JAIMAICA AND USAIN BOLT, THE BOY WHO LEARNT TO FLY
In Nigerian poet, playwright and Nobel laureate Professor Wole Soyinka’s You Must Set Forth at Dawn Memoirs, a follow-up to his childhood memoirs, Ake, he talks about his experiences in Jamaica in the 90s in the chapter ‘From Ghetto to Garrison’. Here he describes the spate of violence he heard about and witnessed while he was on exile as a ‘wanted’ man during the General Abacha regime. He was in Kingston Town because his friend Sheila Graham, a Jamaican producer and founder of Area Youth Foundation, wanted him to assist with the production of The Area Boy Project play. Graham was inspired by Wole Soyinka’s own The Beatification of Area Boy play, which evolved from Nigerian slums and which she encountered in a drama bookshop. Her plans were to rehabilitate the disadvantaged youth and transform the degraded ‘inner city’ environment of Kingston Town in Jamaica through a play project giving young people voices to decry the violence that ruled and ruined their lives. Even Robert Nesta “Bob” Marley, one of the most influential musicians of all time, survived an assassination attempt in 1976. Though he was wounded in the chest and arm, he went on to perform a few days later at Smile Jamaica, a free peace concert necessitated by the rising turmoil between Jamaica’s opposing political parties. The Jamaican author Marlon James published A Brief History of Seven Killings, a fictional account centered on this assassination attempt. In October 2015, James won the Man Booker Prize.
The history of the Island nation of Jamaica speaks to the growth and determination of her people despite their experiences of hardship and prosperity. Jamaica’s original inhabitants are the Arawaks, also called Tainos who came from South America 2,500 years ago and named the island Xaymaca, which means “land of wood and water”. Christopher Columbus discovered the island in 1494. Some years after, the Spaniards invaded The Arawaks who had led quiet and peaceful lives. They would again be attacked and colonized by the British. The majority of Jamaicans are descendants of Africa whose ancestors were taken away by British slave masters to work on their farms and sugar cane plantations. Harry Belafonte’s Jamaica Farewell, a mento style-song written by Irving Burgie, which was modified from existing folk pieces and released in 1957, talks about the beauties of the West Indian Islands. It is a very popular classic even outside the Caribbean Islands. This song has been translated into many languages, with many covers over the decades. Several movies have also been made including The Harder They Come, a 1972 Jamaican crime film directed by Perry Henzell, starring Jimmy Cliff as Ivanhoe “Ivan” Martin, based on a real-life Jamaican criminal by that name. Cliff also did the reggae soundtrack of the movie, which made it famous and is known to have brought global awareness to reggae. This film has been described as the most influential of Jamaican film and one of the most important from the Caribbean.
Several documentary films about Bob Marley exist; a feature-length documentary, Rebel Music directed by Jeremy Marre, was nominated at the 2001 Grammys for Best Long Form Music Video Documentary. Kevin Macdonald also directed a documentary film; Marley, which was released on April 20, 2012 and 2011, filmmaker Esther Anderson, along with Gian Godoy, produced Bob Marley: The Making of a Legend, which premiered at the Edinburgh International Film Festival the same year. Cool Runnings, another movie about Jamaicans, is a 1993 Walt Disney sports comedy film production loosely based on the true story of the Jamaican national bobsleigh team’s debut at the 1988 Winter Olympics. Their participation underscores the doggedness and determination of the people of the tropical island.
The Boy Who Learnt to Fly, a short animated film, also sports-based, was released on the July 19 this year about Jamaica’s Usain ‘Lightning’ Bolt. It already has over 4.2 million views on YouTube! The Moonbot Studios production collaboration sponsored by Gatorade is very inspiring and tells of how he overcame his struggles while growing up to become a world champion. Jeff Miller, Director of Digital Strategy at Gatorade states, “At Gatorade today, we are so focused on telling very rich athletes stories in whatever form they come. We chose to make the film animated because it gave us the freedom to bring to life, the spirit, colours, life and sounds of Jamaica.” Kenny Mitchell, Head of Consumer Engagement at Gatorade also said, “This is our way of showcasing Usain’s unique story based on insights about him, what drives him in his sport moment in terms of becoming a lead athlete.” Limbert Fabian and Jake Wyatt, co-directors of the animated short had this to say about the production, “What makes Usain Bolt a really great protagonist for an animated film or film in general is that he’s got a great story. A boy from humble beginnings makes good and then makes great, and he became the fastest man alive. Our film is a 3-D film that emulates the look of 2-D. We get what’s great about CG camera and been able to move through space and then we get what’s great about a painting and been able to control texture and edge.”
Indeed, Jamaica has a history of producing young legends like Usain Bolt and Bob Marley. By the time Marley died at just 36, he left behind 13 studio albums between 1965 and 1983. Redemption Song, the last track from his last studio album Uprising released in his lifetime, has motivational lyrics like “Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery, none but ourselves can free our minds… and “We forward in this generation, triumphantly.” These words seemed to spur the then 15-year old Bolt to victory in the 200m race at the 2002 World Junior Championships held in Kingston Town, Jamaica. Standing at 6ft 5 inches, young Bolt breasted the tape in 20.61 seconds, becoming the youngest world-junior gold medalist ever. The expectation from the home crowd made him so nervous that he wore his shoes on the wrong feet. Taking great pride in his country, he turned down track scholarships offered on the strength of his performances by schools in the United States.
Born August 21, 1986, the eleven-time world champion, Bolt is unarguably the fastest person ever timed. The first man to hold both the 100m and 200m world records since fully automatic time measurements became mandatory in 1977, he also set a world record with his team mates in the 4 by 100m relay. Today, Bolt reigns as the Olympic champion in these 3 events and is the first man in the modern Olympic Games to win 6 gold medals in sprinting.
What makes Bolt amazing to watch is that he not only dominates the track despite his height, often a disadvantage in sprints, but he is also mischievous and entertains the crowd at the start and finish of his races. More recognition has come for the Trelawny boy with international awards like the; International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) World Athlete of the Year; Track and Field Athlete of the Year; and Laureus World Sportsman of the Year, which he won thrice. He is also the highest paid athlete ever in track and field and is reputed as the world’s most marketable athlete. Bolt supports local and international charities. He also frequently donates to the primary and secondary schools he attended, where his abilities were discovered and developed. I think the symbolism of the Jamaican national flag also urges him on. The earlier interpretation of the gold, green and black colours in the flag was “Hardships there are but the land is green and the sun shineth”: gold recalls the shining sun, black reflects hardships, and green represents the land. The colours were re-interpreted as black, representing the strength and creativity of the people, allowing them overcome challenges, yellow for the golden sunshine and green for the lush vegetation of the island. This writer’s 2014 Harmattan/Autumn collection ‘Jamaican Vibrations’! was inspired by the island nation, their history, way of life and their legends like Marley and Bolt. Ahead of his 30th birthday on the final day of competition at the 2016 Rio Olympics, the world wonders whether lightning will strike in the same places thrice! We would all love to see that “To di world mi sey” lightning pose.
January 14, 2021
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