Friday, 24 April 2009
Troubadour (A&M/Octone Records)
Conscious rap has a new messenger, one who brings a breath of fresh air and a new dimension to the material-obsessed realm of mainstream hip hop and the world music landscape. The Motherland just keeps churning them out.
K’Naan, an award-winning Somali-born artiste, musician and poet, skillfully fuses socio-political ideology, gorgeous instrumentation and universal themes with impressive lyrics, youthful energy and unforgettable rhythms. He brings new meaning to the terms ‘protest poet’ and ‘rap stylist’ which makes his new album, Troubadour, his sophomore release, a marvelous and ear-pleasing delight.
A man of eclectic tastes, K’Naan pulls on Afro-Caribbean sounds, rock, ethnic grooves, acoustic soul and reggae-style chants for a fierce and creative blend that makes you wanna snap for the kids two times. Sure, his approach gives nods to the Marley clan and recalls conscious rap disciples like Talib Kweli, Lupe Fiasco and Mos Def, but K’Naan has a musical personality all his own.
The 14 tracks on Troubadour (his follow-up to 2005’s The Dusty Foot Philosopher) range from affecting stories from the African school of hard knocks (15 Minutes Away, Somalia) to poignant coming-of-age tales (Fatima) to flat-out confessionals (People Like Me, Dreamer). Among the CD’s many highlights are the dancehall-flavoured I Come Prepared (featuring Damian ‘Junior Gong’ Marley); the synth-heavy Bang Bang (with Maroon 5’s Adam Levine) and the rock-styled If Rap Gets Jealous (alongside Metallica’s Kirk Hammett). Also sure to lift your spirit is the eternally hopeful Wavin’ Flag, and the calming and plaintive Take A Minute which always get repeat listens on my iPod.
Born in the poverty-ridden Somalia, K’Naan fled the 1991 Civil War with his family to the US and then to Canada, where he made a name for himself in rap circles, later winning a Juno Award for his critically-acclaimed debut album and quickly garnering the attention of influential music insiders always looking out for the next big thing. A fan and close friend of Marley scions, Stephen and Damian, K’Naan (means ‘traveller’) recorded much of Troubadour at the St Andrew-based Tuff Gong Studios, even sampling a Bob Marley classic for the album opener, T.I.A.
The heart and mind concerns the 30-year-old artiste has for his homeland, his understanding and compassion for its people and their never-ending struggles are made palpable on tracks like ABCs, through his sensitive, thoughtful and charismatic delivery. And while the tempo and moods vary throughout the album, K’Naan’s constant message of right over wrong, his fire and energy always shine through.
Absorbing and intriguing, but always entertaining, Troubadour is one of the finest records you’ll hear this year.
DOWNLOAD: Wavin’ Flag, Take A Minute, I Come Prepared and People Like Me
Tuesday, 21 April 2009
The Introduction – Dubstyle EP (Z-Link Entertainment)
Artiste: Cherine Anderson
From well-received films to tasteful music videos to notable stage performances, Cherine Anderson has always held it down as a class act and a proud and exceptional bearer of the Jamaican flag.
On her breakout CD, The Introduction, her first official album release, she reps ‘The Rock’ to the hilt with offerings like Shine On Jamaica and an arresting album intro that samples the National Anthem. For most of the 9-track EP, the 26-year-old singer-songwriter commendably displays her capacity for gorgeous and soothing melodies as well as her passion for addressing issues that matter deeply to us as Jamaicans and citizens of the world.
Employing her special brand of contemporary reggae and dancehall-soul, Anderson makes her intentions clear on mesmerizing tracks like Kingston State Of Mind and other thought-provoking gems like How We Living, which speaks to the socio-economic status quo. She mixes things up with empowering tunes aimed at her female listenership (Talk If Yuh Talking) and others that take men to task on their roles in relationships (Tuff Enuff). A terrific take on Errol Dunkley’s classic Movie Star and the runaway hit Comin’ Over Tonight (featuring Chuck Fenda) also make the final cut.
With The Introduction, Anderson delivers a diverse, tight and well-produced package that is never less than engaging.
