It was a family tradition that Mary Anne Chambers relished as a young girl growing up in Jamaica.
Almost every Sunday afternoon, her parents would accompany their children to the Royal Botanical Gardens, also known as Hope Gardens, in the parish of St. Andrew to enjoy the Jamaica Military Band’s (JMB) weekly performances.
“They used to play at the bandshell located in a lovely grassed area where we would sit for the performances,” recalled Chambers. “I remember their musical selections being primarily numbers by classical composers, but there would also be a touch of the traditional Jamaican music.
“It was always a thrill for me to see the soldiers of the band in their brilliant uniforms and to hear the excellence in their renditions of music, some of which I was learning to play on the piano.”
Chambers had the opportunity to see the band perform live last week for the first time since migrating to Canada with her family in 1976.
On its first tour of this country, the JMB – at the invitation of the Jamaica Ex-Soldiers Association of Canada – demonstrated its precision and musical versatility last Tuesday evening at the Jamaican Canadian Association (JCA) centre.
“It has been such a long time since I saw the band live, so I was not going to miss the opportunity to see them,” said Chambers, a retired banking executive and Ontario government minister.
“I wasn’t disappointed. A few things have changed. While the band members are still predominantly male, there are now some female members, which is wonderful and their repertoire is even more versatile now, including music by Bob Marley, of course, and Michael Jackson.
“But as I recall from many years ago, their medleys were creative and their variations were filled with pleasant surprises. Their superb rendition of Jamaica’s national anthem cannot be matched and I was also very proud of their rendition of the Canadian anthem.
“Last week’s performance revived very happy memories of my Jamaican upbringing… For me, the band symbolizes the exceptional and versatile musical talent that exists in Jamaica as well as the professionalism of the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF).”
The band was invited to Canada to participate in the 16th annual Fortissimo celebration in Ottawa. Fortissimo is a military concert and sunset ceremony conducted on the lawns of Parliament Hill.
The JMB joined the Colonial Williamsburg Fife & Drums, the German Forces Elite Drill Team and Fife & Drums, the United States Army Old Guard Fife & Drum Corps and the Canadian Forces Ceremonial Guard in this year’s celebration to mark the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812.
The JMB, which has performed in the United States, England and several Caribbean countries, is celebrating its 85th anniversary this year.
“The band has been performing and playing music together for a very long time,” said Lieutenant Colonel Jamie Ogilvie. “It has a wide-ranging repertoire spanning all genres of music which we are so happy to share with Canadians.”
The oldest continuous service unit of the JDF, the JMB emerged from the West India Regiment which disbanded in 1926 after 131 years of service. It is one of only two units in the world – the other being the Barbados Regiment – that wears the Zouave uniform that includes short open-fronted jackets, baggy trousers, sashes and oriental headgear.
While in Canada, the band also performed in Montreal and at the City of Toronto’s “Fresh Wednesdays” midday summer concert at Nathan Phillips Square and the opening ceremony of the Toronto FC Major League Soccer match against the Portland Timbers at BMO Field.
Jamaica’s consul general in Toronto, George Ramocan, said he was honoured to welcome the band to the city. The consulate collaborated with the Jamaica Tourist Board, Jamaica Promotions Corporation, RBC, Sandals Resort, Jian Hing Supermarket and Justice of the Peace, Sam Billich, to facilitate the band’s trip.
“The band’s presence in Canada is not to be taken lightly,” said Ramocan. “It comes out of many good things, one of which is the excellent relationship that exists between Canada and Jamaica.”
Shortly after breaking ties with Britain on August 6, 1962, Canada established diplomatic relations with the first independent English-speaking Caribbean territory and opened a High Commission in Kingston that welcomed its first High Commissioner – Graham McInnes – on March 4, 1963.
Jamaican soldiers did basic aviation training at the Canadian Forces School of Aerospace Technology at Canadian Forces Base Borden under a 27-year Military Assistance Training Program that concluded in October 2010. Jamaicans now train at the state-of-the-art Jamaica Military Aviation School at Norman Manley International Airport, which was launched six years ago with Canadian assistance.
Last June, Canada and Jamaica signed a Memorandum of Understanding for the establishment of a Canadian Military Operation Support Hub to provide logistical support to routine operations in the Caribbean and Latin America.
During the 2011 hurricane season, Canada dispatched three Griffon helicopters and 65 Canadian Forces members to Jamaica to conduct search and rescue activities.
“The fantastic relationship that exists between the two countries is because of the many nationals who have come to Canada and made significant contributions to the development of this country,” said Ramocan. “All of these things that are happening are in recognition of the work you have done here and are doing to keep the Jamaican flag flying proudly.”
The JMB was the first musical outfit to perform the Jamaican national anthem just weeks before independence. Retired Major Joe Williams arranged the anthem for the military band to perform at Lyndhurst Methodist Church hall.
By RON FANFAIR