Thursday, July 24, 2014

COLEEN'S CAUSE: The go-getter targets at-rick youth and the disabled for special projects

MADAME PRESIDENT: Lewis (left, with Keisha Patterson) aims to enact positive change through her new post.

Though that won't be anytime soon, when Coleen Lewis decides to move on from the legal world, a follow-up career in cultural philanthropy could give her something new to be passionate about. Last month, the forward-thinking attorney-at-law and educator was unanimously voted the new president of the Rotary Club of Trafalgar/New Heights and already she's getting down to business, intent on advancing the body's core mission of making a real difference in people's lives. 

"Each year the president has a major project and with my background and interest in the performing arts, that's where my focus is," explains Lewis, who worked her way up from secretary to President-elect to the presidency. For starters, she's joining forces with the Mona-based Philip Sherlock Centre. "The idea is to establish an entrance at the theatre for the disabled as well as a special bathroom so persons in wheelchairs or who may have challenges going up steps will have an entrance dedicated to them." Smart move. 

Lewis, a longtime member of the Jamaican Folk Singers (she's an alto) and a devout supporter of Jamaican theatre (she's also penned and starred in a few plays) sees herself joining that vanguard of doers pushing the culture forward. "Another major project I have in mind is staging a performing arts camp, hopefully for December, targeting youth at-risk," Lewis points out. "Through that camp, we will teach them conflict resolution, leadership skills and vocational skills." 

Also on Lewis' horizon: the 2014 concert season of the Jamaican Folk Singers at the Little Theatre in December.

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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

JAMAICA'S GOT TALENT: The JCDC puts exciting young stars on the 'Big Stage'

A STAR IS BORN: JCDC Board Chairman, Aston Cooke, presents a trophy to grand prize winner Shauna of St. James.

In almost every nook and cranny islandwide there's a diamond in the rough who never got to shine on Digicel Rising Stars, Tastee Talent Trail or Magnum Kings & Queens of Dancehall, awaiting that singular break sure to catapult them full throttle into the public's consciousness. 

That's where the JCDC's Big Stage talent competition comes in. "It's about finding talents strictly at the community level," says Michael Nicholson, explaining the agency's mission of helping future stars get their start. "What we've been doing is looking into areas islandwide that have talents who might have missed the other big events, the other big competitions." 

Based on the format of the contest, entrants can work their way up from the community level to the parish level to the big stage national finals, which brings together the best 26 participants, two representing each parish. 

Lady Rennae proved a dynamite hostess of the inaugural national finals this past Sunday at the Ranny Williams Entertainment Centre in Kingston, but she was no match for the raft of enthusiastic contestants (deejays, singjays, dub poets, vocalists) who brought a burst of psychedelic energy to their performances. But only one could walk away overall champion, and that honour fell to Toshauna Williams (who goes by Shauna), a pint-sized belter from St. James whose sassy cover of No Doubt's "Underneath It All" secured her the top prize. "My father encouraged me to enter the competition, so I decided to give it a go, and I've won," says an animated Shauna, who cites Cherine and Tessanne among her influences. 

Determined to use the victory as a launching pad for something bigger, the twenty-something singer has rightly set her sights on following in the footsteps of her idols, with plans to launch a recording career this year. With an outsize talent like hers, we're certain she'll have little difficulty getting the proper notice she so deserves.

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THE WRITE STUFF: Ace literary talents abound at National Creative Writing Awards

SPEAKER'S CORNER: "Things are just getting off the ground," says the celebrated scholar of his plans as Poet Laureate.

If there's a single Kingston event that draws a room full of gifted writers it's the annual Jamaica Creative Writing Competition/Exhibition awards ceremony, put on by the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission (JCDC). This year's leg, hosted by the Knutsford Court Hotel in New Kingston, got its share of star power, thanks to appearances by the likes of ace playwright Basil Dawkins (on hand to collect an award for his entry Reggaemento, intended as a Jamaican musical), Dahlia Harris (who served as MC), Aston Cooke (now JCDC board chair) and Prof. Mervyn Morris, who delivered the keynote address.

