Wednesday, 22 February 2017

MAGIC TOUCH: Colin Channer’s ‘obeah’ lecture riffs on stigma, time-honoured social practices and legislation

ON POINT: “It’s the different kinds of knowledge and different kinds of practices that make us who we are,” Channer insists.

COLIN Channer has a confession to make: he is a direct descendant of a Jamaican obeahman, but he grew up with a no-nonsense mother who was anti-obeah, anti-pocomania and anti-Rasta. That’s just one of the many brow-raising declarations the acclaimed author and college professor made as he gave the keynote address during Sunday’s instalment of Grounation 2017 at the Institute of Jamaica (IOJ), speaking on the topic “Healing in the Balm Yard: Mento, Obeah and Other Jamaican Folk Forms and Culture.”

Laced with wit, keen observations, laugh-out-loud anecdotes and provocative food for thought, Channer’s lecture took a multi-layered, inter-disciplinary approach, thoroughly engaging a packed audience that responded with a standing ovation at the end.

Channer opened the two-hour-long presentation with an excerpt from his bestselling novel Satisfy My Soul, whose title was inspired by the classic tune from Bob Marley, on whose vast body of work Channer is currently teaching a college course back in the States (“Bob Marley: Lyrics and Legend,” a literary exploration of his music). He also drew on the work of Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, Bongo Herman, Lord Sassafrass and Lloyd Lovindeer, among others, to better illustrate some of his points concerning roots and artistic identity.

Derek Walcott’s poem “White Noise” also came in for special mention, as Channer riffed on folk religion, kumina and jango, superstitions and West African-inspired traditions that will forever bind us to the Motherland.

But the crux of his presentation was a profound meditation on the controversial ‘use’ of black magic in the island, a practice that’s widely known yet regarded with much secrecy. “It’s a secret because it’s shameful, but it binds us to African spirituality,” observes Channer, who was taken to receive his first bush-bath, at age nine, from the peerless Modda Williams. “Jamaicans will say they don’t believe in obeah, but they deal with it on the down-low.”

Indeed, it’s a very complex relationship Jamaicans have with the practice that dates back to the slave plantation. But while Channer doesn’t glorify obeah, he feels all such practices that have endured with the centuries sprang from some necessity. “It’s the different kinds of knowledge and different kinds of practices that make us who we are,” he insists. “Jamaicans mostly use obeah as a prophylactic, for ‘just in case,’ but the stigma will never go away.”

For the record, the practice is illegal in Jamaica. But, according to Director of Public Prosecutions, Paula Llewellyn (Channer’s “big sister,” who’s known him for years), it’s seldom pursued in the court system. “The law against obeah still remains on the books. But in my 30 years, I’ve never seen a case brought by the police. They really don’t pursue prosecution in it,” Llewellyn noted during the Q-&-A that followed Colin’s presentation. “You rarely see it prosecuted, but obeah is alive and well. It is something we get accustomed to, especially in the rural parts.” 

Meanwhile, Channer, who can remember being accidentally locked up in a fowl coop as a child, strongly believes the stigma attached to the practice in Jamaica might never lose that ‘taboo’ label. “I think the stigma attached to obeah is going to take a long time to go away, but part of that process of getting rid of the stigma involves the legislation that makes such a practice illegal,” he told TALLAWAH in a post-presentation interview. “Because obeah is illegal in Jamaica, our relationship with obeah is social. I think it should be presented as something neutral, something mystical.” 

> Grounation 2017 culminates at the IOJ this Sunday with musician Carlos Malcolm in conversation with Dionne Jackson-Miller.

PRIVATE LIVES: School of Drama serves up stirring, humorous mini-plays with 7X11

PEOPLE LIKE US: Reid and Reckord performing Man With Machete.

WHY are two grown, obviously well-off, women hitchhiking in the middle of nowhere at three in the morning? That question would no doubt cross your mind if you were part of the sizeable audience taking in The Runaways, one of seven short plays (mostly eleven minutes long) that comprised 7X11, put on by the School of Drama (Edna Manley College) at the Dennis Scott Studio Theatre on the weekend.

