A report by Richard Johnson for Jamaica’s Observer.
World-renowned Jamaican jazz pianist Monty Alexander will be special guest and among the honorees at this year’s staging of the Jamaica Poetry Festival, set for the AC Hotel in St Andrew on August 14.
The Grammy-nominated musician will join a trove of other musicians and poets on the festival which returns to the events calendar after having to resort to virtual stagings for the past two years due to the pandemic.
Conceptualiser of the Jamaica Poetry Festival Yasus Afari told the Jamaica Observer that he was pleased to have an artiste of the calibre of Alexander agree to appear on his event.
“I first met Monty Alexander about 30 years ago and I remember how taken I was with his humility…there was something about his spirit that really touched me and inhabited my mind. For years I have been trying to track him down and then it happened and he turned out to be everything I perceived him to be and more and I knew I wanted him on the festival.”
Alexander forms part of a long line of musical and literary icons who have performed and been honoured by the team from the Jamaica Poetry Festival. Last year master guitarist Ernie Ranglin was the main honouree at the festival.
“We have always tried to honour the most deserving. When you look at this man’s work…he is named among the top five pianists in the world. I just think here in Jamaica we don’t celebrate our greats enough. But this is a man whose impact is felt across the world. We are presenting him with the award of honour, but in fact the honour is ours,” Yasus Afari told the Jamaica Observer.
In addition to Alexander, the event’s stage will be shared with Skip Marley, grandson of reggae icon Bob Marley, who is making a name for himself. Former Poet Laureate of Jamaica Professor Mervyn Morris, musicologist Marjorie Whylie, poet Dr Michael Abrahams, US-based Ghanian Ebony Payne, 16-year-old high school student Samoya Banton, poet Kai Falconer, violinist Mark Stephenson, master drummer Calvin Mitchell, and the Poet Laureate of Canada George Elliot Clarke.
A few new elements have been added to this years festival. Yasus Afari explained that the disabled community have long held a special place in his heart. So this year in tandem with a number of special interest groups, the Jamaica Poetry Festival will will include a special dinner featuring a presentation titled Voice for the Voiceless. This will included signing for the hearing impaired.
The festival will kick off with a creative writing workshop, as well as an art
exhibit featuring the works of a number of artists including Neville Garris and Professor Clinton Hutton.
Yasus Afari noted that the reception to this year’s festival have been nothing short of heart warming.
“It has just been humbling; I am just grateful. In 2020 and 2021 we had to go virtual. That was just how it had to be done. We followed all the government protocols and staged the event, drawing on poets from across the world, and we were able to get persons from a number of countries including Iran, South Korea, the Netherlands, and Trinidad and Tobago. This year I am just delighted with the support we have received. In a country that sometimes treats poetry like third class citizens, to see corporate world coming forward just pleases me and we just have to give thanks,” said Yasus Afari.