Garfield “Gary G” McCook is the Founder of the Jamaica International Independence Festival Song Competition (JIIFSC) which is bringing a traditional Jamaican cultural event overseas. McCook left Jamaica 34 years ago to seek opportunities in the USA. He has resided in Georgia for 20 years. He & his wife own a business and they have always found ways of giving back to their community. McCook was moved by Jamaica’s success in the Rio Olympics to release his first song, “Rio was good to me” in 2017. This song was a tribute to Usain Bolt on his accomplishment at the Rio Olympics. Other releases are, “A Lang Time Missa Chin A Run Tings”, 2018, “CELLELLA”, 2019, and the theme song for the Jamaica International Independence Festival Song Competition (JIIFSC), “GIMME JAMAICA”, 2020. Here is a conversation with Garfield “Gary G” McCook.
Garfield, thanks for taking the time to sit with us. Where did you come up with the idea for a festival for the Jamaican Diaspora?
The idea for a Festival Song in the Diaspora is as a result of my interest in entering the local competition in Jamaica, in 2017. The rules would not allow me to enter, because although I am Jamaican, I am a citizen of the USA and reside in the USA. Entrance to the local competition is: “The Jamaica Festival Song Competition is open to citizens and all other persons residing in Jamaica for a period of not less than two (2) years prior to the closing date of entry in the Competition. Entrants should be 18 years and older”.
Why do you think the Jamaican diaspora needs a Festival Competition? What is the main goal of this first Festival Competition?
The Jamaican Diaspora needed a Festival Song Competition because there is a wealth of talented Singers in the Diaspora, but no platform to showcase their talent. The main goal is to create that platform so that the world can benefit from a new “International flavor” of Music sounds/rhythm, because of the integration of the different cultures.
Do you have to be born in Jamaica or just someone of Jamaican heritage to enter? What about Jamaicans living in Jamaica?
An entrant must be a Jamaican who is 18 years or older, or someone of Jamaican descent, living in the Diaspora. In an effort to assist in maintaining the integrity of, and participation in the Festival Song Competition in Jamaica, Jamaicans living there cannot enter the JIIFSC.
How has the response been from Jamaicans in the diaspora and have there been any big names stars?
The response has been overwhelming. We currently have entrants, from Canada, England, Germany, and the USA. We have “big name associates of stars” that have entered the competition.
What participants and spectators can expect from this first event?
Participants and spectators can expect an exciting historic event. A difference, a new beginning. The program will involve local Jamaicans showcasing their talents in their respective areas. We will withhold information on the exact nature of performances.
Are you involved in the music industry?
I am a Recording Artist and President of Gavdrew Records. The lyrics and rhythm for my four releases were done by me.
What is your top 5 festival songs?
My top 5 Festival songs are, Bam Bam (The Maytals), Boom Shaka Laka (Hopeton Lewis), Cherry Oh Baby(Eric Donaldson), Land of My Birth (Erica Donaldson), Nuh Wey Nuh Betta Dan Yard (Tinga Stewart)
What advice would you give to first-time participants?
My advice to first-time participants is to “think out of the box, dig deep within your inner soul, just exhale that which is in you, and that will be a winner”
What is the biggest challenge of putting on this event?
The biggest challenge was Marketing, and the reason was we got off to a later than expected start in spreading the word, and introducing our brand.
Where do you see the Jamaican Diaspora Festival Competition 5 years from now?
In five years, we see the JIIFSC in Atlanta as the Event to be on everybody’s calendar. It will be a live event, with a convergence of Patriotic Jamaicans, and people of all walks of life, who have a love for great Music (Reggae), just jamming to the beat.
What other projects and events are you working on?
We are thinking of adding a Gospel song Competition. God is the reason for the season.
Who is your favorite Jamaican musical artist?
My favorite Jamaican Musical Artist is none other than Bob Marley. He was a “Teacher and Preacher of humanity and love”.
Thank you for your time. Where can we learn more about the Jamaican Diaspora Festival Competition?
The Jamaica International Independence Festival Song Competition will be held at the Carribean Life TV Studio, 6254 Memorial Drive, Suite C, Stone Mountain GA 30083 on July 31. Show time is 7PM to 10PM Est. Limited in person attendance, because of COVID restrictions. The Event will be Streamed, on JIIFSC’s FB, Youtube, and Website. There will be a 5 Judge Panel, and live Hosts. The 10 finalists will showcase their songs, virtually or in person. Fan participation will account for 5% of the vote, while the Judges votes will account for 95%. The first prize will be US$8,000.00 + trophy, second prize, US$4,000.00 + trophy, third prize, US$1,000.00.