Cleverly penned by Sophie Aguille and directed by Pierre Lemaire, the piece engrossingly explored fractious family dynamics, pride and ego, and finding the courage to seize one’s freedom.

As it turns out, the younger of the two women (played by Dorraine Reid), curiously dressed in a black evening gown, is a housewife and mother (“I am not a prostitute!” she protests) fleeing the responsibilities at home that threaten to overwhelm and suffocate her. The older woman (portrayed by the imperious Grace McGhie) is a nifty broad whose son put her in a home for senior citizens called The Buttercups. She can’t stand the name of the place, much less its “ugly” facilities, staff and nosy residents.

The dialogue is fast and snappy, frequently humorous and offers a revealing peek at the souls of these two strong-willed women, armed with their travel bags and suitcases, who may be from different backgrounds but could be mother and daughter. Their next stop is anyone’s guess, but they’re certain of one thing: they’re getting away – far, far away.

Michael Reckord wrote and co-starred in Man With Machete, another highlight, which took an unflinching look at prejudice, the haves and the have-nots, the scourge of poverty and unemployment. Reckord plays a down-on-his-luck labourer going from door to door with his machete wrapped up in old newspapers.

He encounters a brash, stylishly attired homeowner (Reid), who tells him quite bluntly that she has no yard work for him. A fierce verbal tussle ensues between the two. He feels she’s being hard-up; she wastes no time putting him in his place. In the end, he leaves dejected; she walks away with a rude awakening about some of the frightening realities facing ordinary people outside her picket fence.

In addition to the rib-tickling The Glasses (with Jean-Paul Menou and Elizabeth Montoya-Stemann), Aguille also contributed It’s Raining, a droll piece featuring two men (Menou and Marvin George) in a job-interview waiting room trying to break the ice. Noted dancer-choreographer Patrick Earle showed off his burgeoning acting chops opposite Camille Quamina in Apologies by Teixeira Moita, who also penned Mime, which paired Lemaire with Janet Muirhead-Stewart. 

Reckord later took an unorthodox, almost absurdist, approach to his dialogue-free piece 2 Newspapers and Some Funny Furniture, with Lemaire, Montoya –Stemann and Neila Ebanks offering storytelling through a series of poses. 

Taking cues from the Brian Heap-led University Players, who originated the concept locally with 8X10, the School of Drama’s 7X11 brought together faculty, past students and friends of the institution for a (single) weekend of well-staged, occasionally experimental but consistently minimalist theatre that never failed to intrigue, enlighten and engage. Tyrone’s Verdict: A-

PLAYING WITH FIRE: ‘Fifty Shades’ sequel entices but hardly satisfies

BE MY SOMEBODY: Dornan and Johnson rekindle their flame in this scene from the recently released sequel.

WHEN Fifty Shades Darker opens, Anastasia (Dakota Johnson) and Christian (Jamie Dornan) are at the gallery, taking in an art show and renegotiating the terms of their “relationship.” It’s been a while since they last laid eyes on each other. “No rules, no punishments and no more secrets,” they agree. Deal. Before long, they are all over each like white on rice, enjoying the here and now and the endless possibilities. Until, of course, trouble arrives.

As it turns out, certain elements from Christian’s past – spurned former lovers included – refuse to stay in the past, threatening to destroy what he’s trying to build with Ana, the feline kryptonite that’s got him hooked. But when Christian decides to pop the question of all questions, what will her answer be? Hearts will be broken, big secrets will be hurled out into the open and lives will never be the same.

That’s the basic set-up of this emotionally charged sequel to the film version of EL James’ monster literary hit Fifty Shades of Grey. For the most part, it connects, laced with passion, ego and some of the steamiest sex you’ll see on the big screen this year. In other words, it’s packed with the stuff young audiences crave.

Directed by James Foley, working with a screenplay by Niall Leonard, Fifty Shades Darker traverses that line between erotic drama and revenge thriller without taking any sides. It falls short of the depth we were anticipating, but the ending sets things up for a thrilling next instalment where, hopefully, things will improve.

Christian, the billionaire, and Ana, the budding manuscript editor, can’t get enough of each other. They do it everywhere – from his lavish master bedroom to his special toy-filled playroom to the restaurant elevator. For Johnson and Dornan, theirs is an electric chemistry and their on-screen coupling feels urgent and primal.

