So even our music has fallen victim to that agent of change – the election. Some months ago, I was perplexed to see people calling for Eric Donaldson’s “Land of my Birth” to be made the official Jamaica 50 song. What the hell? I thought. We already HAVE a Jamaica 50 song! Remember? The song, “Find the Flag” was produced by the respected veteran Mikey Bennett and officially presented to the country.
Let me reiterate that. The song was officially and publicly presented to the country last October. If you don’t believe me, or never heard about it, read this story by Mel Cooke in the Jamaica Gleaner.
A Reporter’s Guide to Jamaica 50 sent out by the Culture Ministry in December stated that:
“The Jamaica 50 song ‘Fly (sic) the Flag in Your Heart’, written by Michael Bennett, captures Jamaica’s journey of challenges and triumphs.”
Except… silly me. There was an election. For months we heard nothing of Find the Flag - the official Jamaica 50 song – until another story in the Observer told us the song had been shelved.
Shelved? How could it be shelved? It’s the Jamaica 50 song! Not any more, apparently!
The Jamaica 50 secretariat (under, as they say, new management) now says that there was no documentation that the song had been commissioned or was the Jamaica 50 song. Emm….. it was officially presented to the country! No, that didn’t count.
Mikey Bennett says it is customary for him to work based on verbal agreements, and after all, this was an agreement with officials from the Government of Jamaica, not some fly-by-night outfit. He also says there were some disagreements over the cost of the song, until he and the artistes decided that they would donate the song for use in the celebrations for free, and communicated this fact to the Ministry. He told me that his publisher was in the process of putting together the necessary documentation.
He has since realized that the song has been dumped as the Jamaica 50 song, and all the artistes who worked for many passionate, excited hours with him have been calling to ask what the hell is going on. Bennett says one of his primary concerns is whether anyone thinks he was “trying a ting,” pulling a fast one, and misrepresenting the agreement with the Culture Ministry.
Apparently, some kind of compromise has since been cobbled together which should see the song being used somewhere in the Jamaica 50 celebrations. Former Culture Minister Babsy Grange, who has said she is upset at how the situation was handled, met with current Minister Lisa Hanna and says this was one of the matters discussed.
Please note that I’m not commenting on whether I like Find the Flag or the song which has now been introduced to the country as the Jamaica 50 campaign song, Nation on a Mission. My problem is much more fundamental – it’s how we do things.
I’m not getting into any argument with anybody about which song is better.
The fact is, a song was chosen and then rejected by a subsequent government. I have a serious issue with how this has been handled. This smacks of disrespect of the highest order.
The same Reporter’s Guide to Jamaica 50 listed the following singers as participants in the Jamaica 50 song - Bunny Rugs, Ken Boothe, Marcia Griffiths, Freddy McGregor,Tarrus Riley, Cocoa T, Konshens, Mr Vegas, Ernie Smith, Agent Sasko, Capleton, Chevelle Franklyn, Stitchie and Admiral Bailey. These are among our best artistes. There were also the musicians and technical crew, many of them also well-known names.
I make no comment on the Culture Minister’s claims that the Jamaica 50 programme had to be streamlined and re-organised. I’ll leave that argument to the current and former holders of that office.
I am, however, saying that the work of the professionals involved in creating the song should have been respected. The clear decision of the previous administration that Find the Flag was the official Jamaica 50 song should have been let alone.
I think that the shelving of Find the Flag was totally unnecessary and brings to mind some of the sillier parts of our political history – remember the change from Jamaica Information Service (JIS) to Agency for Public Information (API) back to JIS anyone?
I hold no brief for Mikey Bennet and the musicians and artistes who worked on Find the Flag. I am not a musician. But I am a Jamaican, and I don’t like what happened here.