Jamaica Gleaner / Michael Holgate, director, choreographer and songwriter of GARVEY The Musical , had intended to include Marcus Garvey in Riot Act, a 2015 theatrical production which presented his fellow Jamaican national heroes, Paul Bogle and George William Gordon on stage.
However, Holgate told The Sunday Gleaner , “When I did the research and realised he had done so much, I started working on a production in his honour.”
GARVEY The Musical was first staged in 2016 and will be on again on Wednesday, October 11, this time at the Little Theatre, Tom Redcam Avenue, St Andrew. This is a change from the Philip Sherlock Centre for the Creative Arts, UWI, Mona, where Holgate is tutor coordinator.
In addition, there will be particularly special audience members – Marcus Garvey’s son, Dr Julius Garvey, and Samia Nkrumah, daughter of former Ghanian leader Kwame Nkrumah.
This staging, in the 130th year of Garvey’s birth, is being presented by the National Council For Reparations. The depth of Garvey’s work and his impact was not the only reason Holgate created the production. He wants it to have an influence now.
“Too many young people are bleaching and they do not think anything is wrong with that. It is not a judgement call, but something is wrong for young people to look at their skin and say it is ugly just because it is black,” Holgate said.
“The whole bleaching thing was affecting me.”
And while there is an individual focus or analysis of various aspects of human endeavour to address issues, Holgate said “what Garvey did was focus on race as a whole”, identifying black unity, black pride and economic self-sufficiency in a three-tiered approach. He hopes that GARVEY The Musical will tour Jamaica, the Caribbean, the USA and other places where Garvey worked, hoping for a reinforcement – or revival – of his message.
Holgate, whose theatre journey includes the Cathy Levy Little People and Teen Players Club, then The Ashe Company (which came out of the club and of which he is artistic director) chose to do a musical as he is keeping an eye on longevity. For while a play has a run and, if it is not remounted, is over, the songs from a musical live on, Holgate giving the example of The Lion King .
“I have always liked musicals for their power they bring. When you do a musical the songs live on forever,” he said. Work on recording the songs from GARVEY The Musical has begun. Holgate describes a songwriting process where parts of songs would come to him throughout the research process, which included reading, visiting Liberty Hall on King Street and doing interviews. He recorded parts on his telephone for future reference, then put them all together, this approach preferred to sitting down and writing a complete song at a time.
He was immersed in the process, Holgate saying “Garvey possessed me, the ideas, the philosophy.”
Although he keeps the songs close to him until they are ready, Holgate keeps an ear out for the best persons to sing them. “Sometimes I have people in mind. I usually have an idea of the people who I want,” Holgate said.
And he is confident that the cast of GARVEY The Musical includes some of the most talented people in Jamaica and the Caribbean. However, there has been precious little financial assistance for the production, Holgate crediting The Ashe Company and the UWI, though the Philip Sherlock Centre for the Creative Arts, with production support.
Wednesday’s staging will be the first time GARVEY The Musical is put on outside the Philip Sherlock Centre, and Holgate said the bigger stage facilitates a bigger production – with elements such as cast members needing to project more in order to reach the entire audience. The presence of Julius Garvey may also be an avenue for feedback to adjust the content, Holgate saying persons such as Professor Verene Shepherd, Dr Michael Barnett and Steve Golding have given suggestions.
“I am sure that on the 11th, when Julius Garvey sees the production, I am sure he will have something to say about his father,” Holgate said.
He hopes to trim it from the current run time of two hours and 15 minutes to two hours, including intermission.
And while he is engrossed in GARVEY The Musical , Holgate is realistic about its subject. “He had his flaws, but his ideas are so powerful,” Holgate said.