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Jamaica Marks 50th Anniversary of Independence

Highlights from the nation’s gala event

Martei Korley

Jamaica is probably more closely identified with music than any other country in the world, and its 50th anniversary of independence was celebrated with an appropriate emphasis on sound. For six days, from August 1st through the 6th, a temporary entertainment venue and cultural expo (dubbed Jamaica 50 Grand Jubilee Village) was set up on the grounds of the National Stadium in Kingston, hosting live music performances, plays, movie screenings, a fashion show, dance competition and raucous public viewings of Jamaican track stars Usain Bolt and Shelly Ann Fraser-Pryce’s Olympic wins. The events all set the stage for a massive, music- and dance-filled independence gala inside the National Stadium attended by more than 35,000 Jamaicans attired head-to-toe in green, gold and black.

By Jesse Serwer

Martei Korley

Modern Dance

"Rastaman Vibrations," a modern dance interpretation of Rastafarian Nyabinghi rituals set to Bob Marley songs, set the tone for the musical performance programs at Monday's independence gala.

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Colin Powell, Louis Farrakhan and Miss World Lisa Hanna

Colin Powell and Louis Farrakhan confer with Jamaica's Minister of Culture (and former Miss World pageant winner) Lisa Hanna. Powell and Farrakhan, both of whom have parents hailing from the island, were among the foreign dignitaries in attendance at Monday night’s independence gala at the National Stadium.

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Song Competition

Each year since 1966, Jamaica has held an open call for an anthem to represent the year's Independence celebrations. The Independence Festival Song Competition helped launched the career of Toots and the Maytals, who won the first competition with the now-seminal rocksteady tune "Bam Bam." Little known outside of Jamaica, singer Roy Rayon has won the contest more times than anyone else. Here, he performs one of the many festival songs in his repertoire at the Jamaica 50 Golden Jubilee Village before the Independence Gala on Sunday afternoon.

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Leroy Sibbles

Live performances at both the ticket-only Independence Gala and the free-to-all Jamaica 50 Golden Jubilee Village bridged the gap between ska, the optimistic music movement that immediately followed independence in the early Sixties, through reggae and dancehall. Falling somewhere in the middle of all of these was Leroy Sibbles, the lead singer of the Heptones, the definitive group of Jamaica’s late Sixties rocksteady era. Sibbles, who also plays bass on some of reggae's best-loved songs, performed double duty at the independence celebrations, singing his own songs on the Jubilee Village stage on Monday afternoon and covering the Wailers' "Simmer Down" and Alton Ellis' "Rock Steady" during the Independence Grand Gala’s historical overview of Jamaican music history.

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Dance Sequences

Jamaica’s national motto is "Out of many, one people," an acknowledgment of an ethnicity pool that's more diverse than many realize. Choreographed dance sequences at the independence gala highlighted the heritages of the three largest groups – Africans, Chinese and East Indians.

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World Reggae Dance Championship

On the Saturday night before independence, the Grand Jubilee Village hosted a World Reggae Dance Championship. Crews from all over Jamaica competed, but ultimately it was a wild card entrant from Japan, the aptly titled Japan Squad, which emerged victorious. 

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The Admiral

The roll call of Eighties-era dancehall stars on the Grand Jubilee stage continued with Admiral Bailey. Though his name might not ring too many bells in the broader music world, the Admiral is probably the person most responsible for exporting the term "punany." What with all the kids in attendance, he wisely kept his performance PG. 

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Yellowman

Yellowman began his set with his signature tune "Zungguzungguguzungguzeng" and closed with his cover of Fats Domino's "Blueberry Hill." But he left his most lasting impression during a wacky instrumental interlude which saw him flexing his muscles before dropping down to do some push-ups.

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General Trees

Known for his humorous brand of dancehall, General Trees entertained the crowd with "Eye No See," a song about butchers who sell donkey and call it beef, and "Bashco," about off-brand clothes bought at the Kingston store by that name. 

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Alaine

Alaine was born in New Jersey and appeared in Clara's Heart with Whoopi Goldberg as a child, but in Jamaica she's best known for her 2006 hit "No Ordinary Love." Her brief set offered a very feminine reprieve to the dominant male energy that abounded stage. 

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Tifa

Bawdy dancehall diva Tifa, who gave the final musical performance at the Independence Gala, took her show to the people at the Village. 

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T.O.K.

Dancehall quartet T.O.K. strike the Bolt "To Di World" pose, one of many tributes to the world's fastest man by the evening's performers. 

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Junior Reid

You can't get far in Jamaica without hearing Junior Reid's "One Blood." A string quartet did their interpretation of the 1990 dancehall classic (more recently updated by rapper The Game as "It's Okay")  during the Independence Gala and, a few hours later, the former Black Uhuru singer got to perform it himself on the Jubilee Village stage. Here he is pouring his heart into "Mashing Up the Earth," his version of Michael Jackson's "The Earth Song."

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Tony Rebel

Tony Rebel closing out the night with the final performance at Jubilee Village. As he did earlier in the evening at the Independence Gala, Rebel freestyled his 1991 song "Sweet Jamaica," a sly commentary. 

Martei Korley

Vuvuzelas

Vuvuzelas have largely replaced the traditional airhorn as the preferred noisemaking device at Jamaican music events. The sound of vuvuzelas drowning out the music signals a "forward," a rambunctious crowd response calling for more. 

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