Tuesday, 3 May 2016

THE FEMININE MYSTIQUE: Witty, well-acted Woman Tongue speaks some powerful truths

FACE VALUE: The production features a cast of accomplished actresses who heat up the stage.

“Ooman luck deh ah dungle heap.” So goes the popular Jamaican proverb, which buttresses the thought-provoking and strongly acted new theatrical production Woman Tongue, written by debutante playwright Tanya Batson-Savage, working with director Eugene Williams and producer Scarlett Beharie.

It’s a dream team of collaborators, who’ve given audiences a solid show comprised of seven ‘movements’ (monologues and dramatic mini two-handers) that explore a range of oestrogen-laced situations and issues. Modern Jamaican womanhood thrust front and centre – the peaks and valleys, the beauty and ugliness – spun with no shortage of emotional heft and emotionally precise performances from five actresses in fine form.

That’s why though the production’s conclusion is a bit too bleak – not the optimistic spin we were anticipating – it takes nothing away from our overall enjoyment of the show. The writing is richly textured and wisely observant, some smart directorial choices augment the subtly stylish/minimalist staging, and the actresses bring their A-game.

Karen Harriott is a riot in “Her,” portraying a night worker sharing her rocky journey from abused teen to scorned grown woman turning to prostitution as a means to an end, enduring the slings and arrows that come with the territory. Barbara McCalla proves she’s still a force to be reckoned with, in “Bible Leaf,” as a God-fearing old woman (reclined over her washpan) lamenting the sting of slander and lies and bring-down.

Hilary Nicholson is magnificent in “Beauty” as fading belle Janice, who must have been a looker in her day, reflecting on aging and the ‘side effects’ that come with it. “Getting old is the easiest thing in the world,” she gushes in her best Cynthia McQueen voice. “No matter what you do it’s going to happen!”

Bertina McCaulay shines in a pair of contrasting sketches: the regret-spiked “White Lie” (“I never meant to hurt you; I just wanted a child of my own,” she pleads) and the vanity-laced “Teeth,” in which she plays an airheaded cougar with a full-blown obsession for men with perfect pearly whites. 

Carol Lawes, meanwhile, has her no-nonsense moments as two steely matriarchs – in the intense mother-daughter face-off “Ruth”, with Harriott) and as a departed wife waiting for her beloved ‘Zekiel to join her in the afterlife, in “Dead Lef”, which unites all five actresses on stage and brings the curtains down on the show.

There’s lots of pain in Woman Tongue, gender politics, too; sex and sexuality, pride and dignity, family dynamics and, of course, the weight of womanhood. But Batson-Savage is neither an angry writer nor a sympathetic one. At its core, Woman Tongue simply bears the heart-and-mind concerns of a talented storyteller and modern Jamaican woman (gifted with a terrific cast and crew) who has something meaningful to say. Tyrone’s Verdict: B+

WIT & WISDOM: Poetry Society’s workshop energy aimed at aspiring, emerging writers honing their craft

GOOD COMPANY: Vladimir Lucien graced the mic as April's guest poet; sharing a moment below with M'Bala, Graham and Tommy Ricketts.

It’s billed as an end-of-month get-together that provides a platform for local poets and spoken-word artists to share their latest creations before an audience of their peers and get constructive criticism. But in recent times the monthly fellowship of Poetry Society of Jamaica has taken on a sort of intense workshop vibe, where the critique and dissection of works can be frightening to the unsuspecting aspiring writer. The tone of the discussion occasionally crescendos to a sharp fever pitch. Edge-of-your-seat stuff. In other words, these days you have to be brave and sport a thick skin if you want to grace the open mic at Poetry Society.

Case in point: the recent April fellowship where the discussion got so electrically charged that one fellow packed up his things and stalked off from the Edna Manley College’s amphitheatre and into the night. Yes, these poets take their stuff seriously. But the society’s leading lady, Yasheka Graham, a prize-winning writer known for her own sharp critical analysis, says first-timers need have no fear. 

