Monday, 30 May 2011

TALKING TREES Lit Fiesta: A delightful day on the south coast, where the arts and nature harmonized

STAGE PRESENCE: Sonia King read from her absorbing nonfiction work Jacket or Full Suit.

There’s just something amazingly special about Treasure Beach that lends outdoor cultural events a fascinating gloss, including but certainly not limited to the warm hospitality of the south coast, a breathtaking vista full of mountainside and glimpses of the sea, and a sublime, peaceful aura where man can become one with nature.

As a literary event, Calabash cashed in on the formula for ten years, and this year the Talking Trees Lit Fiesta (part of the Treasure Beach Bread Basket Festival) at the Two Seasons Guest House absolutely did not disappoint. For a first-time event, all the elements involved seemed to meld terrifically, resulting in a superb event that delivered spirited readings, insightful discussions and a compelling sense of fellowship complemented by spicy Jamaican fare and lovely booth displays.

Overall, the light and breezy atmosphere that enveloped the smooth proceedings got everyone in the mood for a fulfilling cultural high.

Publishing panel discussion: Getting your work out there

JUICY READS: Just some of the varied titles at the Bookophilia display.

TALL ORDER: Joan Andrea Hutchinson closed the event with a series of amusing anecdotes firmly rooted in the Jamaican culture.

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PUBLISHING SEMINAR: Getting your work out there in a rapidly evolving publishing world

THE PANELLISTS: Yours truly, Judith Falloon-Reid, Ian Randle and moderator Joy Simmons-Brown.

“You’re work isn’t truly published until you’ve exhausted every possible avenue of making your work accessible to readers,” remarks Ian Randle. “As a writer you need to ensure that there is an audience for your work, and you try to widen that audience as much as possible.” Randle, who was addressing the Talking Trees Literary Fiesta on Saturday in Treasure Beach during a panel discussion on the evolution of the publishing industry, also encouraged writers with hopes of landing a contract with a publishing house to research the industry thoroughly. “Do your homework. Find out what [the publishing house’s] preferences are to see if they fit your material.”

Randle, who is now a “happily retired” decades-long veteran of the publishing world, mostly via his very own and highly-respected Ian Randle Publishers, further emphasized that his company has a simple 5-point checklist of criteria in selecting (and possibly later accepting) manuscripts for publication: (a) the work should possess some literary merit (b) marketability (c) appeal to a minimum number of people (d) allows for cost-effective pricing (e) the publisher should love the work.

“We don’t want you to send us your manuscript right away. First, we want you to sell us the idea and then we see where it all goes from there based on that initial presentation,” says Randle, adding that should the house decide to go ahead and publish a selected work, “the publisher absorbs 100 per cent of the risk.” And within 9 months to a year the finished product could be in book stores.

The day’s discourse on publishing was, however, not restricted to publishing houses as the options now available to writers also include the ever-accessible self-publishing route (which Judith Falloon-Reid highlighted) as well as the fast-growing electronic media, including e-books and e-zines, elaborated on by TALLAWAH’s Tyrone S. Reid.

In the end, the consensus ascertained: In the modern day, hopeful writers and established successes fortunately have a wider range of options within their grasp to bring their work to the attention of the world. But of paramount importance is the quality of the work that you deliver.

Talking Trees Lit Fiesta: Recap of a delightful day in Treasure Beach

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CALABASH CREATIONS: Albert Jonas works an artistic legacy from nature’s bounty

CREATIVE SOUL: Jonas is a wiz at transforming the calabash into gorgeous art.

One look at Albert Jonas’ exquisite art pieces and it is quite evident that each item was lovingly created to emanate a sophisticated air, grab attention and even serve as conversation-starters. Using the calabash gourd grown on trees in the Blue Mountains and other highly vegetative areas, Jonas painstakingly handcrafts each one into functional and decorative works of art. Then, after a little polish to make them come alive, the beautiful finished products boast elements that are fun to look at while exuding a warm, home-friendly personality.

Little surprise that Jonas, who hails from Irish Town, St. Mary, has amassed an expanding clientele of local and overseas customers. “When people visit Jamaica they purchase a lot to take back home. So you find that my creations can be found all over the world,” says Jonas, who has been working with calabash for the past six years. His vibrant pieces, modestly priced between $400 and $1,000, are perfect for jazzing up offices and living room walls and make for absolutely fabulous presents. Contact: 589-7551;

DETAILED DESIGNS: Fascinating examples of Jonas' creations.

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COUNTRY HOUSE: Reviving body and spirit with the essence of lemon grass

NATURE LOVERS: The Reids serve customers, eager to sample their buzzy line of products.