DOWNLOAD: Movie Star, Tuff Enuff and Kingston State Of Mind
BY TYRONE S REID
For Coloured Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When The Rainbow Is Enuf (School of Drama Production)
Director: Trevor Nairne
Cast: Melissa Giddings, Nicole Clayton, Nigelee Campbell and Adasia Francis
Venue: Dennis Scott Theatre, Edna Manley College
Overall rating: B+
RAW, riveting and occasionally humorous, 'Coloured Girls', the latest production from the Edna Manley College School of Drama, offers an electrifying and memorable peek into the souls of young Black women, while providing a commendable re-imagining of the renowned Broadway classic from acclaimed writer Ntozake Shange.
There is a frenzied energy teetering on wild abandonment as a seven-member female troupe indulges in an orgy of storytelling, shimmying, hooping, spinning, jumping, twisting and hysterical screaming in a traditional Jamaican balmyard setting, overseen by a strong-willed bishop (Ladon Burke) and his eager assistant (Shannagay Brown). Being so close to the action, as the intimate Dennis Scott Theatre allows, the viewer can almost smell their sweat and hear their breathing while witnessing the nitty-gritty mechanics of their performances.
The production, which essentially presents a bold and daring view of human relationships from the female perspective, flows seamlessly for the most part without any unscheduled mishaps or anything else going wrong for that matter. Under Trevor Nairne’s direction, the performers certainly look like they're having a great time.
With the girls wrapped in rainbow colours, ‘Coloured Girls’ slowly unfolds into a stunning and explosive series of gut-wrenching stories and poetry illuminating the identity of young Black women everywhere, as they reveal themselves, their lives, triumphs, hardships and ultimately their yearning for affection.
Adult themes are blended with monologues, music/singing and the rhythms of African drumming, bringing the celebration of sexuality, womanhood and the female experience to fever pitch. You feel their sorrow and pain, and you empathise with their tales of struggle and self acceptance as you follow the girls, from different socio-economic backgrounds, along their journey to personal transformation.
The School of Drama’s re-envisioned production of ‘Coloured Girls’ features new material creatively woven into the original material, giving the production a flavourful Jamaican mix, making it all the more captivating and unforgettable, but still keeping the focus on race, identity and Black female empowerment.
Well-lit and commendably choreographed, the production boasts engaging storytelling; it is heavy on symbolism and is astute in its treatment of real-life issues. While the young players (senior drama students) lack the calibre to take your breath away, Risanne Martin, Nicole Clayton and Adasia Francis are standouts in the cast.
Overall, For Coloured Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When The Rainbow Is Enuf stakes its claim as one of the best theatrical offerings from the School of Drama in recent years. Bold and provocative, as much as it is compelling, well-acted and necessary, ‘Coloured Girls’ is a must-see.
On the eve of the release of his eagerly-awaited new CD, The Universal Cure, the reggae star talks about his ongoing personal and professional transformation, why his new album is his best work to date and how he plans to blend success with greatness and happiness.
By TYRONE S REID
FROM the sixth floor of the Jamaica Pegasus Hotel in New Kingston, the panoramic view provides much of the sweltering mini-metropolis that is city Kingston. Outside on the balcony, you take in the wide landscape, undulating out to Kingston Harbour. Your eyes come to rest, inevitably, on moving motor vehicles the size of ants and landmark sites like the Bank of Jamaica and Carib Cinema, dwarfed by the distance but glisten under the strong rays of the sun.
Tucked away inside his private hotel suite on this brisk April afternoon, reggae singer Jah Cure is unwinding in front of the television dressed in his green shorts and white merino, while his personal nail technician Nicky works her magic on his feet, soaking them in a tub of bubbly warm water before pampering them lovingly with a range of oils and lotions.
A keenly contested match-up between European powerhouses Arsenal and Villarreal on the high-volume soccer channel has Jah Cure’s attention for the time being, and every now and then he blurts out instructions to the players from Arsenal, who are yet to put one in the net.
The room is attractively decked out with fine sheets, curtains and pieces of furniture vying for your attention. A bowl of fruits, bottles of spring water, a plate of half-eaten protein and pastry and a few invitation cards for Jah Cure’s album launch later in the evening, rest on a nearby table.
