Tuesday, July 29, 2014

SHOW TUNES: Talking music with Festival Song runner-up Sanjay Thompson

BRIGHT IDEA: "Hopefully, more opportunities can come about," says the rising solo star.

"I don't have a favourite genre; I like to listen to everything and new stuff. So sometimes my neighbours will probably hear some African music coming from my room, then they might hear some Hindi. I just enjoy music overall." This coming from talented singer-songwriter Sanjay Thompson (stage name SanJ), a senior member of the fresh-from-the-UK Quilt Performing Arts Company, whose solo exploits are starting to bear fruit. "I get inspiration from music, so I'll write a song or go to my producer and build a beat."

No doubt that's how he came up with his entry "Jamaica Boom," which swept the sectional prizes (the Voters' Choice Award and Best Performance) and second place overall in this year's National Festival Song Competition, which culminated with an electrifying grand finals showcase inside the Ranny Williams Entertainment Centre on Saturday night. (First place went to ex-Magnum Kings Queens contender Deep Jah-I for "I Love JA.)

For what it's worth, "Jamaica Boom" is a stunning early achievement that has granted the 22-year-old Thompson a sturdy foundation to build on. Asked why he opted to enter the JCDC-run competition, he responded, "I've tried songwriting, and I noticed I've been improving on it." As for his primary musical influence, the answer is a no-brainer. "Generally, my influence is John Legend," he says. "Sometimes some of my friends call me John because he influences me so much I end up singing the songs off his album and don't have no other songs to sing." He laughs at the recollection.

In 2012, Thompson entered a regional song-for-radio contest, placing second out of scores of participants. It was all the encouragement he needed. "I said to myself, I can do this; I have the talent. I love culture. This is it," he recalls of his Eureka moment.

Now, with another runner-up notch just added to his belt, Thompson is anxious to discover what the future holds and where his talent will take him. "Hopefully, more opportunities can come about and that will help me because I can't do it on my own," the St. Jago High grad admits. "We're young, so competitions like these give us exposure in the pursuit of our dreams."

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SCENE & HEARD: Sparring with Bolt and Romelda; Deep Jah-I takes National Festival Song title, and more

IN GOOD COMPANY: July 16, United States. A star-studded turnout arrived at New York's Crosby Street Hotel recently to witness the premiere of the buzzy music-based film Alive Inside. Legendary screen-and-stage actor Harry Belafonte (centre) suited up to join his fellow luminaries Regina Scully, Michael Rossato-Bennett, Pamela Frank, Alexandra McDougald and Dan Cohen at the event. (Photo: Zimbio.com)

AYE, AYE CAPTAIN: July 19, St. James. A massive International Night 2 crowd was on hand to witness reggae icon Freddie McGregor receiving the prestigious Lifetime Achievement Award at Reggae Sumfest 2014 from the titans of Summerfest Productions. To say the least, the moment represented a well-deserved recognition for one of reggae music's most enduring legends still doing his royal thing. (Photo: Reggae Sumfest)

SISTER ACT: July 22, St. Andrew. Siblings and lifelong foodies Michelle and Suzanne Rousseau firmly believe that the proof of the pudding is in the eating. And now they've written the book to prove it. Last Tuesday, fresh from a promotional spin in the Big Apple, the divine sisters turned authors (joined here by culinary doyenne Jacqui Tyson), hosted a book party to celebrate the success of their delectable tome Caribbean Pot Luck at CPJ Market. The book was published by the UK's Kyle Books. (Photo: Skkan Media)

GRAND PRIX: July 26, St. Andrew. First-time entrant Rushane 'Deep Jah-I' Sanderson, a former Magnum Kings & Queens stardom hopeful, hit the $500,000 jackpot on the weekend when his smooth entry "I Love JA" secured him top honours in the 2014 National Festival Song Competition. JCDC Chairman Aston Cooke presents the St. Mary native with the championship trophy at the Ranny Williams Entertainment Centre. (Photo: JCDC)

HEIGHT OF THEIR CAREERS: July 26, Scotland. What do you get when you bring together two of Team Jamaica's most enigmatic (and extremely tall) personalities? It's anyone's guess, but sprint king Usain Bolt and netball queenpin Romelda Aiken beam like the sporting royalty they are, while hanging tight at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow on the weekend. Call it the best of both worlds. (Photo: Usain Bolt/Twitter)

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FITS AND STARTS: The Reggae Film Festival faces an uncertain future

ALL FOR ONE: Prize winners  assembled for a round of picture taking at Island Village, 2013.

