Monday, September 15, 2014

MAN OF THE MOMENT: Can Dr. Carl Williams lead the JCF into a definitive new era?

PROUD TO SERVE: Having risen through the JCF ranks, Williams, 50, now holds the view from the top.

At a time when the Jamaica Constabulary Force is in dire need of visionary leadership as the war on crime rages on, great expectations rest on the slender shoulders of newly installed Commissioner of Police, Dr. Carl Williams. Can he lead the force into a definitive new era? It remains to be seen what his tenure will yield but, as media reports attest, many in high office are rooting for him to turn things around once settled into the lofty post left vacant by predecessor Owen Ellington.

Unsurprisingly, the new top cop's appointment by the national security ministry has been garnering deafening buzz in all quarters, from the newspaper front pages to radio talk shows to social media to the musings of popular and well-respected social commentators like The Gleaner's Dr. Orville Taylor, who outlined his POV in a rather optimistic and insightful column on Sunday. "As a nation we cannot afford for Williams to fail," Dr. Taylor asserted. "He must continue to squeeze out corruption, improve professionalism and collaborate with other bright loyal police in doing his work."

A son of Trelawny and a product of Clarendon's Edwin Allen High (formerly Frankfield High) and North America's Sam Houston University, Dr. Williams comes to the post with, yes, a dazzling and much-gabbed-about PhD in Criminal Justice but, more importantly, over 30 years of service under his belt as a beat policeman. A few more fascinating facts about the new JCF boss, who officially enters office on Monday, September 15: he's become the 28th Commissioner in the force's 149-year history; Williams is also the eleventh Jamaican to land the plum job and only the ninth overall to have risen through the ranks of the JCF. 

As in years past, today's Jamaica is cloaked in an atmosphere of challenge, change and spiralling crime statistics. All eyes will be on Dr. Williams as he laces up his boots. To say the very least, he has his work cut out for him in rooting out corruption, safeguarding human rights, bolstering community policing and re-establishing cop-civilian trust and respect, to cite only a few of the ares that urgently need addressing. 

"All patriotic Jamaicans must give him support and keep him, like his predecessors, politically neutral, sober and honest," Dr. Taylor noted, amusingly adding, "After all, we want him to last beyond Round One." Time will tell.




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TALLAWAH MOMENT: Esteemed former colleagues mourn 'gentle giant' Roger Clarke

WE WERE THERE: PM Simpson-Miller and Governor General Sir Patrick Allen greeting each other at Saturday's service, as Errald Miller looks on.

Since his untimely passing, the term larger-than-life has been regularly called upon to describe former Jamaican minister of government and Member of Parliament Roger Clarke. So it's only fitting that the speeches that flowed inside St. George's Anglican Church during Saturday's official thanksgiving service for his life and work were on par with that description.

Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miler was immensely fond of her administration's Agriculture & Fisheries minister, whom she eulogized with trademark respect and from-the-heart candour. "He was a unique friend, a one-of-a-kind and invaluable nation-builder and exceptional servant of the people," the prime minister remarked in her address. "The outpouring of love from across the nation, even across political divides is such that Jamaica has never seen before." 

For Simpson-Miller, the approachability and irrepressible joie de vivre Clarke brought to his daily interactions with everyone equally endeared him to people. "He cultivated and nourished and cherished real and lasting friendships on both sides of the parliamentary aisles. He cemented bonds of trust and respect through his fairness. These bonds are unbreakable, even with his passing, and remain lessons for all of us who remain."

As expected, an enormous and diverse mix of mourners packed the Savanna-la-Mar-based church to pay their final respects — a large number of parliamentarians, scores of constituents and PNP delegates, who joined everyone else in comforting the bereaved, particularly Clarke's widow Sonia, daughter Dollette and son Andrew. 

As it happened at Sir Howard Cooke's memorial service in Kingston last month, former prime minister P.J. Patterson was on hand to deliver the main remembrance. He, too, drew attention to the impeccable qualities that made Roger Clarke such a class at. "For as large as he was in life, he has proven to be even larger in death," Patterson said of the 74-year-old former Central Westmoreland MP, who drew his last breath on August 28 en route to Jamaica from the United States post-surgery.

"The strong sense of irreparable loss to all Jamaica and the massive outpouring of genuine admiration reflect a crossing of the divide of politics, of social class, of colour and creed. The widespread recognition and esteem of the worth and work of this gentle giant springs from a narrative which stands the bridges of a humble beginning."

> THIS MAN'S WORK: The sudden passing of MP Roger Clarke




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VOICES IN MOTION: Jamaican Folk Singers revel in rhythmic flair, splendid harmonies

LIFT EVERY VOICE: The weekend-long season showcased a vibrant fusion of talent and tradition.

