Friday, 29 July 2011

THE GOOD WIFE: Simone Clarke-Cooper opens up about her next chapter, life as a working mom, and having faith

STATE OF GRACE: "I am looking forward to developing a whole other side of myself," reveals Clarke-Cooper.

Jamaicans have come to associate media icon Simone Clarke-Cooper with her signature mix of sparkle, intelligence and skilful journalism through her long career in radio (FAME FM) and television (TV J). But these days the devoted wife and first-time mom is intent on fashioning a path in the corporate world with her exciting new post at GraceKennedy. After all, Clarke-Cooper, like so many others, understands what can be had by trusting your instincts and spreading your wings. She talked to TALLAWAH about making one of the toughest decisions of her life, how her young daughter lights up her life, and what she’s been learning as a wife and mom.

TALLAWAH: News of your leaving FAME FM has come as a big surprise to the many that have come to associate you with your decade-long work at the station and the wider RJR Group. What led to your departure, and how do you feel about the change?
Clarke-Cooper: I was at FAME for fourteen years. Fourteen fantastic years. But everybody gets to a point where they have to self-assess and make decisions as to what's next. I have a daughter now, and she needs more of my time. Media can become your entire life, and I didn't want to cheat her of the time she needs. And I really just felt it was the right time in my life for a change. A broadening of my horizons, if you will. It was an extremely tough decision, and I struggled with it. But ultimately it was the right decision. I miss radio terribly. I miss the family I made there more. But I am very happy I still get to do television, which is where I started out in the first place.

TALLAWAH: Glancing back at your long relationship with radio, TV and the Jamaican media, what are you most proud of?
Clarke-Cooper: My growth, staying true to myself, and the relationship I have with the listening and viewing public. Everyday I have discussions with people I don't know, as if we're long-time friends. I pride myself on having kept it real, and I think that is something that makes people feel they really know me. I consider the relationship I have with those who watch and listen to be an incredible blessing. And when I look back from the days of Rappin, and where I am now, I really believe I have grown as a broadcaster. I am very proud of that.

TALLAWAH: What's your major focus right now? What's on your plate professionally?
Clarke-Cooper: In a bid to broaden my horizons, I have stepped into the world of "corporate Jamaica". I am now the Corporate Communications Manager at GraceKennedy. I've been there for all of three weeks now, and I am trying to soak up all I can as I learn the ropes. I still do Smile Jamaica on TVJ, and I also try to do as much teaching and training as I can as that is an area which I also enjoy very much.

TALLAWAH: Tell me about the joys and demands of motherhood, and how you've been rising to meet the challenges.
Clarke-Cooper: Motherhood is a trip. I absolutely love it. My daughter is the centre of my world. It's difficult to keep up with her because she has a lot of energy. And as a working mother, sometimes energy is something you have to dig deep to find. The mid-morning feedings are tough. My fervent hope is that she starts sleeping through the nights soon. But I think, if I do say so myself, that I am doing a good job. I have to. I lover her too much to fail her.

TALLAWAH: How would you describe your beloved Arif as a father?
Clarke-Cooper: He is fantastic! He's so good with her. He actually taught me a lot, as he has two sons. Things like which cry means what, and whether it's a cry with tears or one without and which to take more seriously, and how not to spoil her and ...the list goes on. He is patient with her. Up until recently she was a "Daddy's girl," but now she cries for her Mommy. Sorry, Arif. Seriously though, he is an excellent father. I'm really happy he's her dad. I'm trying not to get too jealous of her everyday "da-da, da-da" ramblings. Guess "ma-ma" will come in time. And yes, Arif, she's still a daddy's girl.

TALLAWAH: What's inspiring Simone right now?
Clarke-Cooper: Aaryn, my daughter, is my inspiration right now. Everything I do is for her or with her in mind. It's amazing, but your life really isn't about you anymore when you have a child. I'd love to be inspired by movies and other things but I don't have the time to be. I still try to get in some of my favourite shows on TV, rarely. But when I do, it's great.

