Day one of Jambana—known as the One World Festival and now in its fifth year—honoured over 100 years of music experience Sunday in a showcase of two classic acts dating back to 1954 when Slinger Francisco, known as The Mighty Sparrow, first performed as a calypso singer.
Ten years later in 1964, former Bob Marley vocalist Marcia Griffiths began performing alongside Byron Lee and the Dragonaires and went on to become the Empress of Reggae with her polished and steady voice.
Both gave inspirational performances to the screaming crowds at Markham Fair Grounds throughout the day, including Toronto’s own Jully Black who opened for The Mighty Sparrow. He was followed by JC Lodge and Pluto Shervington, who closed with his 1982 classic I Man Born Ya—referring to 1970s Jamaica when the wealthy left the island in droves for Miami. “I wrote a song that will haunt me for the rest of my life,” he is quoted as saying referring the 1976 election.
Before his set, Francisco acknowledged his recent health problems: “I was good for a while but sometime last year, I got sick,” he said after being awarded a Jambana Tribute Award for his lifetime achievements in calypso music.
The comments confirmed reports in 2013 that he was in a coma following a stroke. Despite this, he was his classic self on Sunday performing hit classics like The Lizard, Jean and Dinah and Saltfish to the amusement of hundreds in attendance. He interacted with the crowd on many occasions and even joked with others during a performance of Congo Man.
In the final performance of day one with her son Taff doing vocals, Griffiths dazzled fans wearing a stylish and glittery silver dress. Marcia had gave fans an electrifying performance the night before performing the classics, All My Life, Young Gifted and Black, I Shall Sing and even Desmond Dekker’s Israelites on Friday night at Harbourfront Centre to a packed house. After the show, Griffiths spent intimate time greeting relatives and taking pictures with fans behind Harbourfront Centre’s WestJet stage.
Griffiths, known as the Empress of Reggae, is marking 50 years in the business this year. She began in 1964 and was offered a recording contract by Jamaican record producer Ronald Nasralia after her first-ever performance on stage. She later recorded duets with Bob Marley, Tony Gregory and Bob Andy.