Thursday, 5 March 2015

FIRST LOOK: Bello and Blakka promise a bellyfull of laughs on 30th-anniversary reunion tour

TOGETHER AGAIN: The very definition of double trouble, the ace comedy duo shared the spotlight this week at the Redbones Blues Cafe.

As individuals they have long established themselves and earned renown as consummate comedians who specialize in leaving audiences in stitches. Together, they do serious damage and have become synonymous with each other, like Sonny and Cher, Simon and Garfunkel. Before Ity and Fancy Cat burst onto the Jamaican comedy scene, there was Bello and Blakka, that superduo who've been missing in action for far too long. 

During their hiatus, they've been busy tending to family life and building respectable solo careers in the theatre, film and the literary arts. But their fans have been clamouring for them to join forces again, and the cries have not fallen on deaf ears. Thirty years after they first teamed up as students at the Edna Manley College to work a crowd into a frenzy, Bello and Blakka have just announced that a reunion tour is very much in the works and will kick off, hopefully, in April. Venues and tour dates will be confirmed in the coming weeks.

"I am absolutely anxious for us to get back on the stage. It's an exciting thing at the same time because for us it's always been about having good ole fun and making people laugh," says Bell, who adds that though the duo has been on and off, given the demand they plan on working together more often - starting with the tour, which promises to be one of the hottest tickets in town heading into the summer. "I want everyone to support it, because it will be like nothing they've experienced before," Bell promises. 

And what exactly can fans expect when they come out to experience this once-in-a-lifetime event? "You know we're gonna give them some of the old stuff, but we have some new stuff lined up that we're gonna give them as well," explains Bell, who has starred in such theatrical hits as Ole Story Time and The Trouble with the Johnsons, as well as TV's Royal Palm Estate. "Some people have never seen [Bello and Blakka] perform together. Some were too young to have seen us back in the day. And some can't wait to see us back on the stage again." 

For stars and regular folks alike, the Bello and Blakka reunion tour can't happen soon enough. "Excellent idea. It should have happened years ago," offers actor and director Michael Nicholson. "They were my mentors at [the Edna Manley] drama school. I remember when they just started out, so seeing them team up again is something to look forward to." 

Bell and Ellis are turning 55 years old this year, and when they took to the stage at the Redbones Blues Cafe last Tuesday night to greet the crowd at Blakka's Riddims and Riddles book launch, they appeared to be in the best of health and resembled the lifelong friends, talented brothers in sync, we've come to respect and admire. So what makes their chemistry work so well? "We are very respectful of each other. We listen to each other, and we trust each other on the stage," Bell explains. "We are able to be spontaneous, and we even finish each other's sentences some of the time. That's how in-tune we are as a team." 

It's been an eventful 30-year journey for Bello and Blakka filled with personal and professional highs and lows. So, in a sense, the upcoming tour represents a coming full circle for the duo. "In acting and comedy if you don't trust the other actor, then it's not gonna work, and Blakka is somebody I trust entirely," Bell admits. "If I had to choose an actor out of a million to work with, it would be Blakka." 

Needless to say, Blakka Ellis feels the same way about his partner-in-rhyme. What is he looking forward to the most once the tour starts traipsing across the island? "More laughter," he tells TALLAWAH in his signature lisp. "Comedy is a natural thing for me and Bello, and even though we haven't been together for the entire 30 years, we keep in touch and we're still good friends. We met on the stage all those years ago, and we're heading back to the stage, so it's like a homecoming for us."

web counter

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

CARRYING ON THE LEGACY: The Rhodes-Trust Rex Nettleford Cultural Studies Fellowship turns 10

MAN OF DISTINCTION: The late scholar (right), receiving an award from Sir George Alleyne, epitomized excellence in the fields of arts and academia.

During his time with us, Prof. Rex Nettleford wore many hats and was known for many different things. Perhaps chief among them  the rise of the NDTC aside  is the intellectual rigour he brought to the world of academia, which spawned numerous books and journal articles, countless awards for eminent contribution to letters and the arts, the establishment of the Rex Nettleford Arts Conference (hosted by the Edna Manley College) and the genesis of the Rex Nettleford Fellowship in Cultural Studies.

