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Jamaican cultural icons bring Christmas cheer to Leeds

National Dance Theatre Dance Company of Jamaica Singers Photo: Jamie Barnett

Jamaica Society Leeds efforts to tackle loneliness and isolation amongst their older members in the run up to Christmas and to preserve the traditions they brought to the UK, have been boosted by two giants of Jamaican culture.

Two short films for the Ol’ Time Somet’ing series will bring back fond memories of folk songs and Christmas traditions for first generation Jamaicans and other West Indians.

The first, features Traddin’ a suite of traditional folk songs drawn from communities across Jamaica performed by the acclaimed National Dance Theatre of Jamaica Singers (NDTC).

NDTC Artistic Director, Marlon D. Simms Photo: Edward Messias

Marlon Simms, NDTC Artistic Director said, “Cultural heritage is the beating heart of Jamaica. It is no coincidence that NDTC was born in [1962] the very year that Jamaica gained Independence. Ever since, showcasing our heritage through dance and music has been a part of our quest to ensure that those traditions do not disappear with time. We are delighted to share Traddin’ with our friends in Leeds, particularly that first generation who have helped to share the heritage and traditions we are so proud of with the rest of the world.

“The songs featured in Traddin’ hark back to an era that many across the Diaspora will look fondly upon and recognise as a part of their childhood growing up in Jamaica during the 1920s to 1950s. We hope that rekindling these memories will encourage those who left Jamaica as young people in search of opportunity in Britain decades ago, to play their part in preserving and protecting their heritage by sharing with younger generations.”

In Sorrel, Jonkonnu and Puddin’, Jamaica’s King of Comedy, Oliver Samuels CD, reflects on the food, preparations, and celebrations of a traditional Jamaican Christmas.

Jamaica’s King of Comedy, Oliver Samuels CD Source: Mr Samuels Facebook page

Mr Samuels who is celebrating 50 years in theatre said, “Leeds has a special place in my heart as it was one of the first places I performed in on my first overseas visit to England in 1978. I was performing in Come Home to Jamaica at Leeds Polytechnic Hall with the late great Louise Bennett-Coverley [the pioneering Jamaican poet, folklorist and writer]. I remember the audience response, the kindness and welcome I have received in the city over the years.”

The veteran of stage and screen added, “Theatre and humour are a way to record and champion our history and traditions with younger generations so that they are not lost with time.”

Whilst the Society’s headquarters, Jamaica House, has been temporarily closed due to Covid-19 restrictions older members in particular have missed getting together for friendship, company and often to reminisce. Many have learned to use smart devices to stay connected with friends and family. They will be encouraged to share the films with younger generations who may not be familiar with the heritage they hold so dear.

Ol’ Time Somet’ing has been made possible with the generous support of the National Lottery Heritage Fund.