The Junkanoo group that historically has been known as one of the best music makers, and the first group to have pulled off a three-peat in the history of organized parades has had a financial burden lifted off them this year as they prepare to storm Bay Street in true Music Makers fashion.
In a surprise move unbeknownst to the Junkanoo group leaders, Royal Caribbean International (RCI) stepped up to back them with a sponsorship check for $100,000.
After being encouraged to take an interest in the country’s unique cultural expression by Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis, Michael Bayley, Royal Caribbean president and CEO, said they went through the process of learning about different groups, meeting them and watching performances. And that he was impressed by the Music Makers’ history and moved by the financial struggles they’ve had to endure. He was also impressed by the Original Fox Hill Congos and the roles they played in their communities.
During the November 8 opening of the Berry Islands Community Centre in Bullock’s Harbour, Bayley announced RCI’s sponsorship of the A-group as well as a $20,000 grant to the B-group Original Fox Hill Congos.
“We want to back winners now, just remember, we want winners. At Royal Caribbean, we have very high standards and high expectations,” Bayley told representatives from both groups.
The Music Makers made their initial appearance on Bay Street in 1954 back when groups did not have names. And showed up consistently for two decades before financial constraints forced them to be no-shows in 1973 for the first time. They also couldn’t pull off showing up at the 1974 and 1975 parades.
In 1976 they took on the name Music Makers and won the Boxing Day Parade for the first time which commenced their three-peat sweep. The Music Makers also holds the distinction of having been the first group to introduce brass, metal drums and choreograph girls to the parade.
And music was always their thing, hence the name. They proceeded to continue to make their presence felt through the 70s and early 80s.
“Music Makers, we were always known for good music,” said Gary Russell, group chairman, who rings cowbells, scrapes the saw and beats the drums. “We had a fast rhythm and beat and that’s why we took on the name.”
The financial woes came to a head in 1985 and, without sponsorship, stopped participating in Junkanoo for 13 years. The group made a return in 1998 without a sponsor with members coming out of pocket to fund their way.
In 2007 they picked up a sponsor again, but that was a one-year gig. For the last 12 years the group’s members have approached their Bay Street appearances from a self-help approach by digging deep into their pockets.
Russell was overjoyed with the surprise sponsorship announcement.
Russell, who has been wheelchair-bound after an accident 30 years ago left him paralyzed from the waist down, began doing wheelies in his wheelchair when he saw the mock check for $100,000.
“I was more than excited. I was thrilled. Words could not explain how I felt. They did not tell me … didn’t tell anybody. That was the best-kept secret in Junkanoo. When they said they would be the sponsor to the tune, we went crazy,” said Russell.
“We want to thank God for sending this company this way. We want to do our best to live up to their reputation. Junkanoo is very expensive, we will be getting $100,000 but we still have to raise funds to produce good quality Boxing Day and New Year’s Day costumes.”
Russell said the financial backing from RCI would be the adhesive for stabilization and growth in the group.
“It is very exciting for our members to have this sponsorship and help guarantee the future of the Music Makers. We will now have the resources to compete effectively.”
Despite the sponsorship, Russell said it has come late in the year, as materials have to be ordered worldwide to put on a good show, but he said they would do their best to put their best foot forward. He said the full effect of the RCI’s sponsorship will be seen next year, owing to the lateness of the sponsorship.
“The Music Makers are bringing the music and the whole boat with us,” said Russell as they make their way back to Bay with an official sponsor behind them. “We have a whole lot of surprises coming.”