Festival segment on the night of Emancipation Day, Monday, August 1st. Fans of the page, many of whom are also Jamaicans living overseas, reacted enthusiastically to the segment and a corresponding wave of patriotic, musical vibes swept over my home page as the fans of the page, some of whom are my face book friends began re-posting the songs to their pages which showed up in my home feed. 

Missing Festival Songs
However, by the time he got to the year 1979 in his countdown, he was having trouble finding festival songs. He was unable to find the winning song for that year, Born Jamaican by the Astronauts on Youtube. A number of other songs for subsequent years could not be found either and while some were later found by doing an artiste search, they were not able to be found by inputting the official song titles provided on the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission's website. This highlighted the point that our winning festival songs are not archived/preserved properly or adequately.

Festival songs are a huge part of Jamaica's annual celebration of the country's independence from British rule. The competition, which began in 1966, four years after Jamaica gained independence, involves the selection of a winning song from 10 popular songs which are shortlisted from a wider group of entries. All songs enjoy wide airplay on local radio stations, and before long, clear favourites emerge reinforcing the common knowledge that public appeal and opinion is a huge part of mass media and national efforts.

VIDEO - This is the land of My Birth - Eric Donaldson  - Jamaica Festival winning song:1978
Eric Donaldson, who hails from St. Catherine, Jamaica, has the distinction of having the most festival song wins having won the competition six (6) times. In 1971, 1977, 1978, 1984, 1993 and 1997. 
Admittedly, in recent times, the popularity of the festival song competition and indeed, the entire Independence Day celebrations have lost popularity as the public attention that the song competition and surrounding festivities of the season usually garnered have waned considerably.  However, the need to preserve Jamaica's culture and heritage is crucial. It was one of Jamaica's own: National Hero, Marcus Garvey who said: "A people without knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots."

Preserving Jamaica's Culture
Jamaica celebrates 48 years of independence this year and the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission, JCDC, has the responsibility: (as its mission statement on it's Website says: To enhance national development through cultural practices by creating opportunities that unearth, develop, preserve and promote creative talents and expressions of the Jamaican people. This will be achieved in an innovative and creative manner through professional and responsive staff collaborating with all stakeholders.

Hmmm.... That word right there; Preserve: which means: "To keep something, especially an important environmental or cultural resource, from harm, loss, change, or decay", is at the crux of today's verbal inferno and places The JCDC squarely in the `*`~*HOT SEAT`*~`. The word preserve in this context refers to the importance of preserving our national heritage, which our winning festival song are a part of. Why then is it NOT possible to locate some of those songs on the popular, global video library: Youtube ? And why also are the songs not a part of the very deficient Popular Somg Archives on the JCDC's website?

Our failure to locate some of the winning Festival songs on Youtube would lead us to believe that in this, the JCDC is failing in its self-proclaimed mandate to 'preserve' Jamaica's culture. Why doesn't the JCDC have a Youtube channel with all the winning songs and even the top 10 for each year logged/stored? If they do, I am not aware of it as I was could not locate that information on their website. The only music library on the site lists the Festival Song Winners from 1966-2007 with an option to listen them by downloading Real Player. That does not help Music Page administrators such as myself and my friend to make the videos available to our thousands of fans as audio versions of songs are not very popular and are rarely uploaded by music lovers as they lack the decidedly popular visual component which adds significantly to their appeal. The list of Festival Song winners on the JCDC's website go to 2007. So what of the other winners from then to 2010?

JCDC needs to do better! These are national treasures that could even be a revenue earner for a cash strapped country whose leaders seem bereft of creative ideas to boost the country's budget. There are millions of Jamaicans and non-Jamaicans living overseas who would probably have no problem paying a small fee to access those songs in video format. Why isn't the JCDC ergo, the Jamaican government capitalizing on this?

Marketing Jamaica's Culture
Seven months ago, Grace Silvera, Global Marketing Director at Red Stripe was seconded to JCDC for a year. in an interview in the Flair publication of the Gleaner in March she stated that chief among her objectives is "to make the organisation financially independent by identifying new income-generating activities, which will bring in revenue for the agency." She lists income from entertainment venues owned by the JCDC and strengthening of partnerships with local hotel souvenir shops as points of sale for JCDC cultural items such as CDs & DVDs among her new income earning strategies.  It is well known that tourist arrivals to the Caribbean and Jamaica is on a steady decline; so rather than attempts to re-invent the wheel by continuing to use traditional methods of marketing and sales, why not harness the supreme prowess of the Worldwide Web which has the potential to reach millions of foreigners, some of who may never leave home and who would then have more expendable income to purchase said cultural items because they did not spend a significant amount of money for a Caribbean vacation? Who, by virtue of their shoe string budgets, would be only too happy to experience Jamaica virtually?

Mz. Silvera, the clock is ticking, you have less than five months left with the JCDC: OVER TO YOU!

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