In the past, Reggae Film Festival chief organizer Barbara Blake-Hannah has repeatedly voiced concern over, among other things, the continued lack of sponsorship for the event, soon to turns 10 years old. As a result, the 2014 leg of the festival is up in the air at the moment. In a message addressed to the "fans and followers" posted on the RFF's Facebook page last week, Blake-Hannah explained, with the faintest hint of optimism.

"We continue to receive questions asking if and when the film festival will be held in Jamaica this year. We regret that we cannot give a positive answer now, but we want to assure everyone that good news is on the way," the statement read.

Established in 2006 in Kingston, it's first home, the festival was granted some north coast hospitality in 2013, occupying the spacious grounds of Island Village in Ocho Rios in August 2013. It remains to be seen which venue (Kingston-based of out-of-town) will provide lodgings if the 2014 staging gets the green light.

But in spite of the continued challenges, Blake-Hannah further emphasizes, the festival remains committed to its core mission of recognizing the work of emerging filmmakers, many of whom are seeking that initial career break. "We have several new films waiting for the Reggae Film Festival's special international exposure," she said, "and we promise to provide them with the opportunity to shine at home and abroad."

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PRINCESS IN THE HOOD: Gospel Song winner Keneisha Smith rises to the occasion

STRONG SUIT: Smith performing her winning entry at the national finals on Sunday.

Keneisha Smith grew up in the tough Spanish Town community of St. John's Road, but she'd long decided she would never let the stifling, less-than-ideal circumstances of her hard-scrabble neighbourhood cripple her ambition and yen for progress. "Looking back now feels awesome. I'm coming from the ghetto, real ghetto, but I knew I was never going to let where I come from determine where I ended up or what I achieved in life," recalls the diminutive Smith, a former University College of the Caribbean student. 

On the cups of 22, Smith became one of the youngest ever winners of the long-running Jamaica Gospel Song competition, whose 2014 grand finale rocked the Ranny Williams Entertainment Centre on Sunday evening. Unsurprisingly, Smith credits her momentous triumph to hard work and her unwavering Christian faith. "I serve a God who is the king of the universe, and I am a daughter of the king," says the singer, an active member of the Holiness Christian Fellowship Church, situated in Willowdene, St. Catherine. "[The win] is truly a blessing from God, and it feels really, really good." 

The biological offspring of a popular St. Catherine-based deejay/selector, Smith reveals that from a tender age she found herself trying to keep pace with dear ol' musical dad. "I would always be deejaying with him, and I remember when I gave my life to the Lord (around the time of her sweet 16), I asked for inspiration to be able to sing with my father. And that's how I got the the song "Prayer Warrior." As it turns out, the song - a jaunty, militant ode to the power of supplication - won over the competition's judges, who not only awarded Smith top marks for its uplifting content and rousing message but also voted her Best Performer and Best Lyrics. 

Watching Smith storm the stage, prance and wave, before dramatically dropping to her knees left little doubt that she is indeed "a prayer warrior for the Lord" who knows how to ride a slick beat. Living legend Joan Flemmings agrees that Smith is something special. "When I saw her onstage, I was blown away," Flemmings tells TALLAWAH. "I told her afterwards, 'You have it.'"

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Monday, July 28, 2014

TRUE GRIT: Songbird Ikaya connects with piercing passion and soul power

POWER BALLAD: "I tap into what's out there now," the singer says of her musical sensibilities.