TALLAWAH: Is there a principle that guides your life and everyday choices?
Clarke-Cooper: Trust and faith in God, who has been so good to me, honesty, truth, integrity. Those guide all my decisions and actions with whomever I deal – from work to home. I find you don't usually go wrong if your life is guided by those values.

TALLAWAH: What are you most looking forward to in this new, post-FAME phase of your life?
Clarke-Cooper: I am looking forward to spending more time with my family now that all my days and holidays aren't taken up with media. I am looking forward to learning new things and developing and feeding a whole other side of myself. And I am looking forward to watching my daughter grow, and being able to provide for her as she does so. In general, I am looking out for, and looking forward, to all the things life has in store. My journey continues.

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Thursday, 28 July 2011

SINGING SENSATION: A return to her musical roots is a “breath of fresh air” for Sakina

ALL GROWN UP: "I will always be open to new opportunities and challenges," says Deer.

On the eve of her latest production, the stage musical Last Call, which opens this Friday at the Philip Sherlock Centre, UWI Mona, versatile actress Sakina Deer speaks about getting to sing live again, her expanding body of work and what she’s looking forward to the most career-wise.

TALLAWAH: National audiences have come to associate you with plays by Basil Dawkins, as we rarely see you performing outside the Little Little Theatre. How do you feel about the change of scenery with this new musical?
Deer: It’s great because my roots are in musical theatre; I started out with Father HoLung & Friends. So to be able to return to that kind of production after a break is a breath of fresh air, and I am really looking forward to the opening [this Friday].

TALLAWAH: Your last performance in a musical was in 2007’s Disco Inferno. Were you at all worried about being able, after four years, to meet the usual challenges associated with song-and-dance shows?
Deer: Well, initially I was because I hadn’t done much singing since then, except for the occasional weddings and funerals. But Karen Armstrong, who is the show’s musical director, took her time with me. For me, it’s like riding a bicycle, so everything you had learned comes back in no time (Laughs).

TALLAWAH: Do you think you will ever live down Precious from Uptown Bangarang?
Deer: I don’t think so (Laughs). I think every set of people love to associate me with a different character I’ve played over the years – whether it’s Cher from Diana, Precious or Monica from Which Way Is Out? Everybody has a favourite that they love to see me as.

TALLAWAH: If you had to choose a favourite…
Deer: I would probably go with Cher because playing her I had to learn so many things. She has stayed with me so much. For the first time I got to play someone who was impaired, and there was a lot that I had to do with the role. It demanded a lot.

TALLAWAH: Tell me about the character you tackle in Last Call.
Deer: In Last Call, I play Daphne, who is one of the four friends who meet up after 10 years. She has gone through many changes since school, and she has had a tough life. She is envious of her friends, as she has not been able to achieve many of her dreams. She has a lot of bitterness and regret, and she is not so joyous to be reuniting with the others. I like playing her because her whole movement is different. It’s a fantastic role. And she is a lounge singer, so it’s like a performer playing a performer. And she is a little sassier than Sakina, so I enjoy getting hot and sexy to play her. (Laughs).

TALLAWAH: What are you looking forward to the most in the next phase of your life?
Deer: My biggest dream so far is to do Broadway. Right now, I have a home with Basil Dawkins, but I will always be open to new opportunities and challenges. I am also open to doing some work in film and maybe television sitcoms, but Broadway will always be my ultimate goal.

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'BLACK' CARPET REPORT: Stars and sponsors mingle at glitzy Ghett’a Life premiere

SHINE LIKE A STAR: Davis, Williams and Burton; (above) Burton and Clarke, who play best friends in the film.