Ten years later, the fellowship ranks among the most prestigious of its kind in the region and continues to unearth world-class scholars who have much to offer. Started in 2004, the fellowship was established by the Rhodes Trust to mark the centenary of the Rhodes Scholarships in the Caribbean and to honour the distinguished contributions Nettleford has made to higher education and to the cultural life of the Caribbean. The prize is awarded annually.

If you fit the profile of a budding Cultural Studies scholar and Caribbean native under the age of 35, then you could qualify for the 2015 instalment of the Rex Nettleford Fellowship. The application process is now open for suitably qualified candidates. Valued at £10,000, the award comes with an associated travel grant of £2,000. The awardee will be expected to use the tenure to either complete an existing piece of work or develop a new project and give a seminar, workshop or public lecture on his/her project.

The selection panel comprises representatives of the Rhodes Trust, as well as other distinguished persons in the intellectual and cultural life of the region. Closing date for applications is April 3rd. Log on to to learn more.

"Ten years is a lot to celebrate, and we are happy that [the fellowship] was established and that the funding is there to carry on the work," shares dancer-choreographer Marlon Simms, who worked closely with Prof. Nettleford and currently serves as the NDTC's Associate Director. "In a way, it feels like an extension of Prof."

Meanwhile, the Kingston-based Rex Nettleford Foundation has been busy staging regular projects all over town aimed at keeping alive the memory of a man who can never truly be replaced. Last Tuesday many of those who flocked to the Carib Cinema a year ago to witness Lennie Little-White's Long Live The King (the final chapter in a film trilogy), turned up to show their support for the local premiere of Selma, the Oscar-winning Black History feature that chronicles Dr. Martin Luther King Jr's heroic leadership at the height of the civil rights movement in 1960's America.

We think Prof. Rex would have applauded the film's authentic and respectful depiction of Dr. King's selfless efforts in sparking a social awakening that is still felt around the world today.

web counter

BRAIN POWER: SCQ’s Michael Gonzales reveals what it takes to put on your favourite quiz show

WORK IN PROGRESS: For Gonzales, writing matches and conducting research is all in a day's work; (below) Ardenne High's winning team accepts the championship trophy in 2013.

It’s an uncharacteristically slow day for Michael Gonzales at his Shortwood Road office, which doubles as his eponymous communications firm and law practice. Save for his young daughter watching cartoons in the adjoining room, the place exudes an eerie yet inviting tranquility. It’s the kind of workspace befitting someone whose job requires deep thought, where the mind can truly be put to effective work. Like researching and crafting the questions for Schools’ Challenge Quiz and Junior Schools’ Challenge Quiz, for instance.

For more than a decade, Gonzales has been the man behind the scenes, the producer tasked with giving competitors the requisite mental workout and audiences the balanced, nail-biting matches they’ve come to expect and enjoy. It’s a job that draws on his innate brilliance, youthful vigour and his own history as a past quizzie, whose Calabar team lost to Munro College back in 1984 in the semi-final round. “No hard feelings there,” he recalls, obviously still tickled by the memory. “One of the great things I’ve come to appreciate about competition is that you have to lose with humour and make that next step without any bitterness.”

It’s a message that Schools’ Challenge Quiz has been hammering home from inception, championing that all-important blend of friendly rivalry and tasteful sportsmanship. “The competition is still immensely popular because of what I call the school-tie syndrome, and the rivalry is especially fierce among the traditional high schools,” Gonzalez observes. “The schools invest a great deal of time and effort each year to prepare a team that can win the championship, so the quality of the work that we put in from our end, at TV J, has to be up to par.”

To say the least, Gonzales’ role as showrunner is perhaps the most critical. He doesn’t take it lightly. “For me, the schools deserve a competition that sticks to the hallmarks of excellence and discipline and that will always be important to us,” he says.

