BY BRIAN BONITTO, Jamaica Observer

KENYA’S president Uhuru Kenyatta; Prime Minister Andrew Holness; Entertainment & Culture Minister Olivia “Babsy” Grange; and Lisa Hanna, Grange’s Opposition counterpart, exited their motorcades to cheers from the 35,000 flag-waving guests attending the 57th Independence Grand Gala on Tuesday evening.

However, the loudest reception inside the National Stadium in Kingston was reserved for Sizzla Kalonji, whose 120-strong motorcycle convoy made a grand entrance at the annual celebration.

“Rasta run the world!” shouted a guest in the Bleachers section, as the revving procession passed.

Sizzla — who, along with Rita Marley, received a Reggae Icon Award for their contribution to reggae music — sat pillion side-saddle behind the lead motorcycle, flying a Rastafarian-coloured flag bearing the image of HIM Emperor Haile Selassie I.

Waving to the crowd, his cavalcade made two laps around the stadium’s cycle track before he dismounted with a salute.

He graciously accepted his Gala honour flanked by Kenyatta, Holness, Grange, and Fayval Williams, Member of Parliament for St Andrew Eastern where Sizzla’s Judgement Yard is located.

“On behalf of the whole entire nation…those who have been a part of my musical journey over the years; seeing such an award, it signifies that the works of His Majesty through the talent of Sizzla, building on the foundation of our ancestors and leaders in the reggae music, fighting for our people for redemption, repatriation…I’m honoured and thankful once again to receive such (an award),” he said, to rapturous cheers.

After collecting the citation, Sizzla walked towards the stage and belted out lyrics to the apt Rise To The Occasion. The Grammy-nominated artiste’s set also included Holding Firm, Can’t Keep A Good Man Down, Got To Be Strong, Just One of Those Days, and Black Woman and Child.

He exited as he came — doing several laps on motorcycle.

Prior to Sizzla’s arrival, Judy Mowatt gave a tribute to Marley, the evening’s other recipient. Mowatt was a member of the I-Threes with Marley and Marcia Griffiths — Bob Marley’s harmony trio. Her ode to her wheelchair-bound colleague was fitting.

Thank You Lord, Black Woman, Many Are Called and the global anthem, One Love, were some of the selections from her songbook.

The celebrations, interspersed with fireworks, showcased the best of Jamaica in words, song, and dance. Tributes to Pan African leader Marcus Garvey; folklorist Louise “Miss Lou” Bennett Coverley; former Prime Minister Edward Seaga; and a special tribute to Kenya were part of the entertainment package.

Kenyatta, who arrived on Monday for a three-day visit, shared his thoughts on the gala with the Jamaica Observer.

“Let me say, there are very clear linkages on the manner in which this 57th celebration; you have managed to capture the essence of where the people of Jamaica came from and how they have evolved through all their struggles and be the nation that you are today, under your motto: one nation, one people. And to be taken through that journey, to me, is the most incredible thing,” Kenyatta said.

The evening’s entertainment also included performances from Ashe; Loaded Eagle, the 2019 Festival Song winner; Joanna Walker, 2019 Gospel Song winner; gospel heavyweights Sister Patt, Minister Marion Hall and Kevin Downswell; and Beenie Man. Koffee pulled the curtains down on a delightful evening.