“The aim is to bring the poems and the poets to the stage and to discuss them. It’s not a performance space, even though a lot of times it seems to become that,” she tells TALLAWAH. “The point really of the fellowship is to have that workshop energy to bring the poems to the stage, break them apart and see how we can improve upon them. That’s what the discussion elements does and really aims to do.”

M’Bala, the open mic emcee and a longstanding member of the society, concurs. “The important thing is we want the writers to grow, so the feedback, the comments, the discussion of the work, to me, is the most important part of the whole thing. I find myself growing as a writer because of the feedback I get,” the award-winning poet and percussionist explains. “Sometimes the discussion gets a little heated, as you saw tonight; we’ve had that before. But it’s all a part of the enjoyment and celebration of poetry.”

And what a celebration: ‘orchestral’ sounds to greet each reader (cymbals, drums, tambourines), loud cheers and applause for the crowd-pleasers, rhythms and rhymes in a passionate blend. The college’s outdoor amphitheatre provides a cool setting for these kindred spirits and their creative expression – a few of them whipping out smartphones to read their verse. The Calabash-bound Vladimir Lucien was April’s special guest poet, sharing well-received selections from his acclaimed collection, Sounding Ground.

This winning mix of talents (established and amateur) is undoubtedly the core of the fellowship’s appeal and, by all accounts, will remain so. “Basically, we want to continue using this poetry fellowship to let more voices be heard,” says M’Bala, “and fulfil our primary objective, which is to give writers an outlet, provide feedback and feature an established poet.”

Monday, 2 May 2016

ON THE RADAR: Raging Fyah’s third album on the way + Estelle likens Konshens to a ‘verse god’

Judgement Day (2011) and 2014’s Destiny, a pair of critically praised albums, put the music world on notice that Raging Fyah has that revolutionary spirit that evokes the late Peter Tosh and Third World. Now, the roots-reggae rockers are stepping up the pace with Everlasting, their third effort, due out May 27 via Dub Rockers. For the five-member band – Kumar Bent (lead singer), Courtland White (guitarist), Anthony Watson (drummer), Demar Gayle (keyboardist) and Pele Hamilton – their new music carries deep meditation on the island’s enduring roots-reggae consciousness with an explosive vision and fresh, contemporary flavour. “Musically, we kept our roots but went beyond them,” Gayle explains. Inspired collaborations bring an added dimension to the record. Among the highlights: “Live Your Life,’ which features California-based artistes J-Boog and “Would You Love Me?” and “Humble” – which both feature guest verses from Busy Signal.

Grammy-winning songbird Estelle, who is of Senegalese and Grenadian heritage, keeps a true global outlook when it comes to her musical playlist. And that includes keeping her finger on the pulse of the reggae and dancehall scene. Having already collaborate with Sean Paul (“Come Over”) and graced the stage at Caribbean Fashion Week (CFW), the talented Brit has long secured her Jamaican pass card. Riffing on some of her favourite contemporary artistes in Essence magazine’s May 2016 issue, Estelle singles out dancehall hotshot Konshens, praising his lyrical brilliance, signature style and crossover potential. “He’s like the verse god, just brilliant. He has the same space that Sean Paul had before he blew up everywhere; that capacity to be an international star,” she tells the magazine. “Konshens gives you that dance energy; his voice is hype. When I look at all the reggae greats they have a very distinctive style, and he has that down.”