Taken a step further, Gonzales is quick to draw attention to the fact that in the heat of competition, tensions do mount and things can get out of hand. But, he assures, they have mechanisms in place to deal with such possibilities. “I do understand that passions rise in Quiz, but my job is to guide the overall process, and intervene if there’s a need for that,” he explains. “But otherwise the judges’ decision is final.”

When he’s not at the TV J studios, you’ll find Gonzales here on a typical work day, propped behind his desk, keying away at his laptop. Today, ZoĆ«, a junior who attends Immaculate Conception, is keeping him company. As he tells it, producing both quiz competitions is pretty heavy-duty stuff. “From about September to April I’m pretty much focused on those projects,” explains Gonzales, who is a married father of three. “So on a typical day I research first, then I write, and then do some fact-checking.” He continues, “The selection of material is critical. So the other match writers and I refresh our sources like every two years. The curriculum for the core subjects won’t change. But on a whole we have to stay relevant. We have to be on our toes.”
Michael Gonzales’ roots in television date back to the eighties when he was a fledgling reporter working in the JBC newsroom, having completed studies at Carimac circa 1986. He majored in print but soon felt the pull of television and radio. A man of “strong Christian faith” and an active member of the Miracle Valley Apostolic, he’ll readily talk about his passions, motivations and the principles that guide his life.

Given his full plate – the quiz shows, his communications firm and quiet law practice – it comes as no surprise that this solid Christian base keeps him focused and grounded. “I rely on that to get me through the tough days,” he says of his faith. ‘My philosophy is to respect everyone regardless of their station in life. I do believe that is a key thing to bear in mind for everyone making the journey to success.”

With the 50th anniversary of Schools’ Challenge Quiz looming large on the horizon, Gonzales hints that his team has something extra-special in the works. But he’s keeping the details close to his chest for now. “We are making preparations for the 50th; we are making steps that will ensure that the celebrations are successful,” he notes. He pauses. “I wish I had time to do more.”

“The schools invest a great deal of time and effort, so the quality of work we put in at TV J has to be up to par.”

web counter

I SAY A LITTLE 'PRAYER': Religion and relationships spice up David Tulloch's latest

IN THE HOUSE: Tulloch, Wilson and Nicholson get acquainted in this scene.

Prayer Partner (Probemaster Productions)
Director: David Tulloch
Cast: Michael Nicholson, Chris McFarlane, Suzette Barrett, Shana Wilson and David Tulloch
Venue: Green Gables Theatre, Kingston

Of all the relationships Black people find themselves in, there is perhaps none more complex and challenging than the one we share with that Higher Power. Want proof? Look no further than David Tulloch's Prayer Partner, which is currently pulling sizeable crowds to the Green Gables Theatre, on account of its potent blend of spiky humour, domestic conflict, sexuality and spirituality.

Drawing on the talents of a competent group of actors, including Tulloch himself, the play is at once a well-written, insightful and hugely enjoyable dramedy that everyone must see, as it sparks a timely dialogue about modern religion, Christianity in particular, and its unavoidable impact on everyday human relationships.

We are introduced to Abe (Michael Nicholson) and Danielle Jackson (Shana Wilson), a close-knit father-daughter duo whose bond faces its toughest challenge yet when two men vie for Danielle's affections. In short, heartbreak and pandemonium ensues. Channelling his inner rudeboi, Chris McFarlane plays footballer Giovanni, Danielle's main squeeze, while Tulloch must have found inspiration in Screech from Saved By The Bell for his nerdalicious Peter, a returning resident distinguished by a dorky laugh, a pair of specs and high-waisted trousers.

At the play's most heated, the Jackson living room is practically transformed into a fight club, with one man's wounded pride pitted against another's fragile ego. A heartbroken girl caught in the thick, with her dad kept busy playing referee. Things get pretty intense. But thankfully soul and sanity arrives for poor Danielle in the form of Peter-Gaye, a mysterious prayer partner sent from a Mandeville-based ministry, who subsequently moves in with the family to help turn things around. You might see traces of Robin Williams in Mrs. Doubtfire.