Under Foley’s tasteful direction, these attractive young leads are very alive, very comfortable with each other, making the relationship, its nuances and contours, very accessible for the viewer.

A strong supporting cast is along for the ride – including Oscar winner Marcia Gay Harden (Pollock, The Dead Girl) as Christian’s genteel mother, Grace, and singer-actress Rita Ora as his vivacious younger sis Mia. Then there’s Eric Johnson, appearing as Jack Hyde, Ana’s demanding boss at the publishing house where she works, and a tough-as-nails Kim Basinger (L.A. Confidential) as Elena Lincoln, a will-not-be-ignored vixen from Christian’s past who has warning words for Ana. 

Steamy but short on substance, Fifty Shades Darker is a mildly satisfying sequel. Tyrone’s Verdict: B

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

MAN OF THE MOMENT: From TV to theatre to film, Kevoy Burton stays in the picture

ALL GROWN UP: “I feel like I’m being pushed to amp it up and realize my full potential,” shares the actor/TV host, now 25.

KEVOY Burton doesn’t back down from a challenge. But nothing could prepare him for tackling the complex role of Glenmore Watson, a born-and-bred country boy who, after spending time in the UK, returns to his native Jamaican village with a British accent, a wife-to-be on his arm and a new attitude. But he took to the role like a trooper and, it’s safe to conclude, he nails it.

“I don’t have much in common with him, so it was hard finding similarities between us,” the 25-year-old actor says of playing the ambitious chap, having a chat with TALLAWAH by the entrance of the Phoenix Theatre in New Kingston, where his new show, Country Wedding, is now playing to packed houses and rave reviews. “In terms of what he’s going through with his family, I’m not used to that. I’ve known my father all my life, and my family life is not as chaotic. So I pretty much had to dig deep to find something to channel to play the role. It’s probably the toughest character I’ve played so far.”

This coming from a performer who hadn’t touched the Kingston stage since 2012’s Back-A-Yard, which also saw him collaborating with writer-director Dahlia Harris (pictured below) and veteran leading lady Deon Silvera. So how was it returning to the stage after a five-year break? “It wasn’t an easy transition,” Burton admits, laughing. “I’ve gotten used to television and the softer kind of expression. Now I can’t whisper anymore. I feel like I’m being pushed to amp it up and realize my full potential as an actor.”

From all appearances, Burton, who is of medium built and stands at five-nine, feels very much at home before the cameras. He has the presence and likeability for it. His lead role on the teen drama series Real Friends aside, audiences have been getting to know him as a member of the Schools’ Challenge Quiz family, co-hosting TV-J’s SCQ Access (a preview show) on Mondays and the review show that airs on Saturdays, opposite his brother-from-another Burchell Gordon (at left).

“We have a lot of fun doing the shows. This is our third season. He’s a very good friend of mine, and we have great chemistry. We both went to Ardenne and NCU, so we’ve known each other for years,” shares Burton, who never tried out for the Quiz team back in high school, opting instead for cricket and later the dramatic arts.

Still, it’s his on-screen work (film included) that established him as a young Jamaican talent to watch. Sure you recall his starring role in 2011 as a young boxer striving against the odds in Chris Browne’s gritty urban flick Ghett’a Life (opposite Chris McFarlane and Kadeem Wilson) and his brief appearance in Jeremy Whittaker’s Destiny as Mystic’s pilot boyfriend.

These days, the multi-talented star shows no signs of slowing down. In fact, he’s pressing the accelerator on getting out his dreams. When he’s not headlining TV shows or lighting up the stage, he works as an ad operations executive at digital media house Loop Jamaica and strives to be the best possible father to his one-and-ad-half year-old son, Kaleb. “Everything I do now is for him,” the proud dad admits.

Up next is laying the groundwork for Burgundy Management Limited, the talent agency he and Gordon decided to go into business together to establish. As Burton tells us, they have a big, top-secret project in the works that everyone will hear about in a few months. 

