‘I dream Jonkunoo,’ says Renford Foster

Michael Reckord (The Gleaner) features Jonkunoo band group leader Renford Foster: “Band group leader committed to carrying on tradition; talks meeting ‘Bob and Tosh.’”

Training begins today for about 15 new and established Jonkunoo groups around the island, most immediately for a competition next month. To be led by the Institute of Creative Training and Development (ICTD) in consultation with the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission (JCDC), the training also has a longer-term goal, the revival of interest in the traditional cultural form.

Training will be in movement, costume design, traditional music and drama. It begins in the Kingston region at Excelsior Community College and continues in St Mary on January 21 and in Green Island, Hanover, on January 28.

The Gleaner met early this week with the Southwest St Andrew Jonkunoo group, one of the established groups seeking additional training. Despite numerous adversities, including financial challenges and lack of interest by some members, Renford Foster has stuck with the Jonkunoo group he has led for some 40 years. Asked why, he shook his head in wonderment. “I just love it,” he said, adding after a pause, “I dream Jonkunoo.” [. . .]

When Foster was born in 1964, his granduncle, Renford Walsh, after whom he was named, was leading an earlier version of the group Foster now heads, the Southwest St Andrew Jonkunoo group. One of the larger bands, it has 15 members.

Walsh came to Kingston from Islington, St Mary, and brought members of his group with him. He was carrying a tradition, as his father before him had led a group. Walsh’s cousin, Manny Bawl Out, came to town with him and formed the Back-To group in Majesty Gardens, Three Miles. When he died, so did the group.

Walsh’s group was originally named the Kingston Jonkunoo group, but he was persuaded to change the name, since there were other Jonkunoo groups in the capital city. Foster’s grandaunt, Evelyn Bailey, and her husband, Eric Ricketts, were the band’s costume-makers.

As Foster grew, so did his love of the music. In his pre-teen years, he would follow the all-male band as Walsh led it on walking tours of the city, from Spanish Town Road, where they lived, to Cross Roads, Half-Way Tree and even Hope Gardens, and Papine. From age 12 to 18, he danced as the Pitchy Patchy character with the group. “I was the best Pitchy Patchy the group ever had,” Foster boasted.

By the time he turned 18, his arthritic granduncle had grown weary of the group and he handed it over to Foster. The latter then stopped dancing with the group and focused on leading and playing drums for it. He also makes the Devil’s crown and masks, and though he can sew, he gives the clothing segments and designs of the costumes to dressmakers.

Over the years, the group has performed in many out-of-town parishes, including St Thomas, Portland, St Mary, Manchester and Clarendon. In the capital city, the group has performed at a number of ‘Emancipendence’ Grand Galas and at JCDC-organised Hope Road venues. [. . .]

For full article and more photos, see https://jamaica-gleaner.com/article/entertainment/20230114/i-dream-jonkunoo-says-renford-foster

[Photo above; Renford Foster, leader of the Southwest St Andrew Jonkunoo group, with his bass drum.

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