Entertainment

Bravo, Folk Singers!

BY RICHARD JOHNSON
Observer senior reporter

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

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THE preservation of our culture, specifically our folk music, is the mission of the Jamaican Folk singers, and their 2017 concert season definitely lived up to that mandate.

The programme consisted of a wide-ranging selection of known and not-so-well-known pieces from the genres, presented in an authentic manner, much to the appreciation of the patrons who gathered at the Little Theatre in St Andrew this past weekend. Musical director Christine MacDonald Nevers, who has taken up the reigns of the company following the passing of its founder Dr Olive Lewin, lives up the the tenets laid down by the late researcher and folklorist, injecting a youthful energy into material that does not naturally appeal to the younger demographic.

Celebrating its 50th anniversary, the season was of its usual standard expected of 'Folk Singers'. The programme was broken down into six sets, each reflecting a different theme.

For openers, the pieces were light and lively, each reflecting the roots of folk music — men in the field, women at home – in Mi Caafi, Rio Grande, Chi Chi Bud, and Checkaman. The highlight was their rendition of Missa Potta, performed in rounds, with timing kept by the sounds of the traditional coconut brush against a hardwood floor.

Set two was In Memoriam. This was dedicated to Dr Lewin and, in true folk tradition, the tempo moved from moving and mournful to celebratory. The contralto voices of MacDonald Nevers and her mother, Marilyn Brice MacDonald, were used to good effect on Liza. And the perennial favourite Fi Me Love was also well received.

White rum libation and pealing drums was a perfect segue into the kumina set. The pieces for this were perfectly chosen — Kumina To Kumina, Rock Yu Body, Bad Madah N Law, Guinea War and Sow Me Gungo were only outdone by the great work of master drummers Calvin Mitchell and Phillip Supersad. Their steady beats and the shuffle characteristic of this traditional folk form were indeed infectious. The younger members of the group should take lessons on this movement from their more mature counterparts. The beauty lies in the subtlety of effort, to do otherwise ruins the nuances of the movement.

Sets four and five reflected the attempt by the Jamaican Folk Singers to reach out to a younger audience. The first of these sets was a history lesson taking the audience on a trip back in time, from the Arawaks to Emancipation, with the assistance of a griot. In the latter, a group of young children was brought into the act. The jury is still out deliberating the effort to update the musical offering with the inclusion of contemporary pieces from the likes of Beres Hammond.

The evening ended on a high with the revival set. The Daniel Saw/Keyman medley was beautifully arranged and well presented. The key change at the end added the required dramatic element which left all in the spirit.

Take a bow, 'Folk Singers', another season well presented.

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