“Lemon grass is anti-fungal and anti-bacterial, and our products carry all those benefits and goodness,” says Sonia Reid, remarking on the wondrous effects to be experienced upon indulging in any of the merchandise from Country House Products, the line her son-of-the-soil husband, Professor Harvey Reid, has birthed. Primarily derived from a special variety of the lemon grass which then undergoes an eventful journey, the line today encompasses elegant bath and personal care products – and the tea, known for its heady but invigorating aroma.

Established in 2009, Country House Products is essentially the culmination of Professor Reid’s longtime desire “to optimally exploit the aromatherapy and other therapeutic benefits of lemon grass” working mainly from his home-base of Warwick district in Cross Keys, Manchester, while often collaborating closely with the Scientific Research Council and facilitated by a grant from the EU-GOJ Private Sector Development Programme.

Up next: the Country House line (available through leading retailers islandwide) is being repackaged to further enhance its global appeal to tap into overseas markets. In the meantime, go ahead and revive your body and spirit with your picks from the bunch: the body wash, hand wash, body lotion, shampoos, conditioners, body spritz, candles or tea (both lemon grass and cerasee). Contact: 359-3402;

'COUNTRY' STRONG: Samples from the Country House line of products.

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CONVERSATION HIGHLIGHTS: A chat with Jamerican author Garfield Ellis

THE READER: Ellis entertains the audience with excerpts from his novels.

At the Talking Trees Lit Fiesta in St. Elizabeth on the weekend, the audience warmly received a rather enthusiastic reading from Jamaican novelist Garfield Ellis, who shared passages from two of his novels, ’Til I’m Laid To Rest and For Nothing At All, entertaining tales of Jamaicans at home and elsewhere. He later spoke to TALLAWAH about his writing life, influences and the gist of his next work.

’Til I’m Laid To Rest, your latest novel, is an immigration tale set in the US. What made you want to explore such a topic?
Well it’s a story that pretty much had to be told because it is something I know very well, and while in the United States I have encountered quite a few people who also immigrated.
What area of the United States is that?
In Miami.
Tell me a bit about your writing life. What’s the process like for you?
I tend to write in the mornings. I get up early like, say, between four and six and write.
Is this a daily routine?
As much as I can, and then I go to work.
Oh, what is the nature of that work?
I am the director of communications at the Jamaica Anti-Doping Commission here in Jamaica. But I still live between here and Miami.
How do you establish a balance in your busy work life?
It’s not difficult to balance. What happens is that you write a lot and then you market the book as much as you can, because you have to make a choice.
What will your next book explore?
Well, actually I just finished a novel that is called The Angel’s Share. It’s about a father and son who basically find each while in St. Elizabeth.
Share some of your literary favourites and influences.
Some of the writers who have influenced me over the years are people like James Mitchener, Toni Morrison. Toni Morrison’s Beloved is one of the best books ever written. I also enjoyed Bronte’s Wuthering Heights and, of course, Tom Sawyer, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Great Expectations and so on. These are the kinds of great books that you read over and over. And then there are newer books like The Bourne Identity from the Bourne series.
Are there any particular titles inspiring you this month?
Well, currently I am writing a lot, and when I am writing I don’t read as much; I just focus on the work.

Publishing panel discussion: Getting your work out there

GOOD COMPANY: Ellis shares a light moment with theatre icon and writer Jean Small.

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THEATRE PREVIEW: Keiran King harks back to a golden era with forthcoming musical “Last Call”

FOUR PLAY: Davis, Beharie, Powell and King read a scene from Last Call.

“The type of theatre I am interested in is of a quality that you can probably see off-Broadway and which, I believe, can be Jamaicanized,” notes Keiran King ahead of this summer’s Last Call, his debut writing-directorial project, which happens to be a romantic musical drama set at the dawn of the 1950s at Kingston’s once-flourishing Myrtle Bank Hotel. It’s no doubt an ambitious but undeniably buzzy undertaking for the budding playwright and director, fresh off a surprising Best Actor win at the Actor Boy Awards for another musical, White Witch.

As ever, a touch of nostalgia and genuine quality akin to the Great White Way to our cultural landscape is always welcome, and it would appear that Last Call is up to the task, judging by a brief dramatic reading of two scenes at the Talking Trees Literary Fiesta on Saturday. Last Call is an account, split in two acts, of four best friends who reunite after a decade at the Myrtle Bank’s main lounge to catch up on each other’s careers and general life developments. As for the cast, Maurice Bryan, Aisha Davis, Rishille Bellamy-Pelicie, Shayne Powell – and Andrew Lawrence as a bartender – will take on the roles, while Scarlett Beharie serves as producer.

