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Jamaican Folk Music and Dance Raises Rafters at NYC Hunter College

Celebrating Braata Folk Singers official launch

Braata Productions official launch program

(New York, NY) To the pulsating rhythms of drums, the sound of a tambourine and the distinct sharp notes from two keyboards, the ensemble that is Braata Folk Singers officially launched their group for all the world at a concert held on Sunday, Jun 27 at Lang Hall in Hunter College, City University of New York.

Dressed in traditional Jamaican costumes, the stage set with props reminiscent of a market place in rural Jamaica, the members of the ensemble of Braata Folk Singers: six men, five women and two children, danced and sang, and told stories of their homeland, people and culture in folk songs.

Although formed a year ago, the company, whose name is colloquial Jamaican for “a little bit more,” has been performing in and around New York City’s five boroughs, and the tri-state area. Its complement of 12 members is made up of students, teachers, and nurses, to name a few professions. With the formation of Braata Folk Singers, it has brought together talents and experience, which serve to expand the repertoire with folk genres such as Kumina, Bruckins, Dinki-Mini, Revival, Mento, Ring Games, Maroon, and Nine Night. This official launch was an occasion to establish the ensemble as a serious group within the Caribbean Diaspora and to the collection of West Indian cultural heritage groups here in the U.S.

Center, Braata Productions founder and director, Andrew Clarke

Founder and artistic director, Andrew Clarke said, “I am humbled …by the diverse and talented members of Braata Folk Singers who I have the pleasure of leading as I do my part in helping to build on the tradition and legacy of groups such as the Jamaican Folk Singers, Carifolk Singers, and the NDTC Singers, to name a few. I am particularly excited that the faces you will see and the voices you will hear entertain you …are those of the next generation, intent on upholding the rich tradition.”

Clarke said that for him, this official launch is like a father who has nurtured a child and is now sending that child to school for the first time.

“Sadly, I can’t continue to protect this child from the reality that exists in the world, but I take comfort in the fact that I have done a good job and they will make me proud,” said Clarke.Baraata Productions musicians

In a congratulatory letter to the ensemble, Member of Parliament and Minister of Youth and Sports Olivia Grange said that the government of Jamaica is always proud to acknowledge the work of Jamaicans abroad.

“Although Braata Folk Singers is merely a year old, the group has already established itself and it is expected that its first anniversary celebration concert will provide exceptional entertainment as it pays tribute to some of Jamaica’s cultural icons, including Louise Bennett and Professor Rex Nettleford,” said Grange.

The ensemble performed a collection of 27 folk songs, in one part those common to the market place, such as “Solas Market” and featuring food, and many social situations, including gossip, romance, justice, and commerce, as with the performance done by Ms. Jamaica USA 2009 Diane Johnson, who sang a moving rendition of “Saloh (Quattie a yawd)” which had similar strains to the peddler’s song from the production of “Oliver.” And, the rendition of “Ratta Maddan Law” seemed to carry in its arrangement hints of a folk song “Bamboo Fire” common in Guyana.

Following the 15-minute intermission, one of the ensemble assumed the role of and paid tribute to the late Dr. Louise Bennett-Coverly, DM (1919 – 2006). She performed a medley of songs, one of which “Dis Lang time gyal” is familiar across the Caribbean. As the narrator explained following the rendition of “Di Buggy Bruk” which lyrics were seemingly innocuous, in fact announced the abolition of slavery.

Then as if attending a spiritualist or revivalist gathering the women appeared dressed in long white dresses with different colored head and waist cloths, and the men with white shirts, black pants and colored head wraps and cummerbunds. Swaying to the rhythms of “Anywhere the army goes, Satan a follow” it seemed as if the ensemble were at a revivalist or spiritualist meeting, as they sang a Bible medley which included songs such as “Cock-a-crow, Peter gone,” “King David slew Goliath with a sling and a marble stone,” “Symbol a gon roll away,” and “Rolling down to Babylon.”

Baraata Productions ensemble performing at official launchAudiences at the two shows, both of which nearly filled the 150-seat Lang Hall, expressed their appreciation and during many of the renditions, were heard giggling, laughing, and even applauding as the folk songs brought back memories of life in Jamaica.

Offering a slight comment contrary to the general sense of approval, Clifford Warmington, a Jamaican living in the U.S. for five years, said that while the production was good, the performances was as close to authentic and Jamaican as possible. He drew attention to a few minor technicalities, such as the choreography, “could have been a little tighter,” and at times some of the drumming seemed to overwhelm the voices of the singers. Explaining, he said that in some of the group dance movements, all were not sufficiently coordinated.

Warmington, an environmental scientist with a penchant for the arts, said, “Hearing folk songs take me back and I imagine for the older people in the audience how hearing these songs take them back.”

Braata Productions ensemble performing a revival piece

At the conclusion of the program, Clarke thanked the audience and those who were vital to the production and performance, including Ruth Brown, from Florida, who he said went shopping for the props and costumes and shipped them to him. He also thanked his co-director and musical director Garnet Christopher Lloyd Mowatt, who as a minister of music at Oakgrove CME Church in Water Valley, Mississippi, traveled once a month to New York for rehearsals, and those members of the ensemble who excelled with only a few weeks of rehearsal.

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June 29, 2010 Posted by | African-American News, Black Gay Men, Black Men, Caribbean, Caribbean Community, community, Guyana, Jamaica, Theater | , , , , | Leave a comment