In spite of the impressive résumé and the exciting projects he has in the works, Burton wisely opts to play the modesty card. “I wouldn’t say I have achieved a lot. Life is okay. I’m still learning and I’m still growing as a performer,” he says. “I understand theatre a lot more now.” Where does he see himself in the next five, ten years? For one thing, expanding his horizons as an artist. “I want to become one of the best actors locally,” he says, “and one of the best hosts on TV.”

OLD STORY TIME: Amusing, nostalgic Country Wedding brims with vintage Jamaican spice

MAKING PLANS: Silvera, Johnson and Harris sharing a scene from the play.

Country Wedding (DMH Productions) 
Director: Dahlia Harris 
Cast: Volier Johnson, Shantol Jackson, Kevoy Burton, Dahlia Harris and Deon Silvera 
Venue: Phoenix Theatre, New Kingston 

DAHLIA Harris has always penned plays that are Jamaican to the core. The award-winning Back-Ah-Yard and Ole Fyah Stick leap readily to mind. But for her latest theatrical offering, she digs deeper, engaging with the opulent excesses of rural Jamaican family life and folklore, circa the 1950s, touching on the superstitious, some of the little-known customs and a few of the vintage traditions that still have their place. 

And that’s one of the most appealing things about Country Wedding, a nostalgic and rib-tickling comedy-drama that, in spite of its shortcomings, transports and teaches, making the new and the archaic, the young and the old, dance together, with a bag of laughs, a little song-and-dance and some timely social commentary thrown into the mix. 

It’s largely the story of Glenmore Watson (Kevoy Burton) and Bella Wendicott (Shantol Jackson), a pair of young lovebirds who arrive in Glenmore’s native Jamaican village of Grateful Valley, fresh from the UK, to find that the more things change the more they remain the same. 

Boasting an accent that’s unmistakably British, Glenmore is welcomed with open arms by everyone, including such relatives and family friends as do-it-all woman-ah-yard Nella (Harris), his stern uncle Aaron (Volier Johnson) and Mabel, played by the tireless Deon Silvera and best described as a woman on a ‘quest’, serving as our narrator/guide on this never-a-dull-moment trek to a part of Jamaica not often showcased in the performing arts. 

While Glenmore is showered with love, we can’t say the same for Bella, his future wife, who earns the ire of the people – and not just because of her ‘hoity-toity’ demeanour. She simply rubs people the wrong way. In her defence, however, Bella is somewhat misunderstood, coming across in certain solo scenes as an ambitious girl trying to escape a sad past. But, as Harris’ well-written script attests, the past has a way of catching up with you when you least expect it. And that goes for all the key characters in this show, who will remind you of someone you know. 

Will Mabel finally find what or who she is looking for? When will Aaron and Nella give up their scheming ways? Will Grateful Valley ever see better days? And, with wedding bells in the air, can Glenmore and Bella find that elusive happily-ever-after against all odds? 

This wouldn’t be a DMH production without a creatively designed set that comes alive under the bright lights. The mise-en-scene is especially resplendent in Act II, when the nuptials take centrestage, giving a fresh take on the idea of colour power. 

As for the actors, Jackson and Burton are terrific. With winning chemistry, they make a believable and attractive couple. Stage vets Harris, Silvera and Johnson fit snugly into their roles, showing the youngsters and newcomers how it’s really done. By newcomers I mean Dacoda Mitchell and the Jamaica Youth Theatre standouts who round out the auxiliary cast. 

Overall, Country Wedding is an enjoyable affair to which you’ll be glad you were invited. While it shies away from being a full-fledged musical (only a handful of tunes are performed), it delivers the pep and slice-of-rural-Jamaican-life appeal of a Pantomime, while retaining that entertaining edge you always get from a DMH production. Tyrone’s Verdict: B+

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

GOOD NEWS: Ziggy Marley wins 6th Grammy Award + Mandeville Hospital honours 150 nurses + GraceKennedy launches MPay payment platform

WINNING STREAK: Celebrating with his wife and kids aside, Ziggy Marley’s fans were foremost on his mind following his big win at Sunday night’s Grammy Awards in Los Angeles, where he copped Best Reggae Album for the sixth time in his illustrious career. Ziggy’s eponymous latest album, which has spawned hits like “Weekend’s Long and “Amen” (performed during Sunday night’s telecast), bested a field of five worthy contenders, completed by Raging Fyah, Devin Di Dakta & JL, J. Boog, Soja and Rebelution, to bag the golden gramophone. Post-ceremony, the 48-year-old messaged his Twitter fam saying, “Giving thanks to the @RecordingAcad for the honour, my family, and all the artists keeping #reggae alive and well.” Meanwhile, Brit superstar Adele was the toast of music’s biggest night this year, taking home trophies for Album of the Year (25), Record and Song of the Year (“Hello”). 