Throw into the mix, meantime, the effusive Sister Grace (Suzette Barrett), another prayer partner who shows up on the Jacksons' doorstep, armed with her robotic text messages from the Holy Spirit and a no-nonsense approach - and you get a full house where there's never a dull moment.

Although all five actors give solid accounts of themselves, there's something to be said of Tulloch's versatility that kicks things up a notch, especially when one considers that he wrote and directed the whole thing, while playing one of the most pivotal roles in the show. 

Technically, the set design and lighting fall flat, but the tunes coursing through the speakers in between scenes pulse with tremendous emotion and vigour. And that's perhaps an apt description of the play overall, because Prayer Partner is by no means a flawless work, but it's brought to the stage with admirable ambition and yields results that will thrill, amuse and challenge you. Tyrone's Verdict: B+

web counter

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

JAMAICA'S GOT TALENT: TALLAWAH's 10 Best Theatre Productions of 2014/15

THE MORE THE MERRIER: A mix of solid dramas and hilarious comedies comprise our year-in-review countdown.

With the Actor Boy nominations recently announced, it should come as no surprise that here at TALLAWAH we've spent the past few days reflecting on the most outstanding productions and performances we were fortunate to witness in the past year. And though dozens of notable works jostled for top honours, we managed to whittle our list down in no particular order to a solid top ten, reflective of the very best Jamaican theatre had to offer: 

VENUS: The School of Drama turned it out with this well-acted and deeply affecting version of the acclaimed Suzan Lori-Parks historical drama, inspired by the real-life story of the Venus Hottentot and anchored by a sturdy, star-making turn by Eden Gibson, a young actress we’d love to see more of. 

FOR MY DAUGHTER: It doesn’t get any better than Leonie Forbes in her magisterial prime, Terri Salmon and Rosie Murray giving some of the best work of their careers, Akeem Mignott’s emergence as a bonafide leading man and a smash breakout turn by Rushae Watson – all coming together in David Tulloch’s most enigmatic domestic drama to date. 

DREAM ON MONKEY MOUNTAIN: Few Jamaican directors bring as much intellect and innovative daring to their work as Trevor Nairne, who helmed this spellbinding amphitheatre rendering of the Walcott classic, put on by the School of Drama. Chris McFarlane in the male lead of Makak and rising star Alicia Taylor in the supportive role of The Inspector gave note-perfect performances. 

DIVORCE PAPERS: Cheating spouses, jilted lovers and a slice of revenge helped thicken the plot in this latest powerhouse drama by prolific playwright Basil Dawkins, who did audiences a big favour by giving Oliver Samuels his most gratifying dramatic role in years. Costars Maylynne Lowe, Dennis Titus and Ruth HoShing are gems. 

PRINCESS BOONOONOONOOS: Hands down, writer/lyricist Barbara Gloudon has nailed the art of penning catchy tunes that haunt you. Weeks later, we're still vibing to "Big Up Miss Lovely" and "Breaking News", two of the most rhythmic ditties in the 2014 LTM Pantomime that wins you over with its mix of exuberant choral dynamics, vivid colour palette and irrepressible community spirit. 

LAFF IF OFF: Oliver Mair gifted comedy lovers with this laugh-out-loud musical revue that managed to tickle the funny bone while delivering timely social commentary that provoked serious though, as it showcased a dynamic team of actors who move seamlessly between the intensely dramatic and more lighthearted moments. 

SAVING ALLIGATOR HIGH: As we've come to expect, Patrick Brown expertly combined humour and unflinching candour in crafting this very funny and true-to-life expose, set at an innercity high schol grappling with one major crisis after another. Bonus: first-rate ensemble acting and solid writing helped make it a clear triumph. 

LOTTO MONEY: Greed and chance made for strange bedfellows in this Pablo Hoilett-directed three-hander that reintroduced us to the wily charms of Dorothy Cunningham and reminded us why Munair Zacca and Peter Heslop are two of the most reliable character actors of their generation. 

