Jamaican Folk Singers performing on the grounds of Devon House in Kingston, Jamaica.
Photo by Kevin Williams

When you think Jamaican folk music one of the first groups that will come to mind is the Jamaican Folk Singers.

It was a pleasant surprise to see and hear the singers perform outdoor at the famous Devon House in Kingston, Jamaica on Saturday, Dec. 3, 2016 while on a press trip sponsored by the Jamaica Tourist Board.

Christine McDonald Nevers, musical director of the Jamaican Folk Singers said the group is now 49 years old and will be celebrating its 50th anniversary on March 15, 2017. The year-long activities will include a celebratory anniversary and memorial service to honor its founder, Dr. Olive Lewin, a 50th anniversary concert season and a series of overseas tours.

“We are actually working on putting out a CD. We are having a reunion and we are starting to inform former members around the world to come with us and we are going to be touring across the island doing free performances,” said the musical director.

According to McDonald Nevers, one of the things Dr. Olive Lewin said while doing her research collecting the music, was that she got the music freely from the people who she sat with in the community, and it was very important for her and for the group to continue to share that music. “So we are doing free concerts in markets, town centers and school halls. Anybody who wants to hear us can come and share in what is ours,” said the musical director.

The group comprises 26 persons including musicians who are conga drummers and guitarists.

“We only have two CDs out now and we are going to release our new CD in 2017. We have a number of records or LPs which we are converting to CDs so that is three of those. So we hope by the end of 2017 we will have six Cds on the market.”

“Earlier this year (August 2016) we went to Costa Rica and they are looking for us to return and tour along that coast including Panama and other countries along that stretch. Let’s see what happens for North America. We will see,” said McDonald Nevers. In Costa Rica the group performed at the Limon Roots Afro Cultural Festival, as part of efforts to help further cultural relationships between Jamaica and Costa Rica.

Dr. Lewin was commissioned by the prime minister at the time do do research on Jamaica’s folk music culture. Having collected that information the question was what to do with it, should it be locked up? but a friend said it should be shared and that is how the group was founded. The aim is to get as many people, not just Jamaicans, to share in the rich folk music and culture of Jamaica.

She was a Jamaican author, social anthropologist, musicologist, and teacher. She is probably best known for her recorded anthologies of old Jamaica folk songs, researched and collected over her lifetime according to Wikipedia. She was born in 1937 in Jamaica and died on April 10, 2013 in Kingston, Jamaica. She studied at the Royal Academy of Music and also wrote a book entitled “Rock it come over.”

With a repertoire of more than 200 songs arranged by Dr. Lewin, the group has sung to audiences in several countries including Argentina, Barbados, Canada, Cuba, Germany, Great Britain, Martinique, South Africa, Trinidad and Tobago and the USA.

These tours over the years have been sponsored initially by Berger Paints in the 1980s, and since 2009 by Mother’s.

Photo by Kevin Williams

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