“My workload is heavy right now, but it’s a lot of fun so I don’t fret,” he tells me finally, taking his eyes off the flat-screen television for an iota of a second. “My career is about making links and meeting great people. I am happy and thankful for that.”
At last, we are making progress with the interview. But my glee is short-lived when we are interrupted by a rap at the door, and the entrance of the self-proclaimed King of the Dancehall, Moses ‘Beenie Man’ Davis, and a mini-entourage that includes West Indies cricketer Dwayne Bravo. Oh Lord, here we go again.
In no time, I am reduced to a fly on the wall as an extensive round of manly-man discussions, laughter and catching-up ensues. Their chatter veers from Ninja Man’s recent run-in with the law to the state of hotels in Kingston to their upcoming concerts in Trinidad, where “extra tight security” is expected owing to a scheduled visit from US President Barack Obama.
When their excitement dies down for a brief spell, Jah Cure is ready to field questions again. By this time, the nail technician is wrapping up her pedicure exploits, and Beenie Man and company have turned their attention to the soccer match now in its second half.
“Right now, I am enjoying the industry. I feel good about the whole thing. Ah great joy mi ah feel right now,” Jah Cure says in response to my next question, reclining on his couch.
Cheery and unpretentious, he seems very at ease in his own skin, even as he talks about re-connecting with fans, recording new music and putting out his fifth album, The Universal Cure.
“I see all of this as re-integration with my fans and everybody for that matter. They have been there for me through thick and thin. And I think I am fitting back in nicely. I have been receiving a lot of love both locally and internationally, and you have to give thanks for that,” Jah Cure concludes.
Indeed, with the support of fans across the globe and those in his corner, Jah Cure’s star is heading for new heights. Amazingly though, his star nearly didn’t rise at all.
Things Fall Apart
Between the late 1990s and early 2000s, Jah Cure (born Siccature Alcock) began his reggae career with a relative bang. His break came however, after working with established acts like Capleton, Beres Hammond and Sizzla. A steady stream of well-received singles followed which won him the attention of hard-to-impress reggae listeners.
In November 1998, while driving around his hometown of Montego Bay, the St James capital, the artiste was pulled over by police and arrested on gun possession, robbery and rape charges. In April the following year, he was found guilty and sentenced to 15 years in prison. Since his conviction, Jah Cure has firmly maintained his innocence.
While behind prison walls, he had access to recording equipment and released three albums and several singles, a few of which topped local charts. His first album Free Jah's Cure was released in 2000, and was followed by Ghetto Life (2003) and Freedom Blues (2005).
Popular tracks like Love Is, Longing For and True Reflections were played everywhere, ad nauseam, showing off the singer’s one-of-a-kind tenor and knack for penning fine lyrics. But while fans gobbled up his sounds on one hand, the singer was mercilessly vilified on the other by many who believed, and still do, that the music of a convicted felon has no place on the airwaves.
After serving eight years behind bars, Jah Cure was released on parole in July 2007. Shortly after, his fourth album, True Reflections...A New Beginning was released and a slew of welcome-back concerts, in Jamaica and overseas, were organized to signal a brand new day for the embattled artiste.
Today, in his hotel suite, Jah Cure is prepping for the launch of yet another CD and some foreign shows later in the week, where capacity crowds are expected. He knows he has a lot to be grateful for, considering how unforgiving the music industry can be more often than not.
Through the trials and tribulations, the smiles and the scowls, Jah Cure, now 31, says he refused to be lost in the sauce. Life away from the industry and the people he loves gave him time to rethink his purpose and his relationship with The Creator.
“I have learnt a whole lot through everything I have been through. You have to be humble, keep the faith and never give up if you really want to make it in life. You have to take the bitter with the sweet. That is what has been keeping me focused,” he says, the seriousness reflected on his face as he speaks.
No More Drama
According to Jah Cure, The Universal Cure (to be released via SoBe Entertainment and Danger Zone Music Group) is his finest and most personal effort since his arrival on the music scene. One listen to the 16-track disc is enough to confirm this. The album is a fiery and coherent mix of the old Jah Cure fans appreciated and a newer inspirational and love-centric vibe. At the same time, the singer blends reggae with funk, neo-soul and hip-hop influences to reflect his eclectic tastes.