King, who has studied screenwriting in the US and even interned in Hollywood, explains that stories shared by his grandfather (who passed in January) largely inspired the script, while the music will be a mix of original compositions and standout selections that mark the period where the play is laid. With the promise of a production spiked with friendships, vintage sounds and a glossy piece of Jamaica’s past, no wonder Last Call remains one of the hotly anticipated plays coming out this year. Opening night: July 29, Philip Sherlock Centre, UWI Mona.

FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD: The Last Call crew catches a breezy vibe.

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REGGAE FILM FESTIVAL: Spotlight on Bob, duppies in the hills and a story of friendship and forgiveness

DYNAMIC DUO: Actor Munair Zacca and filmmaker Denise Campbell (Bubblin) vibing at the fest.

Bob Marley: The Making of a Legend (UK)
Director(s): Esther Anderson and Gian Godoy

The picture might seem dated, but that’s hardly anything to complain about over this sweeping, occasionally riveting peek into Bob Marley’s very early years. Esther Anderson’s exclusive footage coupled with the much-welcomed running commentary, sheds fabulous light on an era in The Gong’s life about which too much still remains unknown. As such, thankfully, the film grants viewers a vivid passageway into aspects of Marley’s work and daily life, as well as offer little nuggets on the sources of inspiration for many of the timeless records he gave to the world. But, in the end, Anderson’s project aids us in comprehending just how Bob Marley became the man that, even in death, remains a life-changing luminary and a symbol of resistance. A-

The Croft (Jamaica)
Director: Wayne Benjamin

They say the hills have eyes. And that’s something Derrick, the central character in Benjamin’s outside-the-box but tepid short film The Croft, is likely to believe wholeheartedly now. With a screenplay overdue, he heads to the mountains for inspiration but en route encounters what resembles a ghostly female figure lurking along the path. Was it an omen? Or is fatigue making him hallucinatory? Such questions subsequently plague Derrick, who shares his story with a mountain dweller, only to be informed that “Big man, ah the mountain this; you see strange things every day.” It isn’t clear if Benjamin’s intent is to jolt his audience, provoke thought or achieve some other objective, but by at least leaving the story unresolved, he challenges you to draw your own conclusion. B-

Miss Injustice (Jamaica)
Director: Vanessa Phillips

After you’ve been wronged, perhaps as the victim of a betrayal that rocks you to the core, it isn’t always easy to forgive. So you can understand Arianna’s reservations about diving back into a friendship with Kayla 13 years after what one can conclude was an unimaginabale act of treachery. The girls’ reunion of sorts is fraught with tension, some tears and an attempted payoff, and Phillips (who also appears in the film) admirably captures the emotions, while making ample use of the vibrant colours abundant in nature, which serves as the setting for much of the action. A superbly acted little film, Miss Injustice may be about righting a terrible wrong, but it’s the dual lesson of forgiveness and self-transformation that rings most lucidly. B+

Also screened: The exotic-dancing feature Bubblin from Denise Campbell, which had its Jamaican premiere; Sugarcane’s ode to a storied St. Catherine hotspot, Heaven & Hellshire; and the hotly debated cricket documentary Fire in Babylon, out of the UK.

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SIGHTS & SOUNDS: Random highlights from roaming at the Talking Trees Lit Fiesta, Treasure Beach

MUSICAL PAIR: The award-winning Shane Drummers (identical twins Roshaine and Oshaine Dennis) are a self-taught performing duo, who have excelled not only along the busy south coast but in the JCDC Arts Festival.

ON AIR: Proprietor of the Two Seasons Guest House, Christine Marrett (left) speaks with a crew from NewsTalk 93 FM (media sponsors) about, among other things, getting the event off the ground.

GO EAST: Fiery performance poet, actor and playwright Malachi Smith was among the highlights during a segment dubbed "Our Talk."

IN THE SHADE: A week after staging their very own literary affair (Asante Adonai) in St. Ann, Leahcim and Cecile Semaj were on hand for the fellowship in Treasure Beach, sharing a photo-op here with Denise Wedderburn (centre), co-ordinator of the Bread Basket Festival.

MY FAIR LADIES: Cecile Semaj and Beverly East were spotted catching up.

A SEPARATE PEACE: Marrett sat down for a brief rest and interview with journalist Andre Gordon.

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OUT & ABOUT: Usain Bolt excites capacity crowd at Champions’ League Final in London

His side of Manchester United and arch rivals Barcelona were the main attractions on the day, but that did not stop Usain Bolt from getting in on the action, as the Jamaican ace sprinter was invited to participate in the grand opening ceremony, which took place on Saturday at the famous Wembley Stadium in London. Impeccably turned out in a sharp black suit and accompanied by a bevy of female beauties, the track superstar launched into his signature pose (and other trademark stunts, I’m sure), which no doubt had a ripple effect across the gigantic stadium.