What: The world premiere of the Jamaican film Ghett’a Life

When: Wednesday evening

Where: Carib Cinema, Kingston

Jamaican star power reigned: The premiere offered a grand opportunity for the film’s cast and behind-the-scenes team to reunite and reminisce on the long process, which culminated in Wednesday’s successful unveiling. Talented young star Kevoy Burton posed for pics with on-screen dad Carl Davis and sidekick played by O’daine Clarke. Also in the mix was Chris McFarlane, the film’s terrifying villain, who did some catching up with his fellow supporting cast-mates and the director Chris Browne.

Guest List: Also rubbing shoulders at the Guinness-sponsored event were reps from the cultural, academic, entertainment, social and media communities, the likes of Tanya Stephens, Carolyn Cooper, Joel Burke, Jerry Benzwick and Storm Saulter, among many others.

Isn't she lovely?: I caught up briefly with the film’s gorgeous young female lead, Lisa Williams, only to discover that we attended the same high school. Glenmuir High, stand up! As it turns out, when I was a sixth-former, she was a junior. But now she has morphed into a stunning beauty, who delivers a quietly impressive debut performance in the film – and is already considering her next big move: landing the Miss Jamaica World title. Definitely one to watch.

Cameos ruled: The film doesn’t skimp on Jamaican talent, showcasing a range of famous faces from the local artistic community in small scenes. I glimpsed people like Munair Zacca, Audrey Reid, Etana, and Tesfa Edwards washing his face at a stand-pipe. Hilarious.

Proud producer: To say that Justine Henzell, one of the film’s hardworking producers, is pleased with the final product would be understating it. She is absolutely thrilled. “We knew we had a lot to do in a short amount of time with a limited budget,” she reveals. “And I think that what we saw tonight was that Jamaica can produce something of an international quality that lives up to international production standards. And that’s really important. And we did it with an all-Jamaican cast and crew, and I’m very proud of that.”

>> Movie Magic: Highlights from Ghett'a Life premiere

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MOVIE MAGIC: Celebrating the release of Ghett'a Life at Carib Cinema, Kingston

GHETT'A GLORY: At Wednesday's world premiere of the local film Ghett'a Life, members of the artistic and social sets rubbed shoulders with industry luminaries and the film's well-dressed stars at the Carib Cinema. The 90-minute movie, years in the making, certainly left everyone singing the praises of the brilliant team responsible for bringing the astonishing project to life. TALLAWAH takes in the scene:

Ghett'a Life star Kevoy Burton (right) and Yuri Stewart, who appears in the upcoming Candy Shop.

Justine Henzell, one of the film's behind-the-scenes dynamos, and actor Chris McFarlane.

Singer Tanya Stephens (right), who performs the title track from the film, revelled with Dr. Carolyn Cooper.

Director Chris Browne shared a light moment with the movie's leading lady, Lisa Williams (left), and Jamaica's Film Commissioner, Kim-Marie Spence.

Rodney Campbell, Sherando Ferril and Winston Bell all scored parts in Ghett'a Life.

Browne raps with Sanjay of TV J's Intense after the viewing.

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TROPICAL FLAVOUR: Shaggy brings the "Sugarcane" to TBS' Lopez Tonight

Grammy winner Shaggy continued his high-energy promotional run on late-night television in the US earlier this week, hitting the stage at Lopez Tonight (TBS, hosted by comic George Lopez) on Tuesday to plug his chart-topping new album, Summer in Kingston, and give the audience a taste of the refreshing lead single "Sugarcane." And they loved it.

Watch the electrifying performance below:

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BLACK, MY STORY: New Hope Brooks exhibition examines Black life and our history

BLACK POWER: "Kings and Princes"; Brooks (circa 2000)

Full of African humanity and Black consciousness, "People and Their Story" is at once a haunting meditation on race, history and legacy. The latest exhibit from acclaimed artist Hope Brooks (currently on view at the Mutual Gallery) focuses on the human form, but, more precisely, the head. Add to that Brooks' signature techniques of scratching surfaces, tenderly dripping water colours and layering pigment.