TAKING CARE: “It is very critical that our nurses be recognized for planning, implementing and evaluating our health care nationally, regionally and internationally. This is particularly important in a time of complex changes in the health services.” So says Angella Thomas, Director of Nursing Services at the Mandeville Regional Hospital, which recently honoured 150 nurses with awards for their dedication and committed service. And because there’s always room for improvement, Thomas says other initiatives are currently being worked on at the hospital, but priority is being given to the training, recruitment and education of staff nurses to heighten the quality of health-care service they provide. 

CASHING IN: GraceKennedy always has the average customer in mind. No wonder they’ve brought on stream GK MPay, a cleverly conceived mobile payment platform launched at the Hope Zoo during last week’s Money Goes Mobile campaign. “We have been working on this for about six years,” reveals company CEO, Don Wehby. “The concept was that we needed to have financial inclusion as part of our offerings, from the GK Financial Group. So the jerk man right down to the man that’s selling coconut was an integral part of our eco-system in designing this product.”

COVER TO COVER: Three captivating new books in tune with the Black experience

A MAN OF THE PEOPLE: Michael Holgate creatively explored the legend of Marcus Garvey with his brilliant Garvey: The Musical in October, highlighting some painful truths in the icon’s life story. With his provocative new book, Jailing A Rainbow: The Marcus Garvey Case, Justin Hansford is following suit. At just under 100 pages, it’s a thin volume, but it packs a punch. Published by Miguel Lorne Publishers and Frontline Books, the text chiefly tackles Garvey’s infamous mail fraud case in the United States, shedding new light on the various players who helped to thick the plot. There’s J. Edgar Hoover, head of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) who reportedly planted spies at Garvey’s meetings, perturbed by his success at energizing the Blacks. Ransford also puts under the microscope Julian Mack, the judge who presided over the case, and the numerous letters allegedly sent to the US Attorney General, calling for Garvey to be deported. At its core, Ransford’s book champions Garvey’s innocence, while celebrating his groundbreaking work with the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) and the Black Star Liner shipping company. But, most important of all, it further elucidates his sterling contributions to the Black consciousness movement, a work that’s still felt to this day. 

PRIME SUSPECT: Crime fiction is a relatively unheralded genre in West Indian lit, but at least one contemporary author seems determined to change that. With his Ross Camaho Quartet Grenada’s Jacob Ross wants to deliver stories laced with “richly observed characters” and “fast-moving narrative”. The Bone Readers (Peepal Tree Press) is the first novel in the series, tackling family dynamics, retribution and secrets with life-altering consequences. Set on the small Caribbean island of Camaho, it follows rookie cop Michael ‘Digger’ Digson, who is determined to find out who amongst a renegade police squad killed his mother during a political demonstration. But another case soon captures the interest of this no-nonsense man-on-a-mission: a cold case involving the disappearance of a young man whose mother is convinced he has been murdered. At 270 pages, The Bone Readers (shortlisted for the 2017 Jhalak Prize for Book of the Year) bears testament to “persistence and the courage to survive,” while compelling reminding readers that “secrets can be buried but bones can speak.” 

I AM NOT YOUR NEGRO: In The First Black Society: Britain’s Barbarity Time in Barbados, 1636-1876 (UWI Press), an exhaustive exploration of the brutal course of Barbados’s history, Sir Hilary Beckles details the systematic barbarism of the British colonial project, where the practice of slavery “reached its apotheosis.” A prequel to Beckles’ Britain’s Black Debt, this 320-page text is essential reading for anyone interested in Atlantic history, slavery and the plantation system and modern race relations.