Hamilton resident Tanya Hernandez is one of two Canadians taking part in the International Jamaican Independence Foreign Song Contest, which targets Jamaicans living outside of Jamaica.
The competition debuted in 2021 and the winner was Lavi Luja from Toronto. This year, Luja competes again and was named one of the finalists along with Hernandez.
Hernandez uses the stage name Miss Tanya Lu in honor of Louise Bennet-Coverley is a folklorist and performer who contributed to the popularization of the Jamaican dialect throughout the world. Bennett-Coverly was affectionately known to her fans as Miss Lou.
According to Hernandez, she got the inspiration for the song she submitted to the competition. Give me black green and gold, while cooking in her kitchen last year.
“It just made me so happy because it reminded me of my childhood when every year [the independence] The festival has come and you have these singers singing mento, calypso, reggae songs,” she told CBC Hamilton.
“I submitted my song and was so happy to hear that out of 19 entries this year, they chose 12. So I’m in the semi-finals of the top 12, and from now until June 30th they let the public vote for their favorite song.
“Five percent of the fan votes will go into deciding who will make the top seven, and those seven finalists will go to Atlanta. [on July 30] perform to compete for the first three places,” she added.
Hernandez says she wrote her song to express “gratitude to those who paved the way for us.”
“Black, green and gold are the colors [the Jamaican] flag. It contains all those pioneers, all those people who paved the way to give us a solid foundation. Therefore, I wanted to carry the baton in order to preserve the solid foundation of our country,” she said.
“We want bunononos country is a term for good. We do not want buguyaga [not worth anything, low class] country, we want to continue to be bunononos.”
“They love my music”
Hernandez says that the response to the song has been good.
“I’m so glad people like my song. They love my music,” she said.
“Someone wrote to me and said that my song addresses all aspects of our culture with honesty, humor and musicality. And she also said that Miss Lou… if she were alive, she would be proud of me.
“I’m happy because the idea is to continue to be the best ambassador for my country … to make Jamaica better and Canada better because it’s a multicultural country,” she said.
Watch: Miss Lou Tells Jamaican Proverbs (National Library of Jamaica)
Hernandez says that while she was delighted with the comment about Miss Lou, she wasn’t completely surprised. This is because for several years now people have been calling her Miss Lou and commenting that she looks like and expresses herself as a Jamaican icon.
“I’m not trying to imitate her. I’m just a tribute artist to her, as well as a general folklorist and singer,” she said.
Hernandez, 56, has worked as a special education teacher for more than 20 years teaching children with autism, dyslexia and reading difficulties. She is a Certified Canadian Orton-Gillingham Educator and Reading Specialist.
Luja, last year’s winner, works as a behavior specialist for the Toronto District School Board.
He said he started publishing music after former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin killed George Floyd.
Despite always being interested in music, “I had to answer,” said Luja, posting a song titled I can not breathe.
He said he thinks it’s because of his song Certified yardie, was chosen as the winner of last year’s competition because it focuses on the character of Jamaicans rather than beaches and warm weather.
“That keeps the Jamaican flag up high”
Garfield “Gary G” McCook says he organized the competition because there was a need in the diaspora for a platform to celebrate independence.
He says that the first competition was attended by 20 participants from Canada, Germany, the UK and the US.
“There are so many artists in the diaspora who wanted to have a platform but didn’t have one, but now they have a platform,” McCook told CBC by phone from Atlanta.
“We’re just trying to keep our reggae and other music alive here by giving these artists a chance to express what we’re used to at home when enjoying these great festival songs. It keeps the Jamaican flag high.”
McCook hopes that the Jamaican Cultural Development Commission will join him, adding that the contest provides a unique opportunity to educate the diaspora about the island and invite them to visit it.
Luja said that the competition means a lot to him.
“To be able to participate in our country through the platform of this festival means a lot, and as an independent artist, to get a platform where your people and other people can hear you … this platform will give birth to many talents,” he said.
“I hope the festival brings more attention to Jamaican culture and also educates Canadians in general that there is such a competition and that there are Canadians who not only participate, but win.”
On July 30, the jury will determine the top three winners.
The semi-finalists will be judged on vocal quality, performance quality, originality and relevance to Jamaican culture.
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