If I were to take myself back to over thirty years ago, the highlights of my involvement in Crop Over have not been only as a member of the Festival Band, but singing Calypso from 1983 to 1995, (four-time finalist and nine-time semi-finalist) and, most of all, my participation in the growth and development of many young people in this country in the area of Junior Monarch Competition at the invitation of the National Cultural Foundation.
I thank them for that opportunity. When I look back to when it all started with about eight children ranging from seven to 18 years old, all in one category, and I compare it to where the competition has reached today, I feel a sense of accomplishment with great memories; such as rehearsals in the Steel Shed, showing children how to sing their song, sourcing writers and giving encouragement. In addition, organising the band and trying to make the whole show a spectacle of worth.
As the years passed, I placed emphasis on training and nurturing young writers and singers. Some school principals allowed me to speak to children at their assembly to highlight the benefits of being involved in such a venture, even though some of them were old-school and still saw it as “ Banja”, the forbidden territory.
As the competition grew from eight to fifteen to twenty to fifty entrants, there was a need for preliminaries, semi-finals and finals. Mr Anthony Sargeant, Mr Peter Pinder and others must be complimented for their immeasurable inputs in writing, training and the development of melodies for the songs.
I introduced the idea of having tents and workshops, which now are expected features of the Crop Over season. The developmental aspect of the programme grew to the extent that the band would then have had young musicians mixed in with the more experienced ones, such as Chrystal Cummings-Beckles Holder, who has been and is still making a great contribution to the art form. Backups were chosen from the Community College Arts programme and there was even room for mentoring and training of MC’s.
These efforts have borne much fruit as can be seen by the continued involvement of several current artistes who came through those ranks where it has been said that the Juniors don’t continue afterwards and enter into the “ big league”. That is far from the truth. I start with Aziza, our still reigning Queen who brought me to tears last year on stage. I was so proud of her! Let us add persons like Kayla B, Charisma, Keisha Christian, Sir Ruel, Cher, Shakki K, Miss Sammy G, Jamoo, Khiomal, Miguel, Ishaka, Marzville and recently Miss A.C.
When the tents started and the public saw the quality of the performances, many people preferred to attend only the Junior Monarch tents and we could not even get one of the “big” tents to clash with the Juniors. Such was the quality of their performances. This evolved from the workshops where there was focus on microphone technique, choreography, dress, rendition, song writing, melodic flow and even interviewing techniques. Children learned to interact with each other, offering support and building relationships. These areas were pertinent to the entire programme and remain intact up to today.
So as I reminisce with a sense of satisfaction on my contribution, when the time comes for archiving, of which little is done in this country, I want to make sure that the NCF’s wonderful Junior Monarch Competition is recognised for where it was, where it is now, and where it is set to go.