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Godfrey Stewart- Jamaica 60 Award for JCDC Traditional Folk
Godfrey Stewart- Jamaica 60 Award for JCDC Traditional Folk

Traditional Folk is Alive and Well in our Popular Culture: Michael Holgate

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Traditional folk is not dead, it can’t be dead because… it’s alive and well in our popular culture.”

Michael Holgate, the world renowned choreographer, dancer, actor, singer and writer who heads the Phillip Sherlock Centre for the Creative Arts at the University of the West Indies, says the Traditional Folk Forms still play a dominant role in shaping Jamaican culture. He notes,

Michael Holgate

Holgate was an adjudicator at the Traditional Folk Forms National Finals held at the Little Theatre in Kingston, from April 3 to 4, 2023. The event kick started the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission’s (JCDC) annual Festival of the Performing Arts National Finals which move gold medal performers from the parish finals to compete for a chance to take home awards and national titles in the areas of traditional folk forms, drama, speech, music and dance.

St Catherine High - Overall Performance- Revival
St Catherine High – Overall Performance- Revival

Participants of the JCDC Traditional Folk Form Competition are judged on several criteria to assess the authenticity of the performances in the categories of Quadrille- (Ballroom, Camp and Contra Styles); Ring Games; Maypole; Kumina/Congo; Revival; Ni Nite/Wake; Gerreh; Dinki Mini; Zella; Tambu; Jonkunnu or John Canoe; Burru; Ettu; Bruckins Party; Maroon Dance and Medley of Folk Forms. Participants vary in ages, from 4-year-olds to adults 65 years and older.

“When I am looking [on stage] and looking at Gerreh, [and other folk forms], I’m seeing all the newest dancehall moves, that’s where it is coming from, and so the traditional folk forms are not dead and it is because of them that these artistes and nowadays dancers…can put it out there as our popular culture that is putting Jamaica on the map all around the world.”  Holgate explained.

New Hope Primary School
New Hope Primary School

Michael Holgate has spent over twenty years exploring the world of theatre, dance, music, film, and writing. He also serves as an external examiner at the Edna Manley College where he teaches Caribbean Folk and Traditional Dance.

From an adjudicator’s standpoint, Holgate notes that in addition to the authentic exposure to the different folk forms, participants of the JCDC Traditional Folk Form Competition learn useful soft skills ‘that ‘can’t be bought at the shop’.

“They are learning musical appreciation, creativity, cultural appreciation, community skills, leadership skills…spirituality, support, role play, presence, how to show up, rhythm, body awareness, professionalism, team work, nonverbal communication skills, partnership skills, spatial awareness, physical awareness, they are learning how to count and how to be in tandem with other persons, synchronizing your steps with others, and they are learning how to coordinate and they are learning about projection of energy.”

Godfrey Stewart- Jamaica 60 Award for JCDC Traditional Folk
Godfrey Stewart- Jamaica 60 Award for JCDC Traditional Folk

Two other adjudicators and practitioners, Ms. Lety Cross and Mrs. Hazel Ramsay McClune, also voiced their opinion that the traditional folk forms are still alive and well in Jamaica. They advised that most of the traditional folk forms that are presented on stage are learned through real life experience.

Some of the folk forms are originally from different parishes across the island. If you live in a particular parish then you would have been exposed to certain folk forms and learn them in their most authentic form. For example, Revival is one form that is all around Jamaica. The Revival performances that you see on stage are a representation of Revival Churches. Ring Games are also learned most times through real life experiences.” shared Ms. Lety Cross

She recounted that in her days, they did not have televisions so to pass the time they played ring games that involved playful movements to catchy songs.  “Children still play some of these ring games today during their lunch break.

Teacher at the Liberty Learning Centre in Portland, Lorianne Welsh, expressed concern that although the Traditional Folk Forms are still being practiced in parishes and performed at JCDC competitions and events, many schools do not include them in the school curriculum.  Some of her students, aged 4 years to 12 years, participated in various categories including Maypole and Quadrille-Ballroom- Figure 4.

When asked about the relevance and role of the JCDC in helping to promulgate Jamaica’s traditional folk forms, Holgate responded confidently:

“Two of the most important institutions in Jamaica right now are Boys and Girls Champs and JCDC. The fact that at a high school level we have people who are performing in this massive all island sport competition, that the athletes have to go through…[similarly], these artistes are learning from Kindergarten, Primary, Prep, High School and in communities, they are learning and reinforcing the culture and competing…. The JCDC’s mandate is, “Unearthing, Developing, Showcasing, Preserving, the best of Jamaica’s culture. And if you are preserving the best of Jamaica’s Culture and they are, then what you are going to get is Jamaicans being their best and doing their best and that is why we should show up on the world stage in the way that we do… I give a lot of that tribute to the JCDC.”

QUADRILLE-CAMP STYLE. New Forest High School Class 4- (15 Years & Under) (1)
QUADRILLE-CAMP STYLE. New Forest High School Class 4- (15 Years & Under) (1)

The National Finals of the Festival of the Performing Arts resumes on Monday, April 17 with the Speech Finals which will run for three days; (April 17 to April 19, 2023).

The other scheduled Finals are:

Music- April 20, 21, 24 and May 3

Drumfest– April 22

Drama- April 25 – April 27           

Dance- April 28 & May 1-2

The Music, Drama and Dance Finals will take place at the Little Theatre in Kingston from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. however, the Drama finals will begin at 1:00 p.m.

Drumfest will be held at the Ranny Williams Entertainment Centre in Kingston starting at 4:30pm.

All the events are free of charge. Interested persons are invited to attend and cheer on their favourite performances.

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Written by Media Writer