Following the ceremony on Tuesday, TALLAWAH spoke to Morris about taking on the role of a lifetime as Jamaica's first poet laureate since Independence. Does he find the responsibilities even a tad overwhelming? "The initial publicity was," he admitted, but hastened to point out that effectively collaborating with the National Library of Jamaica will ensure his three-year tenure yields indelible results for Jamaica's literary culture. "I want to do some poetry workshops in different parts of the island and a few readings, too," Morris announced. "Things are just getting off the ground."

Professor Morris also said he hopes to interest members of the print and electronic media in carrying selected Poems of the Week to help generate publicity for the work of his new office - and ultimately establish a digital archive at the National Library.

Meantime, the Jamaica Creative Writing Competition's 2014 batch of medallists comprised eight gold medallists, 16 for silver and 23 for bronze. Certificates of merit were also handed out in the usual categories of poetry, plays, short stories, novels and essays.

In the end, St. Catherine-based poet Seon K. Lewis was named Best Overall Writer. And as a coda to the evening's proceedings, the electronic version of the commemorative short story collection, The Gold Anthology (in honour of Jamaica 50) was officially launched.  

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TOP FIVE: Pop-culture News and Notes We're Talking About

BRAND NAME: A close cousin of the one he shot for Visa's World Cup campaign, Usain Bolt's latest TV ad spot for Sir Richard Branson's Virgin empire is a picturesque clip that shows off the track superstar's playful and sporty side while playing off his trademark physicality and athleticism. It's currently being shown exclusively on UK television, but YouTube has a clip that can be viewed any time, anywhere across the globe. Meanwhile, the World's Fastest Man will next be in action at this week's Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, Scotland. 

FATHER FIGURE: A host of dignitaries, both local and overseas-based, are expected to be in attendance on August 8 when former Governor General and educator par excellence Sir Howard Cooke is given a rousing farewell service at the Holy Trinity Cathedral in Kingston. Sir Cooke, who passed away at age 98 a week ago, is being accorded a state service. Reflects PM Portia Simpson-Miller, "It's impossible to overemphasize [Sir Howard's] contribution to this nation, which he served with distinction, passion and selflessness." 

GOING FOR GOLD: Widely considered a fine specimen in the tradition of Lisa Hanna and Christine Straw, newly minted Miss Jamaica World, Laurie-Ann Chin, is expected to rep the island in stunning fashion when she competes for the global title in London this December. "It has always been a dream of mine to be an ambassador for my country," says the 22-year-old Chin, who (in addition to copping the Best Figure sectional prize at the MJW coronation show earlier this month) earned a university scholarship, a Sandals vacay, and a sparkling new Audi A3 motorcar. 

DIRECTOR'S CUT: The wait is finally over. New Caribbean Cinema has confirmed August 13 as the date for the long-awaited Jamaican premiere of Ring Di Alarm, the film collective's acclaimed vignette-style production that won critical huzzahs on the festival circuit all of last year and features the work of seven filmmakers, including Storm and Nile Saulter, who continue to blaze a trail as fiercely independent and keenly observant storytellers. Carib Cinema will play host for the event. 

PRIDE OF A NATION: It's that time of year again when Jamaica Festival seizes the national spotlight with a series of events (culminating with the Grand Gala at the Stadium on Independence Day) aimed at showcasing aspects of our rich and dynamic cultural heritage - and perhaps more importantly it's continued evolution. There will be no shortage of highlights as in years past, but TALLAWAH is especially looking forward to the inaugural Heart of Ska Festival (august 2), the Dutchie Food Festival (August 3) and the Aunty Roachie Film, TV and Literary Festival (August 5). If you will be in the capital this Emancipendence week, do make the Ranny Williams Entertainment Centre your home away from home.

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ALBUM OF THE WEEK: Tessanne delivers big time with phenomenal debut Count On My Love

THE REAL THING: The singer's smash debut is compelling testament for her staying power.

Months before the July release of Tessanne Chin's new album, Count On My Love, the talk was that she had a classic on her hands. Listening to the album today, one is struck by how well-informed those folks were as the record is indeed a grand affair that more than lives up to the hype.