The mood of the Jamaican Folk Singers 2014 concert season was equal parts festive and reflective, imbued with just the right balance of flair, folkloric storytelling and some fanfare. But easily the most pleasantly surprising thing about the performance, aside from the inclusion of a visually impaired collective, had to be the cleverly choreographed dramatic sequences of the second half that really made the whole show come alive. I didn't know they had it in them.

Divided into two solid halves, the concert featured music that essentially stripped away all lurking artifice to reveal the passion at play behind the repertoire. For those who've closely followed the Singers over the years, you would have no doubt delighted in the quiet and contemplative style brought to renditions of folk gems and spirituals like "It's a Mighty Long Road", "He Lifted Me" and "Lily of the Valley," only to find yourself ascending on the crescendoes of mid-tempo grooves like "Noah Build De Ark," among several others.

Even so, the nearly 40-voice choir is at its best when orchestrating confectionery numbers coated with a pop gloss and tongue-in-cheek riffs on the contours of intimate relationships and other socially sensitive matters. We were pleased to discover, too, that Dr. Olive Lewin's vision is very much alive, as evidenced by the meticulous crafting that went into the overall staging, the harmonious balance of voices and instruments and superb song choices that tell poignant tales and heed to the traditional over the contemporary.

My only quibble is that the presentation ended all too quickly. Still, the choristers (a mix of veterans and relative newcomers) demonstrated an engaging verve in motion, as they accessorized their tunes with sprightly live accompaniment and the movement to match. In short, the concert amounted to an enjoyable evening inside the Little Theatre marked by selections from a timeless repertoire and emphasis on time-honoured tradition.

> Doing Good: Jamaican Folk Singers  put on 'Pepperpot' at St. Luke's Anglican Church




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Saturday, September 13, 2014

THE MOUSETRAP: Idris Elba and Taraji P. Henson square off in slight new thriller No Good Deed

STEALTH MODE: A lethal battle of wits plays out in the Sam Miller-directed film.

Let the right one in. So learns the trusting and kind-hearted Terry (played to a tee by the talented Taraji P. Henson), the lonely and severely stressed housewife at the centre of No Good Deed, a meat-thin but occasionally jolting and suspenseful character study of human violence and survival instincts. 

The antagonistic character in question here is Colin Evans (Idris Elba), an on-the-lam career criminal and one of the most wanted men in the US state of Tennessee, whose long history of wreaking havoc is unspeakable. Unfortunately for Terry (a mother of two) whose house he happens to call upon in the dead of night asking for a phone call after crashing his stolen truck in heavy rain, he's also a disarming smooth-talker who can have a woman so dazzled she won't even notice her dress dropping to the floor. But as viewers will discover this middle-brow flick is no study in romantic seduction.

At its best, the movie offers a thrilling chance to catch two of Black Hollywood's most magnetic stars at the top of their game, even when the film's narrative slips into shallow, lurid waters. While Elba brings the gravitas required to pull of the narcissistic cunning of the sociopathic Colin, Henson, whose filmography includes an Oscar-nominated turn in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, shows she can keep pace, mustering a brutal force of her own without compromising her feminine allure. 

The roles of Colin and Terry are grit-ridden parts and feel ideally suited to these terrific actors, who, under Sam Miller's direction do their best to make something substantial of the otherwise derivative and a tad exploitative material they have to work with. 

With echoes of Obsessed and 2002's Enough, No Good Deed doesn't exactly contribute any fresh ideas to the home-intruder sub-genre, but it's sufficiently riveting to hold your interest to see how it all climaxes. And for it's predominantly female audience, it's a vociferous cautionary tale about entertaining strangers in the night. Tyrone's Verdict: B-




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Friday, September 12, 2014

SOLO SPOTLIGHT: Singer-actress Shanique Brown delivers with poise and palpable passion

THE NATURAL: "I'll try it, even if it's not my forte," says Brown, 22, of acting roles.

Shanique Brown cites such seductive songbirds as V.V. Brown, Ledisi, Chrisette Michele, Rachelle Ferrell and Joss Stone among her musical idols. By all accounts, she has what it takes to become one herself. With wondrous vocals, sultry style, a bit of diva flair and the requisite balance between sugar and spice to endear her audience, there's definitely something about Miss Brown. Little wonder then that following her brief yet memorable afternoon performance at the Gungo Walk Music Festival on Saturday, she has had random folks coming up to her (even in the midst of our interview) to express just how deeply they were moved by her performance.