On the heels of his lacklustre performance on the track in Rome on Thursday, Bolt told his Facebook fam: “Wasn’t the best race. I felt like I didn’t know how to run again, but I won. That’s the good thing. The next one will be better, promise.”

Indeed. Work on it, sir. Your start out of the blocks left a lot to be desired…

Swag much?

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Thursday, 26 May 2011

CHINO on the McGregor legacy, his crossover appeal and what fatherhood has taught him

WHITE HEAT: With drive and appeal, Chino enters the big leagues.

Being the offspring of musical royalty is enough to make any young, fast-ascending star feel pressured to live up to great expectations. Not Chino, icon Freddie McGregor’s elder son, who has just put out the US version of his eponymous debut album. Widely regarded as a voice of his generation, the 28-year-old singer, somewhat unassuming but consistently appealing, is far more concerned with crafting hit records that will stand up to scrutiny while taking pleasure in the success of his handiwork. Here, in an exclusive chat, TALLAWAH raps with the entertainer at his album launch at the Devonshire on Monday.

As one of the sons of reggae legend Freddie McGregor, you are charged with the awesome responsibility of upholding a tremendous musical standard.
For me, it all boils down to carrying on the legacy. So my plan is to continue creating real music, timeless music. That’s pretty much it.

There are those who feel that you possess the potential to make the leap into the international mainstream.
I believe that’s possible. I always try to make my music clear, definitely, so that people from all over can understand it. Even if they don’t get the words, they can vibe to the music and the feel of the song.

You are finally releasing the US version of your long-in-coming self-titled debut album. How do you feel about the finished product?
I’m very proud of it. I think it’s a great piece of work that is a definite collectors’ item. It’s an album that will be refreshing even 15 years from now.

How did you find the recording process?
It wasn’t easy. Some tracks had been done from before, and the others were done later on. Everything just came together nicely. I just wanted to create an album that had different kinds of moods for everyone.

Some artistes absolutely hate doing this, but if could single out any track on the album that stands as a favourite…
There is a song called “God Nah Sleep” that really stands out. I am a fan of lyricism, and that song is lyricism at its best. It’s a kind of rise and fall story. And there’s another track called “Work” that closes the album, which has a powerful message; it’s about motivating people to work for what they want.

Outside the music world, you’re a dad. Has fatherhood re-aligned your life in any major way?
In terms of priorities, definitely. But it’s not a situation where I am under any added pressure, because I have always been a responsible person. You still have to put out the effort and make the adjustments, but it’s an experience that I cherish so it is nothing too difficult.

STAND BY ME: Flanked by a couple of naval beauties, Chino steps out to launch his new album at Devon House.

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CRITIC’S NOTEBOOK: A bumper crop of home-grown musicals headed to the Jamaican stage? Joyful news, indeed.

THE WHITE WITCH EFFECT: New Jamaican musicals to bring the noise.

2011 is shaping up to be a year of song and dance. If the whisperings are to be believed, it will be raining showtunes on the Jamaican theatrical stage in the upcoming season of major productions. One could easily chalk up this excitingly fresh chapter to a ripple effect of the monstrous success of last year’s multi-award-winning smash White Witch, or, in a more personal sense, the long-awaited answer to my fervent prayers for an end to the drought on indigenous Jamaican musicals.

In any case, it’s glorious news indeed. Not that audiences and critics are growing any less fancy of the intense drama or the side-splitting comedy, but musicals are all the rage right now. On The Great White Way (Broadway, for the uninitiated), the ultimate source of splendid theatre, song-and-dance shows are dominating. To wit, The Book of Mormon, about Mormons in Africa, leads all contenders for next month’s Tony Awards with an impressive 14 bids.

In the Jamaican context, popular and charming Broadway shows are often adapted and staged each year, most regularly by the Jamaica Musical Theatre Company (JMTC), but it is my belief that we need to place the emphasis on creating more of our own Caribbean stories – and now is as good a time as any. For one thing, there is no shortage of tales to tell that will empower, inspire and ultimately entertain people’s socks off.

Sources inform TALLAWAH that, in addition to the annual LTM National Pantomime, which customarily opens Boxing Day, at least six new Jamaican musicals will be brought to life before the year is out. And leading the charge is Keiran King’s anticipated period piece, Last Call (set at Kingston’s once-thriving Myrtle Bank Hotel), which bows into action at the Philip Sherlock Centre in July. Theatre veterans Pablo Hoilett and Dahlia Harris are also, I’m told, working to deliver their own music-driven shows.

And, for the Aston Cooke fans, a new incarnation of the Jamaica 2 Rahtid franchise is well on its way for a summer run. While there’s no word yet on what is in the works from Patrick Brown and the JAMBIZ crew, the JMTC, or Stages Productions, the mere thrill in knowing that there are surprises in store is enough to impart comfort to theatre lovers.

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