Check out the hypnotic chart-climber, Call On Me (a bonafide lovers’ anthem) and other treats such as the title track and Freedom (stirring and empowering singles), Mr Jailer (a respectable cover of Asa’s brilliant breakout hit, featuring newcomer Phyllisia Ross) and Hot Long Time (with Flo-Rida, Junior Reid and Mavado).
“I definitely feel like it’s the best work I’ve done. It’s the first time I am really getting to talk to the people,” he says. “This is official, good quality stuff with strong production behind it. It is dealing with the daily struggles we all go through, a whole heap of topics. I just hope it achieves all that a quality album should achieve because sometimes when you have high hopes for a project, you don’t always get the best out of it.”
Jah Cure’s new album has at least one fan already. According to Beenie Man, The Universal Cure will cement Jah Cure’s place as a reggae messenger.
“This is a good album from start to finish. You can tell that [Jah Cure] is developing into a messenger, someone who wants to sing about upliftment and love,” he says. “In terms of cultural music, I think he’s a legend in the making. He’s getting better and better.”
For his part, Jah Cure says he’s gearing up for the wonder that is yet to come. For the Hanover-born singer, taking hold of his career means no more regrets, no more drama. He admits though, that while success can be elusive, it is important to focus on the present and plan for tomorrow.
“For the future, I see every part of the world crying out for Jah Cure just like the greats and the legends. If I get as big as Bob Marley, I’ll be satisfied with that,” he says with a chuckle, before adding: “I don’t live with regrets because Jah make life the way it is supposed to be. Just dust yourself off and try again because there are greater things to come.”
For an artiste who almost lost it all, the timing couldn’t be better: a new attitude and a new album folks are already calling the The One.
*(Arsenal eventually scored to end the soccer match 1-1 against Villarreal).
The Universal Cure (SoBe Entertainment)
Artiste: Jah Cure
According to reggae singer Jah Cure, his new album The Universal Cure is his finest and most personal effort since his arrival on the music scene. One listen to the 16-track disc is enough to confirm this. The album is a fiery and coherent mix of the old Jah Cure fans appreciated and a newer inspirational and love-centric vibe. At the same time, the singer blends reggae with funk, neo-soul and hip-hop influences to reflect his assorted tastes.
Check out the hypnotic chart-climber, Call On Me (a bonafide lovers’ anthem) and other treats such as the title track and Freedom (stirring and empowering singles), Mr Jailer (a respectable cover of Asa’s brilliant breakout hit, featuring newcomer Phyllisia Ross) and Hot Long Time (with Flo-Rida, Junior Reid and Mavado). Other cuts including the appealing album opener Sticky, the chart-topper Reflections and the moving track Journey show off the singer’s strong tenor and praiseworthy songwriting ability.
While not every track here is instantly memorable, more often than not the music takes you to a place of profound reflection. No longer behind “the prison walls”, Jah Cure, 30, (born Siccature Alcock) seems determined to accomplish what he’s always dreamed of: a career of making music that means something. On The Universal Cure, his fifth album, he pulls on his life experiences to craft a laudable musical offering which touches on themes ranging from oppression and redemption to hope and love.
DOWNLOAD: Call On Me, Universal Cure, Freedom and Sticky
BY TYRONE S REID
Crank: High Voltage (Lionsgate Pictures)
Directors: Mark Neveldine and Bryan Taylor
Cast: Jason Statham, Amy Smart, Clifton Collins Jr and Bai Ling
Running Time: 1hr 35 mins
Overall rating: B-
CRANK: High Voltage is one of those flicks that attempt to meld action and humour to create a fun, pleasurable affair. Starring Transporter hero, Jason Statham (as Chev Chelios), the movie is a reasonably entertaining follow-up to the 2006 original, which finds Statham back on the streets of Los Angeles killing, chasing villains and trying to stay alive.
But where the prequel relied heavily on speedy action sequences and high-octane explosions to win over viewers, this sequel goes for regular instances of offensive, knee-slapping humour and uproarious, laugh-out-loud fun.
Still, as with most Statham action-adventure movies, Crank: High Voltage would not be complete without the ridiculously outrageous stunts, fast-pace car chases, electric human movements and expertly choreographed fight scenes. Yes, the plot is paper thin and before you know it, the story morphs into an all-out wild ride where believability takes a backseat to implausibility.