FORBIDDEN: Last October Basil Dawkins dusted off this award-winning potboiler (full of family drama, prejudice and relationship dynamics) and remounted it for a new generation with terrific results. While Zandriann Maye and Damion Radcliffe turned up the heat on their respective careers, Patrick Earle and Leonie Forbes burned holes in the Little Theatre stage. 

FUNNY KIND 'A LOVE: Camille Davis' incandescent performance as the liquored-up truth-teller Josephine was just one of the many highlights in a show brimming with Grade A work (Courtney Wilson, please stand up!) and yet more evidence that Patrick Brown can write about practically anything, mixing punchlines and keen, very Jamaican observations for a riotously funny theatrical experience. 

> HAVE YOUR SAY: What was your favourite Jamaican play of 2014? Tell us in the comments below. 

web counter

Monday, 2 March 2015

5 THINGS WE'RE TALKING ABOUT: Goodison's moment; Kingston Book Fest; Chronixx on tour, and more

LORNA GOODISON'S MOMENT: Lorna Goodison deserves every single award coming her way. The celebrated Jamaican poet, author and culture chronicler, a recipient of the Order of Distinction and the Gold Musgrave Medal from the Institute of Jamaica, was recent honoured by the University of Michigan with the 2015 Shirley Verrett Award for her literary work, which spans poetry, short stories and narrative non-fiction. The ceremony was hosted by the Walgreens Centre in Michigan. Goodison, a past winner of the Commonwealth Writers' Prize, is a former University of Michigan professor. The award, given out annually to a faculty member whose work encourages the advancement of women of colour in the arts, was created in 2011 in homage to the late Shirley Verrett, a renowned university professor and opera singer. Says Goodison, "To be associated with the calibre of Shirley Verrett is a very wonderful and extraordinary thing."

ETANA'S CAUSE: Conscious songbird Shauna 'Etana' McKenzie-Morris doesn't just talk the talk. Teaming up with the United African Congress, the Give Them a Hand Foundation and her label VP Records, the award-winning artist has joined the fight against the deadly ebola virus that continues to claim hundreds of lives on the African mainland. Announcing her participation in the Stop Ebola and Build for the Future campaign, Etana's team has revealed that she will also take part in a March 2 concert at the United Nations, which is among the initiatives slated to benefit efforts designed to combat the illness seriously affecting countries like Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. Ever using her music and artistry to inspire and enlighten, Etana has contributed the title track off her 2013 album Better Tomorrow for the campaign's official anthem. The song will be re-released on March 3 via iTunes, with all the proceeds from sales going towards the cause.

CHRONIXX ON THE MOVE: It's about time. Following sold-out performances on tour of the UK and the United States last year, Mr. Dread & Terrible is hitting the road again, but this time he's catering to fans at home. This month will see Chronixx and the Zinc Fence Band embarking on an islandwide trek to connect with fans, dubbed the Capture Land Jamaica Tour Part 1. On March 11 and 12 the musicians will bring the noise to Negril's Rockhouse Hotel; on March 13 they head to St. Elizabeth Technical in Santa Cruz; on March 14 the Kingston massive can catch them in action at Jamaica College's Karl Hendrickson Auditorium, while Portland natives will get to jam with the reggae rockers on March 15 at Oyster Bay. Tickets: $1500, students with ID cards pay only $1000. For more information, visit Chronixx Music on Facebook.

A DAY TO REMEMBER: Here at TALLAWAH every day is Jamaica Day, but on Feb. 27 we joined the forward-thinking Ministry of Education in spirit in promoting cultural awareness and island pride at the primary and secondary level with the much-welcomed Jamaica Day 2015. Under the theme, "Celebrating Jamaica: Celebrating Regional Friendships from Boukman to Bolivar, activities at several of the island's participating schools included cultural presentations, motivational addresses from noted public figures and flag-raising ceremonies. At Norman Manley High, in particular, a peer mentorship programme was brought to life, with students from that Kingston-based secondary school being selected to mentor students and implement new projects at the Maxfield Park and Rousseau Primary schools. "This is the one day that we we want our students to look with eyes of approval at themselves," explains Amina Blackwood-Meeks, Director of the ministry's Culture in Education programme, "and the day when we encourage the wider community to live the vision of a better tomorrow, so that what we learn in school is applicable outside of the school gates."