Saturday, 30 April 2016

FRESH TRACKS: 5 sizzling new tunes speak to matters of the heart

TESSANNE CHIN – “Love Suicide”
Few Jamaican songstresses can use the voice to connect with us as deeply as Tessanne. Undoubtedly, this is one of her darkest singles to date (a slow-tempo jam that pacifies and provokes), but with her flawless treatment, she manages to make it resonate, with the reminder that love is many things but easy is never one of them. B+

SHERIETA – “The Last Time”
On this achingly beautiful track about a relationship gone bad, the talented chanteuse (who has penned hits for Romain Virgo and Etana, et al) delivers sturdy vocal work steeped in regret and heartache that shows off her impressive range and knack for crafting memorable lyrics and soothing melodies. Breakups can be messy, but this girl keeps it classy! B

MR. VEGAS – “Identify My Love”
No stranger to baring his feelings on record, the veteran crooner speaks to matters of the heart (with his signature mix of emoting and melodic riffs) on this regageton-inflected tune that’s alternately spiky and sentimental. The many moods of Mr. Vegas gets another lyrical showcase. B

DRAKE feat. Popcaan – “Controlla”
The best of both worlds – hip-hop and dancehall – find common ground on this decidedly slow-burning track off Drizzy’s freshly released new album, Views. The brothers tackle the complexities (highs and lows) of intimate relationships, yielding tuneful results. A bit on the sleepy side, but it wins you over all the same. B+

BEYONCE feat. Kendrick Lamar – “Freedom”
Reminiscent of early Beyonce (circa Album #1), this groovy mid-tempo jam (off Album #6) zones in on the emotional toll, not to mention the beauty of commitment, that it often takes to make a relationship work, sacrifices and all. As ever, B sounds awesome and the lyrics, at their best, are simplistically gorgeous. A-

ARTIST SPOTLIGHT: Nile Saulter talks career, challenges, and Storm’s next feature film, Sprinter

UNITY IS STRENGTH: A scene from Everblessed, on view at the National Gallery.

Nile Saulter and Storm Saulter are a pair of filmmaking brothers who don’t mind collaborating on each other’s projects. Up next: Sprinter, Storm’s well-anticipated follow-up to the modern classic Better Mus’ Come, which won critical huzzahs from Kingston to Kenya. Without going into details, Nile says this forthcoming feature from his talented sibling will prove that his triumphant debut was no fluke.

“I don’t want to say too much about it, but people will be very, very impressed by Sprinter. I’m sure it’s going to be a great success,” Nile says, adding that they’re gearing up to commence principal photography in June. Sprinter is written (and will be directed) by Storm.

Though on a smaller scale, Nile is making strides in his own picture-making career. To wit, he is talking to TALLAWAH smack in the centre of the National Gallery, where his most recent project, the seven-minute short Everblessed, is among the more than 50 entries that make up the gallery’s just-opened 'Digital' exhibition, a stellar showcase of works that reflect the myriad ways digital media and new technologies are revolutionizing the visual art landscape.

“I’ve been working on a lot of different things, small documentaries, a bit of commercial work here and there, and some personal projects. I’m really focused on more personal work right now,” the 30-year-old tells us.

He is quick to report, too, that their New Caribbean Cinema family, which released the critically acclaimed experimental anthology, Ring Di Alarm, a couple of years ago, is still very much together. “We’re always working. When you have four individual and very talented filmmakers in a crew, there comes a time when everybody has their own individual thing to focus on,” he points out. “So sometimes you have to kinda disperse but not disband.”

Looking ahead, Nile Saulter hopes to bring a few of his fresh ideas to the big screen but, as ever, financial constraints are a challenge. “I’d love to have a budget where I can make a certain type of film, but I can’t say it will be one particular story, but just to express my ideas in a full-length project,” he says. “You have those filmmakers who’ve been in the game for so long that when people hear that they’re behind a particular project, you know it’s gonna be cool. That’s my aim.” 

> SCREEN GEMS: TALLAWAH takes a look at the National Gallery's new 'Digital' show

Friday, 29 April 2016

FLICK OF THE WEEK: Action-packed and dazzling, The Jungle Book gets a triumphant upgrade

WILD & FREE: Young Mowgli (Neel Sethi) and Baloo (Bill Murray) keeping a sharp look-out.

Loyalty, family and friendship rank high among the most powerful universal themes explored in the movies. Watching the new Jon Favreau-directed remake of The Jungle Book, a spectacular achievement, one is reminded of this. Action-packed and dazzling, the film moves at a break-neck pace, challenging us to keep up.

