Bajan son of the soil, George Jones, will be honoured next week by the Cayman Cultural Foundation. The founder of the band Square One will receive the Silver Star for Creativity Award on Thursday, February 20.
The award is one that “recognises valuable contributions made to the exploration, promotions and/or preservation of Cayman cultural heritage and/or the arts.”
George has been heavily involved in the cultural development of the neighbouring Caribbean island since he moved there some 16 years ago.
The news comes after the musician fought a long battle of two major health challenges. First, in 2009, he was diagnosed with colon cancer and then he was floored yet again by kidney failure in 2013.
In an exclusive interview with Bajan Vibes, the 51-year-old said he was humbled by the recognition.
“It’s a good feeling… I am honoured and humbled at the same time because at least it shows that somebody is paying attention and think that you are worthy of such a recognition. It means that they appreciate the contribution which I have made. What is more heartening is that I come to a foreign country and am still able to be an ambassador. I am always reminded of the line in the National Pledge ‘do credit to my nation wherever I go.’”
George, who holds the title of Programme Coordinator at the Cultural Foundation, has performed varying roles over the years.
“From day one I got involved. I was a member of the Carnival [Batabano] committee for about six years where we were responsible for organising the carnival. I also worked with Pirates Week, which is a festival held in November and I have also worked with the Cultural Foundation with some of their productions.”
He continued: “Two of the main ones would be Rundown, which is a comedy festival similar to Laff it Off. I was musical director for that production since 2013. And there is another festival at Christmas time called Gimistory. This is a story-telling festival where we invite story tells from all over the world. They come to Cayman for a week in December.
“We go to all the districts and tell stories through music, drama and the spoken word. Even during my health challenges, I was involved. We also do a lot of developmental work. We have the Summer Arts Camp and during the year, we also go into the schools,” he told Bajan Vibes.
One of his more recent assignments was last year when he was Lead Coordinator for the 52 member Cayman CARIFESTA delegation to Trinidad. He dealt with every aspect of the delegation from travel plans and accreditation to what actually took place on stage and in the booths. It was his second CARIFESTA with Cayman since he came to Barbados with the team in 2017. But he said last year in Trinidad was special since the Cayman Islands sat next to Barbados.
“Here I am in Trinidad representing Cayman and sitting next to the Bajans. They were all my friends actually – Andy, Carol Roberts, John King, Gabby, Michelle Springer all these people that I have. It was a good experience. They were all proud of me.”
George has spearheaded and been a part of countless events where Bajans got an opportunity to showcase their talents on a Caymanian stage.
“Since I have been here, all the top entertainers in Barbados would have passed through here at some point in time and whether they know it or not, I had a hand in it. My genuine friends who I have a one-on-one rapport with would know but then there are some I am not that close to but we have a mutual respect. There were instances where the promoter called and asked me about them or asked for a contact.”
The cultural practitioner intends to do more in order to forge and develop greater links between Cayman and Barbados.
“Last year, the reigning Soca Monarch from Cayman Vashti Bodden went to Crop Over with me. It was her and fellow bandmate Brent McClean’s first time ever in Barbados. They are both in the band CayNRG, a band I belong to here. Minister John King extended an invitation to them and hosted them in his private suite at Kensington Oval. Our cultural minister loves Barbados, and he is a big fan of the Mighty Gabby. He got to meet Gabby, and he was very pleased.”
But George won’t let it end there. He intends to have a huge cultural exchange between the two Caribbean countries.
“I am looking forward to putting together a group of Bajan artistes who are interested in Cayman to come to our festival here and vice versa… on a large scale.”
After the awards ceremony, the next big thing on the calendar for George is Red Sky at Night on Saturday, February 29. February is the month of Cayfest, the Cayman Arts Festival which is a big arts, craft and music festival.
The next month there will be Dress for Culture Day. “Dress for Culture Day is March 13 where, because Cayman is such a diverse multicultural community, we try to encourage all the various nationalities to tap into their heritage to show their patriotism for one day by wearing their national colours or national costume.”
But that date, March 13, holds great significance for George. It will be the 4th anniversary of his kidney transplant. In 2016, George received two new kidneys from a then seven-year-old boy.
And after two close calls as George was literally staring death in the face, he now touts a clean bill of health. He describes this second chance at life as a time to use his story to motivate and influence others not to give up.
“I see this as a rebirth; a new beginning, to maintain good health calls for tremendous discipline, sacrifice and focus on the goal. I have a book coming out next year which chronicles my journey and my life experiences. I lived through it but when I have to occasionally repeat it and I listen to myself as I relay it, I am still amazed by it, my own story.”
Will George heed the call and come home to Barbados for We Gatherin’? “My parish St Philip’s month for We Gatherin’ is in the heart of Crop Over, it’s July. I am thinking seriously, once time permits, to come home. John Roett had organised a benefit concert for me here in Cayman when I was battling my illness and all the top entertainers came to support me. I will always be indebted to Barbados and all the Barbadians who rallied around me during my plight. I will never ever forget.” (IMC)