In her stage performances (rendering tunes like "Fly Away," "Hard Way" and her most recent chart-climber "Bang Bang"), Ikaya Blair comes across as the round-the-way chick with attitude and big voice who sings from the gut. Offstage, you'd be hard-pressed to find a more delicate flower. Chatting with TALLAWAH in her Ranny Williams dressing room following a knockout performance at the National Festival Song competition on Saturday night, the gritty songstress opens up on matters of identity, career success, and female empowerment.

TALLAWAH: The bold subject matters you tackle in your music range from our harsh socio-economic realities to abusive relationships. Why those topics?
Ikaya: Everybody has their ups and downs when it comes to being in a relationship or being a survivor, so I sing about reality. I tap into what's out there now and just put it to pen and paper. We all go through a rough phase in our relationships, whether its cheating, being manipulated or being abused. We all go through it.

So how do you define yourself as an artiste?
I'm a very soulful artiste, and my music reflects that. My inspiration comes from the fans and everyday living; what we're going through as a society. People around me inspire me, so I have a lot to draw on as an artiste.

How do you feel about being a Jamaican woman at this critical point in our nation's history?
How do I feel? I'm making sure I do the hard work that it will take to make me even more successful. (Laughs). Moving forward and putting in the work. The songs will speak for themselves and doing good music will speak for itself. So I'm just gonna continue doing good music.

Be honest: How do you really feel about the Etana comparisons?
She's a good artiste, and I love her music. It doesn't bother me at all.

As history will attest, one of the constant refrains among women in local entertainment circles is the 'Can't we all just get along?' catchall. What has been your experience in the biz so far, in terms of getting along with other female entertainers?
I think we need more unity in the business. That's one of the things we really need to work on as females. Women empowerment and supporting each other. Personally, I don't have anything against any other female artiste. I love everyone that's out there right now and doing their thing. I don't have beef with anyone.

What is the biggest misconception people have about you?
I don't know why some people think I am hype. Maybe it's because I'm more of a reserved kind of person. I don't speak a lot, and if I go out I'll say hi and then I'll just stay in the corner. But they don't know seh ah just shy mi shy. 

Yes. They interpret it the wrong way. I'm very, very shy.

> Watch the video for Ikaya's latest record "Bang Bang"

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Saturday, July 26, 2014

IN THE MIX: Atkinson nets silver for Team Jamaica + Bolt expresses cautious optimism

ACTION TIME: Per countless online reports, organizers of the just-opened Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, Scotland, are beyond thrilled that the World's Fastest Man will be gracing the track at the championship (Bolt will compete in the sprint relay) in the hope that his presence will serve to heighten the global spotlight on the multi-disciplinary event. For his part, however, the iconic athlete remains focussed on staying injury-free as he gets his 2014 season underway, starting with that relay leg for Team Jamaica next weekend. "It's been rough," admits Bolt, who has foot surgery in March, in an interview for the UK's Telegraph, "but I've been through it a couple of time so I know what it takes to get back. So I'm just pushing on and working towards what's necessary for this season. Over the summer, we expect big things from the track superstar (pictured here at a Jamaican press conference in Glasgow on Saturday), who is no stranger to surprising the sporting world with jaw-dropping performances - on and off the track. 

SIZZLING START: "I am ecstatic, even though when I look back I wanted to win the gold medal," silver belle Alia Atkinson told reporters on Friday in response to her second-place finish (she very narrowly missed out on the gold) in the Women's 50M Breastroke Final at the TollCross International Swimming Centre during Day Two of the Glasgow Commonwealth Games in Scotland. As Atkinson puts it, her medal hunt has only just begun. "This has work up a lion inside of me and I can't wait for the other events." Pictured above, the Jamaican pool princess poses alongside gold medallist Leiston Rickett and third-place finisher Corrie Scott. Meantime, Atkinson is not the only Jamaican off to an impressive start at the summer championships, as the Sunshin Girls have been busy stamping their class on the netball court, with easy dismissals of St. Lucia and Northern Ireland so far. Medal hopefuls putting in the work. 