Brown, who graciously accepts all her compliments, rendered a mix of covers and her own originals like "It's Love" and "Press Play," but if you ask her, writing and singing her own own material is the thing. An absolute imperative. "I don't like performing other people's songs," she says flatly. "I prefer to write my own stuff because people can connect to you better, and that's my goal as an emerging artist. I love to write, period. And I try to stay inspired and put my all into my music. I think people are starting to feel me."

Brown, only 22, is among a growing list of soulful and poetic young queens (Racquel Jones and Gabrielle Reno, please stand up) intent on carving a niche for themselves in contemporary Jamaican music, despite the industry's overarching penchant for buzz and hype over real talent. Quite admirably, I hasten to add, these gifted girls know the steep uphill task they face to make a solid mark, but they're more than up to the challenge. "My dream is to become a full-time and successful professional singer," reveals Brown, a UWI grad whose depth and intelligence translates beautifully onstage. "Right now I do have a nine-to-five, but I definitely want to take up music full-time."

But Brown is no stranger to the spotlight, as she has been quietly building a solid body of work as a promising stage actress. Over the past few years she's made notable appearances in such productions as the the very recent Absent Friends and Jonkanoo Jamboree (both by the University Players), where she kept pace with Nadean Rawlins and Bryan Johnson, and worked with directors like Fabian Thomas, Michael Holgate and Brian Heap.

With gratifying female roles in local theatre an increasingly scarce commodity, Brown tries to work as much as possible. "I try not to say no to anything that comes my way. I try it, even if it's not my forte," says the Ardenne High alumna. No doubt this is only the beginning for a young lady who exudes a radiant star quality and walks with the poise and grace of a leading lady. Whether in front of the microphone or a theatre audience, centrestage is clearly where Shanique Brown was destined to be. "I want to accomplish so many things; I don't even know where to begin," she readily admits, beaming. "I'd love to do some more songwriting, film acting and theatre and even own my own record label."




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MAKING A SCENE: PNP salutes Roger Clarke; Shaggy does Venice Film Fest; Bolt wows New York fans, and more

FAST FRIENDS: September 3, United States. The PUMA store in Soho, New York City, was buzzing with excitement recently as sprint superstar and brand ambassador Usain Bolt (right) headlined a special "training" event put on by the track gear company. Here, the World's Fastest Man shares the frame with Johnny Damon. (Photo: Zimbio.com) 

GAME CHANGERS: September 3, Kingston. The 2014/15 National Premier League got a well-supported launch last week at the Spanish Town Road-based headquarters of title sponsors Red Stripe, drawing appearances by such notable public figures as PLCA Chairman Edward Seaga (left) and JFF President Captain Horace Burrell. (Photo: Infuzion.Inc) 

FLASHING LIGHTS: September 5, Italy. One of the glitziest cinematic events in the world, the Venice International Film Festival (now in its 71st year) has a tendency to draw a mammoth and wildly diverse throng to the the Italian city. This year, Shaggy (far left) was in the mix, rubbing shoulders at the red-carpet premiere of Good Kill with the likes of fellow musician Michael Bolton, Chrysler and Fiat CMO Olivier Francois, and other guests. (Photo: Zimbio.com) 

VIP TREATMENT: September 9, United States. Grammy winner Sean Paul and his leading lady Jodi Stewart Henriques strike a royal pose at Tuesday's Fashion Rocks extravaganza inside New York's Barclay's Centre. During the show, SP hit the stage for an electrifying joint performance with Enrique Iglesias and Gente De Zona's Randy Malcom and Alexander Delgado. (Photo: Zimbio.com) 

IN MEMORIAM: September 11, Kingston. At PNP headquarters on Old Hope Road, Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller signs the condolence book for former Central Westmoreland MP and Agriculture/Fisheries Minister Roger Clarke, who died on August 28. Beside PM Simpson-Miller is Minister of State Luther Buchanan. Mr. Clarke, who was 74 at the time of his passing, has been accorded an official funeral, which takes place on Saturday, September 13 at the St. George's Anglican Church in Savanna-la-Mar. Interment will follow at a family plot in Glen Islay, Westmoreland. (Photo: Jamaica Information Service)




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Thursday, September 11, 2014

FOR THE RECORD: The buzziest upcoming albums reflect artistic growth and dramatic departures

ONE AND ONLY: Etana's latest promises a savoury mix of rootsy anthems and soulful jams.

Keeping tabs on Jamaica's recording artists eyeing a return to the album charts is full-time work. Albums on a whole might be experiencing dwindling sales across the planet, but thankfully that hasn't dissuaded some of reggae's brightest stars from churning out the work and putting it out there for public consumption or diminished the quality of their creative output.