But it’s also heartfelt and humorous and anchored by an emotionally intelligent performance from young Neel Sethi, a gem of a discovery, who takes to the role of precocious man-cub Mowgli like it’s a part he was born to play. You root for him as he makes one narrow escape after another and proves that heroes come in all shapes and sizes.

Of course, The Jungle Book is a Disney adaptation of Rudyard Kipling’s literary classic that takes us deep into the wild. It’s about a boy who, after his father is killed by ferocious tiger Shere Khan (played with heart-pounding menace by Idris Elba), is discovered by thoughtful panther Bagheera (a non-nonsense Ben Kingsley), who turns him over to a pack of wolves who raise him as one of their own. In no time Mowgli morphs into a mini Tarzan making the jungle his own, thanks to survival lessons from wolf leaders Akela (Giancarlo Esposito) and Raksha (Lupita Nyong'o) and Bagheera who regularly checks up on his progress.

But danger is never more than a stone’s throw away, and when Shere Khan gets wind of Mowgli’s presence in the jungle, he will stop at nothing to kill the boy. His guardians set in motion a plan to get him to the ‘man village’ and out of harm’s way. That’s how Mowgli meets Baloo (Bill Murray, hilarious), a giant of a lazy bear. The two become fast friends and a fierce team against the relentless Shere Khan.

Working with screenwriter Justin Marks, Favreau (the auteur behind hits like Iron Man) takes the beloved storybook tale and transforms it into a CGI-filled live-action epic that consistently awes and comes together in an exotic, hugely enjoyable package – armies of fleet-footed monkeys, majestic elephants and other talking creatures, skyscraping trees and golden sunsets and fire as “the red flower.”

The supporting cast ain’t too shabby either, with terrific voice-work appearances by, among others, Scarlett Johannson (as the monstrous serpent Kaa) and Christopher Walken (as orangutan kingpin Louis).

Home is where the heart is, they say, and in the case of courageous Mowgli that sentiment rings hauntingly true. Finding family (and lessons to last a lifetime) in the unlikeliest of places, he discovers friendship and loyalty, too. Tyrone’s Verdict: A

Thursday, 28 April 2016

SCENE & HEARD: Sean Paul rocks Coachella; Fraser-Pryce at Carib; PM Holness in MoBay, and more

KELLY & SHELLY: April 26, Kingston. Sprint queen Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce (right), whose Pocket Rocket Foundation was the event’s chief beneficiary, shares the frame with the JPS’ dynamic leading lady Kelly Tomblin at the Carib 5 Cinema, where the American Chamber of Commerce Jamaica on Monday hosted the Caribbean premiere of the inspiring biopic Race: The Jesse Owens Story, drawing a large turnout. (Photo: Sleek)

TO MARKET, TO MARKET: April 23, St. James. A recent working visit to St. James brought PM Andrew Holness to the MoBay market district, where he not only spent time rapping with the vendors but also purchased a few dozen ears of corn and other produce. You have to get your shopping where you can! (Photo: OPM)

ALL WE DO IS WIN: April 23, United States. Grammy winner Sean Paul (far right) is joined on-stage by fellow recording stars Nico, Akon and Vinz, as they put in work on Day 2 of the 2016 Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival weekend at the Empire Polo Club in Indio, California. (Photo: Zimbio.com)

STARS OF THE SHOW: April 22, United States. The Prudential Centre in Newark, New Jersey, recently played host to Mega Mezcla 2016, where crowd-pleasers like Shaggy (sporting a sleek all-white look) shared the spotlight with ubermusicians Alex Sensation and Yandel. (Photo: Zimbio.com)

WALK THIS WAY: April 21, Kingston. An estimable local party, including culture minister Olivia ‘Babsy’ Grange and UNIA President Steven Golding (among others), were on hand at the Norman Manley International Airport to formally welcome to our shores Prince Ermias Sahle-Selassie, grandson of the late Haile Selassie. (Photo: Sleek)