Crank: High Voltage picks up where the first movie left off and finds Chelios surviving a catastrophic plunge from the sky to the streets of Los Angeles, where is then kidnapped by a Chinese mobster and his team of henchmen. He later escapes only to discover that his heart has been surgically removed and supplanted with a battery-operated device that requires regular jolts of electricity to operate.
He turns to longtime pal Doc Miles (Dwight Yoakam) for medical advice, reconnects with is stripper girlfriend (Amy Smart) and teams up with his late friend Kaylo’s twin brother Venus (Efren Ramirez) as he moves about Los Angeles, determined to get his real heart back, wreaking his special brand of vengeance on the ones who stole it.
Thankfully, the blood is kept to a minimum but there are the occasional gruesome scenes (a man’s elbow being chopped off, another’s nipples removed with a knife) that will force you to turn away from the screen. But, for the most part, the film lays off the heavy stuff, providing more amusement than you expect. Asian-born actress Bai Ling delivers the funny as a crack whore, who devotes her time to helping Chelios get his heart back after he saves her life.
Statham is his usual energetic and athletic self, and seems to be having a whale of time as he anchors the film with a balance of charisma and physicality. Not to mention, Amy Smart (Rat Race), who surprises me with her very free-spirited performance here.
Overall, Crank High: High Voltage is not aimed at the uptight, self-righteous crowd. For Jason Statham loyalists and movie-goers seeking something irreverently fun and sufficiently entertaining, this one might do it for you.
By TYRONE S REID
Voices (Sankofa Productions)
Director: fabian thomas
Cast: Zandriann Maye, Craig McNally, Andre Morris and Noelle Kerr
Venue: Pantry Playhouse, New Kingston
Overall rating: B+
BOASTING a solid cast of emerging talent, razor-sharp social commentary and occasional light-hearted moments, Voices is a moving and hard-hitting theatrical experiment that arrests viewers and forces you to consider how hearts and hands can move mountains in these deeply unsettling times --- in Jamaica and the world at large.
Written and directed by Fabian Thomas, known for such thought-provoking outside-the-box works as Fallen Angel and Di Devil’s Concubine, Voices pulls on gripping storytelling, engaging music and coherent movement in its exploration of taboo topics from HIV and violence against women to sexual orientation and identity.
Actor Boy winner Zandriann Maye (Pupalick, Hot Spot) and Craig McNally (Season Rice) commendably lead the young cast as narrators Mama and Dada, two elderly observers of life and society, who are concerned about the youth and strongly believe that positive and unflinching change is vital to the survival of civilization.
Rayon McLean, one to watch, gets things going with a memorable monologue on Jamaican ‘bad men’, using his booming voice to good effect. He is later joined by Andre Morris, who offers more gangster posturing in a piece that successfully examines crime and young, uneducated male perpetrators who often foolishly trade their lives for the gun.
Still in the vein of violence, Lee Patience offers a brief piece on the lives of children in the inner-city before Nyanda Cammock, attired in an all-black get-up, takes over as an HIV-positive young woman, who forcefully addresses the hypocrisy, secrecy and shame usually associated with the deadly virus.
The women continue their good run with Noelle Kerr, Rushae Watson and Thealdra Baker stepping in to team up with Cammock for a piece on sexual abuse, incest and myths. The female performers waste no time in establishing a strong connection with the audience, even as they offer compelling reasons why it’s “not good to be born a woman”. Kerr’s performance is particularly outstanding.
But the production’s most captivating moments arrive when Morris, Patience, McLean and newcomer Darion Palmer transform the stage into a psychological battleground for their rendering of male sexual orientation and Jamaican homophobia. With raw language and unrelenting force, the piece is brutal and harsh in dealing with the physical and moral clash between gays and homophobes, which usually leads to ugly consequences.
Voices makes no bones about the serious messages it carries, and stands as a far superior product to last year’s Positive. Thankfully, the production gets the job done without being overly preachy or condescending. With a capable 10-member ensemble, Voices vigorously explores the pain, suffering and deep-seated anger among many in contemporary Jamaica but generously offers a road-map to healing, transformation and national change.