The supersongstress has always wowed with her writing skills, melismatic pipes and shown a masterful grasp of song styling, yet the album reaffirms my longheld belief that bonafide artists grow with each new project. Tessanne displays a deft musicality and stunning grrl-powered vocal dynamics here that fans have never before experienced. It's one of the album's strongest assets.

Transporting listeners across the diverse landscape of love, over the hills and valleys of pleasure and pain, the 10-track disc yields tracks as fresh and memorable as they are seductive and soul-stirring. 

We've all heard the lead-off singles "Tumbling Down" and "Everything Reminds Me Of You" but those aren't the best cuts on the album. Not even close. You'll certainly fall for the powerful petition "Lifeline", the ethereal "Heaven Knows" and the simmering Diane Warren-penned hit "I Heart U." But nothing will prepare you for the irresistibly flavourful "Always Tomorrow," which delivers a danceable Bruno Mars-esque groove and a universal message about keeping the faith.

There's next to nothing to complain about, as even minor numbers like the soaring "Loudest Silence" and the EDM-spiked "One Step Closer" allow the singer's talent and charm to shine over beats that are equal parts stylish and minimalist.

But overall, Count On My Love captures Tessanne Chin's foray into the pop-rock galaxy with real emotional depth and puts forward a compelling testament for her staying power. Tyrone's Verdict: A+

BEST TRACKS: "Always Tomorrow," "People Change" and "Lifeline" 

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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

GIRL OF THE MOMENT: National Festival Queen Anjell Bryan keeps her eyes on the prize

IN FULL BLOOM: Miss Bryan smiles for photographers moments after her big win.

Anjell Bryan didn't grow up in the worst community in St. Catherine, but it's not the greatest either. Still, the violence-prone Spanish Town neighbourhood in which she came of age gave the young miss a solid foundation to build on and the fearlessness to chase after her dreams.

"I've always been very active in the community, in spite of everything, and as I got older I saw myself more and more becoming a role model for other Jamaican youth," reflects Bryan, who eventually moved to Kingston to attend Ardenne High and subsequently enroll at the University of the West Indies. "I like working hard, regardless of the circumstances, to make a make a difference not just in my own life but in the lives of people around me."

Over the course of the next 12 months, Bryan will have ample opportunity to make good on the promise she has shown. On Saturday, the supremely intelligent and radiantly charming 25-year-old became the latest in a long line of urban girls to cop the Miss Jamaica Festival Queen title (she repped Kingston & St. Andrew), and honour much deserved if her poise and utter awareness are anything to go by. "This is the most amazing feeling ever," she tells TALLAWAH, mere moments after triumphantly exiting the stage, the dazzling crown planted firmly atop her head, an armful of trophies and gift baskets providing a bit of a load. "This title is the perfect platform to achieve some of the goals I've already set for myself, and I can't wait to get started."

For Bryan, who is currently employed as a junior staffer at Guardian Life Limited and holds a Bachelor's degree in Economics, there is no ceiling on her plans for the immediate future. Instead, she is content to live in the moment and savour the possibilities. "I'm really looking forward to the Festival activities and all that Jamaica has to offer this year," she says.

And when the time comes for her to move on from Guardian Life, a rebound career in the world of journalism could be in the cards. "I definitely want to become a media practitioner," she says, her eyes widening. "I see myself working as a broadcaster but still keeping a very close connection with the JCDC." 

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PLAY MAKER: Lady Rennae bids adieu to FAME FM, salutes the theatre fraternity

BRIGHT IDEA: "I'm here to entertain people through my brand of entertainment."

Whether maintaining her rhythm as the driving force behind the increasingly popular Mek Wi Laugh stand-up comedy series or making the leap from one media-based gig to the next, Lady Rennae is meeting the future on her own wildly inventive terms. 

True to form as a mogul-in-the-making, she has conquered radio, television and live comedy, so a foray into live theatre seems like the natural next step for this superbusy bee, who was in her ackee on Sunday as she endearingly emceed the JCDC's Big State National Finals at the Ranny Williams Entertainment Centre. 