Take Etana, for example. The multi-award-winning chanteuse already has a trio of hit albums under her belt - the pace-setting debut The Strong One and its pair of splendid sequels, Free Expressions and Better Tomorrow, testaments to her brilliant songwriting and vocal dexterity. The forthcoming Album Number Four, I Rise (due for release in October), is a 14-track collection that promises to deliver yet another mesmerizing sample of the artistic journey the singer (Marcia Griffiths' heiress apparent) is making.

Ever since the respectable success of her last album, Jamaicanization (released circa 2011), Ce'Cile has been itching to drop a new disc. And as the veteran songstress tells it, her new project (the curiously titled Still Running) is well worth the wait. Ce'Cile is convinced the album's appealing diversity will entice. "[It] ventures into some new musical genres for me, specifically pop, EDM, R&B and hip-hop, and I wanted to share that musical experience with my fans," the singer noted in a release. "Of course, there are reggae, dancehall and soca tracks for my existing fanbase, but this new album reflects the new Ce'Cile."

Change and the perennial quest to sample the new and the next is something that understandably informs the work of our Jamaican hitmakers, and reggae soldiers Protoje and Duane Stephenson are poised to reflect this in their upcoming projects. 

While Protoje's tentatively titled and eagerly awaited Ancient Future has no confirmed release date, Stephenson's Dangerously Roots officially goes on sale Sep. 23. Admittedly, as both musicians outlined in interviews with TALLAWAH earlier in the year, their new albums seriously challenged them to step outside their habitual zones and bring fresh vibes to the booth. 

Stephenson, for one, has described Roots as his "edgiest album" to date, and that is saying something for a record coming in the wake of the richly modulated Black Gold and August Town. Meantime, it remains to be seen (or heard, for that matter) how Protoje's new work measures up to the sublime Seven Year Itch and Eight Year Affair, both of which remain staples on playlists everywhere. 

And while Carlene Davis puts the finishing touches to her forthcoming release, Judith Gayle, another formidable woman in gospel, is ready to drop It's Gonna Be Alright, an album laden with her trademark fiery and foot-stomping ministry, sure to enliven folks from the backyard barbecue to the Sunday night concert. It arrives in November.




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Wednesday, September 10, 2014

SOUND AND SUBSTANCE: Bands have their day at the 2014 Gungo Walk Music Festival

THE RIGHT NOTE: The annual festival features a diverse bunch of new and emerging talents.

The most important ingredient to any music fest lies in the mix. TALLAWAH was reminded of this as we surveyed the wondrous scene at Saturday's Gungo Walk World Alternative Music and Arts Festival at the Edna Manley College, a well-supported shebang combining live music, film showcases, theatrical presentations, a healing village and delectable Jamaican culinary fare. But there's no denying that the most tuneful component of the event this year was the bands. They had us trekking to and fro across the college's basketball court, from the Stonebridge Stage to the Poinciana Stage.

Finding the right mix of talents, it seemed, proved no problem for the organizing committee, which managed to assemble an eclectic assortment or performers who alternately rocked and seduced the diverse crowd that swelled as day turned to dusk and dusk to nightfall.

For the most part, the performances were filled with frisson and a fusion of everything from pulsating reggae to foot-stomping funk. Fairly popular (and solidly sonic) groups like Mystikal Revolution brought a potently rhythmic energy to the stage, delivering a mix of the tender and the spiky with crowd-pleasing tunes like "Black Woman", "Divide and Rule" and "Man Ah Hustle". Keisha Patterson, in full Coachella mode, described Downstairs to us as "an amazing rock band," and her appraisal was not far off the money, given the jolting (if at times jarring) heavy metal-esque strains they rendered. Mijanne and Her Boyfriends opted for strings-infused takes on modern dancehall and electro-pop classics.

In contrast to the bombastic stylings of the aforementioned units, not to mention the youthful verve of On the Shout and UWI Pop Society, bands like Nina Karle and the Capstones, Monifa Henry and the Persons of Interest and the year-old Jah Rain and Iyah Vybz kept things refreshingly rootsy and low-key. 

Bob Marley and the Wailers, Black Uhuru, Steel Pulse, Third World, Raging Fyah. Jamaican bands have been instrumental in taking reggae music to the masses across the island and across the waters. With these new-generation aggregations showing so much promise, the mission is clearly far from over. "Reggae belongs to the world now, and we want our sound to be just as universal," said a post-performance Conroy Walker, a founding member of the Persons of Interest, whose upcoming first album is expected to help raise their profile. "We know we have what it takes, so our aim is to keep doing good music and let the people decide where we fit into the bigger picture."




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