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Festival Song Competition judge Donovan Germain speaks out about cancellation

‘Too many songs about ackee and salt fish and beach’

Published:Sunday | June 12, 2022 | 12:08 AMYasmine Peru - Sunday Gleaner Writer
Minister of Culture and Entertainment Olivia ‘Babsy’ Grange told Parliament last Wednesday that a Jamaica 60 commemorative album would take the place of this year’s Festival Song Competition owing to the poor quality of the entries.
Minister of Culture and Entertainment Olivia ‘Babsy’ Grange told Parliament last Wednesday that a Jamaica 60 commemorative album would take the place of this year’s Festival Song Competition owing to the poor quality of the entries.

Penthouse Records CEO and veteran producer, Donovan Germain, who is a member of the Jamaica Festival Song judging panel and has produced classics for names such as Marcia Griffiths, said the panel could ‘not find 10 songs’ to shortlist from the 123 en
Penthouse Records CEO and veteran producer, Donovan Germain, who is a member of the Jamaica Festival Song judging panel and has produced classics for names such as Marcia Griffiths, said the panel could ‘not find 10 songs’ to shortlist from the 123 entries received.

Olivia ‘Babsy’ Grange (left), and Digicel Brand Marketing Manager Reshima Kelly-Williams (right) hand over the grand prize of $3 million to an overjoyed Stacious, winner of the 2021 Jamaica Festival Song competition.
Olivia ‘Babsy’ Grange (left), and Digicel Brand Marketing Manager Reshima Kelly-Williams (right) hand over the grand prize of $3 million to an overjoyed Stacious, winner of the 2021 Jamaica Festival Song competition.
Buju Banton is presented with the Jamaica Festival Song Competition trophy by Olivia ‘Babsy’ Grange after winning the 2020 competition.
Buju Banton is presented with the Jamaica Festival Song Competition trophy by Olivia ‘Babsy’ Grange after winning the 2020 competition.

With Festival Song winning hits such as ‘Cherry Oh Baby’, which Eric Donaldson belts out in this 1971 file photograph, the entertainer has more competition wins than any other artiste.
With Festival Song winning hits such as ‘Cherry Oh Baby’, which Eric Donaldson belts out in this 1971 file photograph, the entertainer has more competition wins than any other artiste.
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The decision to produce a Jamaica 60 commemorative album for 2022 instead of hosting the annual Festival Song Competition was not one which was taken lightly. Penthouse Records CEO and veteran producer, Donovon Germain, a member of the judging...

The decision to produce a Jamaica 60 commemorative album for 2022 instead of hosting the annual Festival Song Competition was not one which was taken lightly. Penthouse Records CEO and veteran producer, Donovon Germain, a member of the judging panel that vets the entries each year and selects the final 10 for the competition, told The Sunday Gleaner that the panel simply could not find songs that were worthy.

“The quality of the Festival Song entries has been progressively diminishing,” Germain said in a no-holds-barred interview with The Sunday Gleaner. “In fact, this year’s crop was so bad that the panel decided that it was best that we did not put out any of those songs for Jamaica 60. If we listen to 50 songs, 40 of them talking about ackee and salt fish and beach. So it would come down to who can sing best about ackee and salt fish and beach.”

This year, despite the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission (JCDC) extending the deadline for entry on two occasions, the number of entries declined, as Minister of Culture and Entertainment Olivia ‘Babsy’ Grange told Parliament last Wednesday.

“We received 123 entries, much less than in previous years. Under the circumstances, the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission will refund all entry fees in the amount of $123,000,” Minister Grange said as she revealed information about a Jamaica 60 commemorative album, which will include two songs that were selected from the festival song entries and songs from Jamaica’s leading reggae ambassadors and emerging artistes.

Germain, who has been the chief judge on three occasions, noted that “the minister was acting on information and advice given to her from the professional people who she has put in place”.

“I have been on the panel for five years — I excused myself the year when Buju [Banton, who he co-manages] entered. I have done my best to encourage the professional persons within the industry to enter. Because, after all, this is a competition for Jamaican artistes, not for amateurs. But what I have found out is that these artistes nowadays are not interested ... they are not patriotic. And, another important thing is that they don’t want to enter a competition and lose,” Germain stated.

Last year’s Festival Song Competition saw a healthy mixture of professional, up-and-coming and no-name artistes in the mix, among them Fab 5, I-Octane, Stacious, Althea Hewitt, Candy, Pessoa, Father Reece, Reggae Maxx, Ernie Wilks, Tamo J, DB and Dez-I Boyd. Twelve entries were selected in honour of the competition celebrating its 55th anniversary. Stacious emerged the winner.

Addressing the issue of poor quality of the songs, Germain asked wryly, “Have you listened to some of the songs that are being put out now? Yuh hear the productions? Yuh listen to radio?”

Unwilling to open that particular can of worms any further, the producer who has released numerous classics with artistes such as Marcia Griffiths, Beres Hammond, and Buju Banton said, “I have been asking people ‘Can you remember the last five songs that have won this once-a-year Festival Song Competition?’ And the answer is always ‘No’. That shows us that something is wrong. One year we tried something different by inviting professionals to enter, and there was so much backlash. We can’t have our cake and eat it.”

He added, “The demise of the music industry started when everybody set up a studio at home. From then, the standards started to drop because there were no professionals overseeing the process and the projects.”

The commemorative album showcasing Jamaica’s music genres over the past 60 years is a project which Germain fully endorses.

“This is much better than choosing songs that will not be of a great quality and which will not resonate. And, plus, the two better songs from the entries will be used on this album. That will be great exposure for the two artistes who are chosen,” he shared.

Freddie McGregor, Marcia Griffiths and Shaggy are among the big-name artistes who have pledged their support for the Jamaica 60 commemorative album.

Germain was also ready to shut down suggestions being bandied about regarding what is being tagged “the politicising of the competition”. He emphasised that the system for choosing the songs has always been fair and square.

“Each year, we are called to meet and listen to the songs. The JCDC prints the lyrics for us; they play the songs, and each sheet is tabulated. The panel chooses the 10 songs, and I can say that I have been chief judge for three of the five years that I have been sitting on the committee, and I have never seen any changes to the list that I have submitted. This year, we did the exercise over two days and could not find 10 songs,” Germain declared.

yasmine.peru@gleanerjm.com