With titles such as "Bakra Pickney" and "Where do we Come from, Where are we Going?", this fresh sample of Brooks' time-honoured oeuvre forces the viewer to question his sense of history, nation and identity. According to Brooks, “I was meant to do this series, I found it and it found me”. Noted scholar Dr. Petrine Archer takes this observation a step further: "Brooks' imagery reminds us that Africa is the cradle of humanity and that our concern with that continent and its scattered people is a concern for the self and each other."

"People and Their Story" is on view at the Mutual Gallery (Oxford Road, Kingston) through mid-August.

BOLD PRINTS: "Painting for the planet Earth" and "Backra Pickney," both mixed media on board.

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THE MIX: What's hot in culture right now

Kelly Rowland - Here I Am

The Destiny's Child alumna announces her liberation and delivers a sparkling blend of pop and contemporary R&B on her third studio album, Here I Am, which boasts such hits as the radio smash (and playlist fave) "Motivation," with Lil Wayne, and the sexed-up sizzler "Lay It On Me," which gets a rap from Big Sean. Production comes from a reputable roster of songwriters and hitmakers, the likes of Tricky Stewart, Rico Love and Rodney Jerkins.

Sapphire - The Kid

If like the many admirers of the book Push - or its Oscar-winning film adaptation Precious - you're wondering what ever became of Precious' son, Abdul, the novel's author Sapphire has just put out a sequel, which follows the young boy's journey in the wake of his mother's demise from AIDS. Very much like its predecessor, The Kid is bound to engross readers with its frank depiction of hope and determination amidst poverty and despair.

Ghett'a Life (Jamrock Films)
With his gritty new thriller, prizewinning writer-director Chris Browne and a cast of solid, all-Jamaican talent bring a powerful tale of pride, struggle and sheer determination to the big screen, melding crime, politics and sporting fervour. Newcomer Kevoy Burton stars as an ambitious inner-city kid with hopes of boxing for Jamaica and sets out to prevail against the odds to realize his dream. Chris McFarlane, Lenford Salmon, Teddy Price, Lisa Williams and Winston Bell co-star. Opens nationwide Friday at Palace cinemas.

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SCENE: Shaggy + Cherine Anderson + Mario Evon + Konshens

MIND MUSIC: As anticipation builds toward the release of his new solo album, Mental Maintenance (due out later this summer), dancehall star Konshens granted fans and industry insiders a preview of the record at a special listening session and concert on Tuesday at the CPTC in Kingston. For me, this is one of the most keenly awaited albums of the year.

THE TALENTED MR. RILEY: Reggae's reigning golden voice, Tarrus Riley, came out to support his lil' bro at the Mental Maintenance listening session and concert on Tuesday, later hitting the stage for a performance of their smash 2009 collabo "Good Girl Gone Bad."

SUPER MARIO: The legendary Apollo Theatre in NYC isn't the only stage Mario Evon has been rocking these days; the eclectic singer also reached out to fans at last week's well-attended Grace Jamaica Jerk Festival, where he bumped into the ever-lovely Ayisha Richards-McKay (Miss Jamaica World 2000). In other news, Evon heads into Round 3 of the Apollo's Amateurs' Night contest series, scheduled for early August.

WONDER WOMAN: As one of the few entertainers to bring an actual musical instrument onstage at last weekend's Reggae Sumfest, rebel songbird Cherine displayed some appealing versatility during her superb set (with her guitar/boyfriend, Taylor), adding another layer to the performance.

GRAMMY KID: Ahead of his scheduled appearance on TBS' Lopez Tonight to perform his latest hit, "Sugarcane" (and to promote his latest CD, Summer in Kingston), megastar Shaggy stopped by Grammy Headquarters in LA on Tuesday, rocking sleek shades, fine jewels and a chill vibe.