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OPEN BOOK: Veteran educator Joy Fairclough tackles the delicate balance between teaching and learning

LIFE LESSONS: The author (inset) broaches a touchy subject with upcoming book.

The kids are not all right. That's precisely Joy Fairclough's assessment of modern-day Jamaican children and the state of their learning abilities, based on the many, many years of field work, classroom experiences and exhaustive research she's done. Deeply concerned, she knew she had to take action and was spurred to write the soon-to-be-published Music With Mathematics Principles: How to Teach, How to Learn Towards Exam Mastery (due out this summer), which contains over three decades' worth of observation and tried-and-tested techniques. The 46-year-old classroom expert-turned-author talks to TALLAWAH about the book's importance and the delicate dance between learning and teaching.

TALLAWAH: As a teacher and consultant, you've been quietly conducting research on Jamaican kids and their learning abilities for years. What have you discovered?
Joy Fairclough: I have visited a lot of schools over the years as a musician, as a teacher and taught privately for many years. And it seemed to me that the cognitive skills of the children who were coming to me we getting lower and lower; their ability to deduce, to reason, was cause for concern. And as a result I was using what I had learned in college to basically help them to improve on things like discipline and memory and various other issues, and how to reason things out for themselves.

TALLAWAH: So who exactly is Music With Mathematics Principles aimed at?
J.F.: It's aimed at the adults, the educators who need to properly teach the children, and it is also aimed at students who are old enough to understand the material. I would not expect a small child to use the book. 

TALLAWAH: I understand that your own imprint Joy Music Limited is handling the publishing.  
J.F.: The economy is bad, budget is tight, so it's being published as a limited release. The aim is to get it into the university libraries first. And e-books will then be made available.

TALLAWAH: So, in a nutshell, what aren't Jamaican parents and teachers doing when it comes to instructing children on how to become productive and well-adjusted citizens?
J.F.: I can't say in the interview what I have highlighted in the book as the missing link, but it is something that I am helping them implement in the Jamaican educational system. People need to read the book. It's what I have tested for over 30 years. Everywhere I go, both here in Jamaica and abroad, people are amazed about how well it works.

TALLAWAH: How intriguing.
J.F.: I'm telling you. Many of my past clients had tried all different kinds of private schools and different methodologies to get their children sharp and focussed, and then they come to me, and by the time they leave it's such a difference. For me, it's a case of using the tools of music and showing it's applicability to other subjects and life in general. 

To learn more about Joy Fairclough and her work, visit joymusic.webs.com.

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NEW TO THE GAME: Rising star Shauna has ambition and outsize talent to spare

RISE AND SHINE: The triumphant songbird (with her trophy) has major plans for the future.
The best piece of advice Toshauna Williams ever received from her dad was the urging to try out for the JCDC's Big Stage talent competition. She took the advice to heart, and it paid off in the finest way imaginable. Last Sunday at the Ranny Williams Entertainment Centre, Williams (who uses the stage name Shauna) wowed the judges so impressively, leaving them no choice but to select her as national champion over 25 other strong candidates from across the island.

Williams' pitch-perfect take on No Doubt's "Underneath It All" revealed a multi-octave range running close to that of her perennial favourites Tessanne, Cherine and Adele. "It's just a gift from God. I don't think I'm doing anything differently from any other young singer out there. I can't help it," reflects the petite songbird, who hails from St. James and utterly enjoys life in her neck of the woods. "It's good there. Very cool and the people are friendly. I'm not from MoBay. I live in the more rural part of the parish. So life in the country isn't as bad as some people might feel."

But you totally feel her pain when she laments her years of struggle to break into the music industry. "Getting the support is kinda hard, but I'm still determined to do my thing," insists the 22-year-old, who has done some recordings she's proud of that she's since posted on her YouTube page.

Where does she see herself five years from now? "I'm trying to go international," she says, beaming. "I have a few shows coming up, but the next step would be to get on Jamaica Jazz & Blues or even Reggae Sumfest. I know that takes time, so in the meantime I'm working on my mentality and bringing my A-game until I reach that goal."

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