JCDC Festival Song Competition – The Sounds Of Jamaica

Festival Song winners of the past (Clockwise): Roy Rayon, Eric Donaldson, Desmond Dekker and the Aces and Abbygaye Dallas.

The Jamaica Cultural Development Commission‘s (JCDC) Festival Song competition has been a part of the Jamaican landscape since 1966, when Toots and the Maytals won the inaugural contest with the song ‘Bam Bam.’ Since then, the competition has grown in popularity and has created several household names, including Eric Donaldson, Roy Rayon and Stanley Beckford, who has won several titles as a solo act and as part of two separate groups – The Astronauts and The Turbines.

We caught up with Festival Song coordinator David Reid and he gave us some insight into the competition. diG into our interview below:

The Festival Song competition has been around since 1966. How do you and your team ensure that it remains popular and relevant to a changing Jamaican society each year?

Each year, we invite producers, song writers, singers and the wider public to submit entries for the competition under the clause, ‘The song may be based on any subject but should be one that engenders patriotism and national pride, and the music must be of Jamaican rhythms.” In addition, the song should be one that is memorable and should be able to stimulate the audience to sing along along and/or dance to its catchy beat.

The competition was re-branded as the Popular Song Competition in 2003 and some of the songs deviated from that traditional ‘festival sound.’ Can you share why this was done and any feedback from the public?
The re-branding of the competition was a policy decision aimed at realigning the competition to popular Jamaican music.
It was changed back to the Festival Song Competition a few years later. What is the difference between the ‘Popular Song’ and ‘Festival Song’?
There is no difference except in the name, as the mandate of the competition remains the same: to provide the Jamaica Independence Celebration with a memorable celebratory song.
How would you say the ‘sound’ of the competition has changed over the years?
The sound of the competition has reflected all the genres of Jamaican music as the emphasis is not so much on the sound, but on a ‘memorable song’ to rock the nation during the Jamaica Independence Celebration. We have had mento, ska, rocksteady, reggae and dancehall, all Jamaican musical genres.
How are the top 10 songs selected each year? Can you share any insight into how the songs are judged?
The selection of the top 10 songs from the number of entries is done in two phases:

1. Selection: A panel made up of persons from the music, media and entertainment industry are invited to listen to all the entries on CDs and give scores between one and five for lyrics, arrangement, cultural relevance and production.

2. Semi-finals:  The higher scoring entries are then invited to perform live to be judged on delivery (performance and musicianship). The top 10 and then named. 

Festival Song 2014 winner Deep Jahi salutes the audience at the Ranny Williams Entertainment Centre after collecting the trophy for his winning song ‘I Love Ja.’
This year’s contest concluded recently. What has the public’s feedback been like on this year’s crop of songs?
The ‘A New Day’ theme which had a different approach to the staging of the Jamaica Festival Song 2014 final show got good feedback from the public, with most persons commenting on the exciting opening act and celebratory mood of the event. All ten songs were well received by the audience and the winning song is currently gaining traction with regular radio rotation.
How would you encourage musicians, especially younger people, to participate in the competition?
The JCDC mandate is to ‘unearth, develop and showcase the cultural talents of the Jamaican people.’ Between September and January, we use both traditional and new media, along with arranged meetings, seminars and workshops, to attract participants to the competition.

We are on a never-ending drive to attract young people so that the legacy of not only the Jamaica Festival Song but Jamaican music can have a bright and prosperous future. 

diG Deeper

Listen to Deep Jahi’s winning song ‘I Love JA’ + Download the song

Listen to clips of the winning Festival Songs 1966 – 2012

The History of the Festival Song