Choir With A Cause

Festival Song finalist looks to transform society with entry

Observer senior reporter

Sunday, July 08, 2018

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This year, Escarpment Road New Testament Church of God choir — located in the August Town community of St Andrew — creates history by becoming the first mass choir to enter the Jamaica Festival Song Contest.

The 25-member choir, with its entry Strong Jamaica, joins the nine other finalists vying for the top prize at the finals set the Ranny Williams Entertainment Centre in St Andrew on July 15.

Pastor of the church, Reverend Stevenson Samuels does not shy away from questions regarding his church choir participating in what is ostensibly a popular song competition involving secular music. For him, the participation by the choir is part of the wider ministry in which the church is involved.

“I was first approached by the songwriter Patrick Kitson with the idea... he and I have been musical friends for many years. I first became aware of his work when he was part of the gospel band Change. In its time, Change was one of the most prolific bands in gospel music in Jamaica and he was one of the songwriters, and an excellent one. So I went to his house and he played the song for me [and] I said: 'Let's do it.'

“There is a saying : 'Let me write the songs of the nation. I care not who makes its laws.' That was the thinking behind my decision. I believe we can transform society with music [not] not only church music — because that does reach the critical mass who must be reached for the transformation to take place,” he continued.

Upon closer examination, Rev Samuels and his team identified in the lyrics of the Kitson composition 20 values which, in the estimation of the church, should be embraced by the wider society. The church choir then created a shortlist of five core values which they have coined into the acronym UPLIF — Unity, Peace, Love, Integrity and Faith.

“If serious transformation is to take place, we see these values as being critical in the process. This song speaks to all these values,” Samuels further explained.

He described the response the mass choir has been getting as being “absolutely great”, as they participate in the roadshows and public performances organised by the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission. The social media presence is also impressive for the choir.

“The public has been really engaging and we have had some great performances; we are also pleased with our social media activities. We are very serious in communities and have been playing the song through a town crier to lift it to another level and connect with various groups, and taking the opportunity to ride a wave.”

Should the choir from the Escarpment Road New Testament Church of God be named the winner, Rev Samuels says the $1 million prize money will go into the central fund of the church.

“There are various arms in the church, and if we should be so blessed the funds will be used for the benevolence ministry of the church. We host medical and legal aid clinics, and run a basic school among other projects, and the prize would go there.”

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