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Monday, 25 July 2011

BEST OF REGGAE SUMFEST: The Top 10 Performances at this year’s Festival (Part 1)

#1. Beres Hammond
Buoyed by superb accompaniment from his Harmony House band, the high priest of lover’s rock had the attentive Catherine Hall in his thrall throughout his hour-long set, culminating with a presentation from the show’s organisers, who bestowed on him the Reggae Icon Award – and a touching appearance from Marion ‘Lady Saw’ Hall. You never grow weary during a Beres performance, always replete with timeless hits, and all equally memorable it would seem. A+

#2. Bunny Wailer (aka Jah B)
The real thrill in Bunny Wailer’s performance in the wee hours of Saturday morning rests not only in his wistful renditions of classics like “Cool Runnings” and “Trench Town” and “Don Dadda,” but additionally in the sage arguments he put forward between the songs, highlighted by his call for reggae to be further bolstered as a vehicle to encourage a spike in tourism interests in the island. A

#3. Nicki Minaj
She really is some spectacle in person, and her live performance just as fascinating. She may have employed pre-recorded tracks during her roughly 45-minute show, but she more than made up for any shortfall with her unrelenting energy, striking facial expressiveness (those eyes!) and sprightly hip-pop anthems. Not to mention excelling in the dance choreography with her spirited sextet (all girls) of bodacious dancers. A-

#4. I-Octane
You know you have skyscraper-tall ratings in the dancehall when your devotees herald your performance with bonfires and fire-breathing cans. As such, I-Octane’s fans made the biggest impression at Dancehall Night, and deservedly so as the singjay delivered a set as hot as the flames blazing out in the crowd. The YouTube footage is a must-see. B+

#5. Tanya Stephens
If there’s one thing Tanya Stephens’ Friday night performance proved it’s that she cannot shake the storyteller inside her – the one with the keen insight into intimate adult relationships and a stunning knack for sharp, sexy lyrics and melody. B+

>> Part II: Best of Sumfest 2011

(Photos cred: Adrian Creary, and TALLAWAH)

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BEST OF REGGAE SUMFEST: The Top 10 Performances at this year’s Festival (Part 2)

#6. Cocoa Tea
Does it take a living legend like Cocoa Tea to make you go R. Kelly who? For the massive crowd at Reggae Sumfest the answer was resoundingly affirmative on Friday night. With Mr. Tea firing off a canon of hits and spewing wisdom, the absent R&B headliner was the last thing on anyone’s mind. B+

#7. Wayne Wonder
Did you know that Wayne Wonder graced the stage at the first-ever Reggae Sumfest 19 years ago? It takes a real pro to make his nearly old-school career hits sound so fresh and groovy nearly two decades later. Also highlighting his set: a heartfelt duet with R&B’s Mya and intermittent salutes to the Gargamel. B

#8. Mavado
Mr. Brooks has always held it down as one of the consistently dynamic stage performers of his generation. Even if only to see him deliver live, crowd-pleasing versions of “Pepper,” “Star Bwoy” and “Delilah” the trip to Dancehall Night would still have been worth it. B

#9. Jah Cure
Jah Cure will always be a favourite for many reasons, but chiefly for the incredible yearning and passion with which he imbues his songs. You don’t just hear him; you feel him. One never tires of his defining hits “Reflection,” “Longing For,” the widely loved “Call on Me” and the play-it-to-death gem “Unconditional Love.” B

#10. Chris Martin
Simply put, Chris knows what his core audience craves to hear from him, and he consistently ensures that he gives the people what they want. That done, you can’t go wrong. Plus, he’s gradually building quite an impressive repertoire of tunefully wonderful and original hits. B

Honourable Mention: Tifa, Protoje, Cherine, Konshens, Ashley Martin and Gyptian.

The biggest puzzle of the festival: Why was the girl who goes by the name of Trudiva placed in the middle of Saturday night's concert, instead of closer to the beginning of the show? She came out with her scratched Beyonce cd and almost ruined the whole vibe. Not cool. Luckily the dance-off between the Japanese and the Swedish girls sort of rescued the flow and energy of the show.

>> Part I: Best of Sumfest 2011

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