BETWEEN THE PAGES: Book lovers, rejoice. It's that time of year again when the culture capital of the Caribbean celebrates all things literary at home with the BIAJ-sponsored Kingston Book Festival. From Sunday, March 1 to Saturday, March 7, select venues across the capital will play lost to everything from poetry readings and book launches to panel discussions and a wide assortment of activities to mark World Book Day on March 5. "Jamaican literature has captured the attention of the world in the last year, and there have been exciting developments as well," reports festival chair, Kellie Magnus. "We want to continue to generate this kind of interest at home and show the power brokers and the wider public that amazing things are happening on the literary scene."

web counter

CREME DE LA CREME: The 5th Annual Thespian Spirit Awards Nominations

CLASS ACTS: Terri Salmon (left) and Leonie Forbes in For My Daughter at the Pantry. 

In recognition of the most laudable works that Jamaican theatre had to offer in the past year, nominations for the 5th Annual Thespian Spirit Awards (the Thespies) were unveiled by TALLAWAH Magazine on Monday morning, as the local awards season gains momentum. 

The stellar family drama For My Daughter, which brought the curtains down on the Pantry Playhouse in New Kingston last summer, led the way with eight nods, including bids for lead actress Leonie Forbes, supporting co-stars Terri Salmon, Rosie Murray, Rushae Watson and Akeem Mignott, writer-director-producer David Tulloch, and the coveted Outstanding Ensemble prize. 

Nipping at their heels was Patrick Brown's hilarious, heartfelt Funny Kind 'A Love, which picked up six nominations and is also up for Outstanding Ensemble. Rounding out that top category were the School of Drama's take on the Walcott classic Dream on Monkey Mountain, Basil Dawkins' splendid marital drama Divorce Papers, and Oliver Mair's hit musical revue Laff It Off

Winners will be announced and awards presented on Wednesday, April 1st. Below, the complete list of this year's nominees: 

Divorce Papers 
Dream on Monkey Mountain 
For My Daughter 
Funny Kind 'A Love 
Laff It Off 

Glen Campbell in Funny Kind 'A Love 
Patrick Earle in Forbidden 
Chris McFarlane in Dream on Monkey Mountain 
Oliver Samuels in Divorce Papers 
Munair Zacca in Lotto Money 

Dorothy Cunningham in Lotto Money 
Camille Davis in Funny Kind 'A Love 
Leonie Forbes in For My Daughter 
Ruth HoShing in Divorce Papers 
Sharee McDonald-Russell in Saving Alligator High 

Donald Anderson in Jamaica Mek Wi Laugh 
David Crossgill in Saving Alligator High 
Oliver Mair in Laff It Off 
Akeem Mignott in For My Daughter 
Courtney Wilson in Funny Kind 'A Love 

Zandriann Maye in Forbidden 
Rosie Murray in For My Daughter 
Dorraine Reid in Anancy Chaptaz: Monkey Bizniz 
Terri Salmon in For My Daughter 
Alicia Taylor in Dream on Monkey Mountain 

Patrick Brown, Funny Kind 'A Love 
Basil Dawkins, Divorce Papers 
Barbara Gloudon, Princess Boonoonoonoos 
Oliver Mair, Laff It Off 
David Tulloch, For My Daughter 

Alwyn Allen in The Real Show 
Monique Ellis in Bashment Granny 3 
Eden Gibson in Venus 
Rushae Watson in For My Daughter 
Renee Williams in Sins of the Flesh 

Anancy Chaptaz: Monkey Bizniz 
Laff It Off 
Princess Boonoonoonoos 
The Real Show 
Wild Alice 

Patrick Brown and Trevor Nairne, Funny Kind 'A Love 
Alude Mahali, Venus 
Trevor Nairne, Dream on Monkey Mountain 
Douglas Prout, Divorce Papers 
David Tulloch, For My Daughter 

Jean Small 

web counter