As it turns out, the stage is very much on her mind these days. "David Tulloch and I will be partnering on my first theatre production, the Jamaica Mek Wi Laugh stage play, which is the latest in my movements," she reveals to TALLAWAH, taking a breather offstage moments after announcing the competition's top awardees.

The stage production, she goes on to explain, is a mash-up of the most hilarious and mildly outrageous sketches that made the Mek Wi Laugh animated TV show such a bonafide hit last year. "It's like a parody of that first season, which went internationally viral and was among YouTube's Top 10 most searched-for videos for 10 consecutive weeks," Lady Rennae points out.

While details of the theatrical adaptation are being closely guarded (she won't even reveal the members of the "star-studded cast"), Lady Rennae assures us that the production will cap the summer with a belly-busting mix of comedy and provocative food-for-thought. Her team is eyeing the Pantry's Tree-House Theatre as a suitable venue. "Venturing into theatre is something I've always wanted to do, and I'm finally doing it. So keeping my fingers crossed."

And how could our interview be complete without getting a first-hand account of her surprising exit from FAME FM recently after nearly a decade in the family. "It was an absolutely beautiful chapter in my life, and I'm pretty excited about the new venture, which is all about creativity and advancing what I do," she says, confirming, too, that she is in talks with the management of another station that "statistically draws more listeners." "I'm here to entertain people. I'm here to lift their spirits through my brand of entertainment," the 28-year-old says. "So what I'm about to do next I'm beyond excited about."

For the record, Lady Rennae wants her public to know that her departure from FAME was an amicable split, contrary to word-of-mouth in some quarters. "Let me put it this way, there is nothing that I do that is the opposite of love or the opposite of peace. I am beyond appreciative of the eight years I spent there. It was a nice ground to really explore who I am creatively," she says. "Many persons may perceive my leaving in varied ways, but my intention is always one of clarity, one of simplicity, and one of peace."

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Monday, July 21, 2014

FIRST LOOK: Iconic artist Barrington Watson's story gets the film treatment

MASTER CLASS: "I don't know if there's any artist in Jamaica, living or dead, whose work values more than Barrington Watson's."

For Lennie Little-White, Jamaica has produced some estimable pioneers whose sterling contributions to the creative arts have duly earned the cinematic treatment. The veteran filmmaker has done film profiles of his late mentor Perry Henzell (who gave the world The Harder They Come) and the dance fraternity's Rex Nettleford, whose helpful suggestion over two decades ago was the seed that gave birth to Little-White's Mediamix empire that has since spawned Palm Productions, the creative house that gave rise to the long-running Royal Palm Estate. 

Now Little-White has turned his incantatory lens on yet another fascinating subject: legendary visual artist Barrington Watson, whose inspiring story is being profiled for the simply titled Barrington, a retrospective documentary that will shed light on the artist's early life, his struggles and triumphs in very much the same way that last year's rousing Nettleford docu Long Live The King illuminated a Prof. Rex many of us never got the chance to encounter. 

As Little-White puts it, Barrington Watson's story is one for the ages. "There is no artist in Jamaica that has done more than [he has]. The whole wave of young artists that you have now, Barry is their father. All the Cecil Coopers, the Christopher Gonzalezes. All of those guys who went through The School of Art when he was the first principal." 

Featuring a series of interviews (in an array of settings) with the artist himself and those who've come under his sway over the decades, the documentary is poised to deliver a rare look at a Jamaican man for all seasons and a creative life lived to the fullest. It's a work in progress, Little-White assures TALLAWAH, with the editing being meticulously done. The documentary, which will be followed by a sort of biopic on Miss Lou, is slated for a December 2014 premiere. 

"Barrington spawned a lot of people's careers in terms of training and mentoring, and I don't know if there's any artist in Jamaica, living or dead, whose work values more than Barrington Watson's," the filmmaker insists. "You'll have a big argument about who is more important in reggae history: Jimmy Cliff, Peter Tosh or Bob Marley. But there was only one Nettleford, one Miss Lou, and one Barrington Watson."

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