Monday, 31 December 2012

THE GAME CHANGERS: The Most Profoundly Intriguing Jamaicans of 2012

What a year! As we look back on 2012, one thing is certain: there was never a dull moment. From triumphs in the sporting arena to victories in the realms of media and entertainment to breakthrough moves in politics and science, Jamaicans at home and abroad not only made gains and headlines but laid to rest any doubts that we are a nation like no other. Below, TALLAWAH pays tribute to some of those sterling newsmakers who accomplished in ways entirely their own – and left us all feeling deeply inspired. 

The Olympians and Paralympians: Wonder Women and Men 
Never failing to rise to the occasion and being pride and glory to the country in the international arena, our phenomenal Team Jamaica (led by the likes of Usain Bolt, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, and VCB) stamped their class at the 2012 Summer Games in London, snagging multiple medals, erasing old records, and reminding all challengers that Jamaica is the sprinting powerhouse to beat for years to come. 

Portia Simpson-Miller: The Qualities of a (Conflicted) Leader 
Dogged by critics, who blame her administration for many of Jamaica’s current socio-economic woes, Sista P couldn’t seem to get the respect she’s due. But through it all, the PNP party leader and TIME 100 honoree has remained the epitome of grace and courage under fire, even as she rises above detractors in her quest to make a difference and inspire Jamaicans of all stripes. 

Glen Mills and the Coaches: Nurturing Athletic Excellence 
While schoolboy football coaches Neville Bell and Patrick ‘Jackie’ Walters were busy triumphing on the soccer field, 2012 saw Glen Mills cementing his top-of-the-pile status as the planet’s best sprinting coach and his top Racers athletes (Bolt, Blake and Weir, above) storming the London Olympics with golden, silver and bronze results. The honorary doctorate and the multiple honours capped off the icon’s fantastic year. 

Dahlia Harris: Theatre’s Hit Woman 
Whether celebrating our golden anniversary with the cast and crew of Aston Cooke’s Fifty 2 Rahtid or chronicling a marriage on the rocks in God’s Way 2, Harris stayed busy this year putting Jamaicans and Jamaican stories onstage, showing our fullness and complexity – while snagging an armful of statuettes (Thespy and Actor Boy) for her efforts. Harris’ uncompromised loyalty to her craft makes her expanding oeuvre something truly worth treasuring. 

Alia Atkinson: Swimming’s Fearless Inspiration 
Adding to the prestige of becoming the third ever Jamaican to qualify for an Olympic swimming final, Atkinson put in some astonishing work at the recent Istanbul championships to garner a pair of medals (silver and bronze) for Jamaica. Things can only get better for this fiercely determined competitor. 

Romain Virgo: The Future of Reggae 
Attaining a whole new level of artistic excellence (buoyed by a stellar sophomore album, The System), the gifted singer-songwriter put out message music that not only resonated with his followers but also challenged the status quo, winning him a legion of new admirers. 

Chris Gayle: Shaking up the Cricket World 
The star batsman (and former skipper) made a triumphant return to the West Indies cricket team, helping steer the side to a thrilling victory over longtime rivals Sri Lanka in the final of the World T20 tournament this past October. Once home, Gayle wasted little time spearheading a celebratory bash with all the proceeds benefiting his eponymous foundation. 

Yendi Phillipps: A Queen Comes of Age 
The former Miss Universe runner-up and her musician fiancé, Chino McGregor, may keep the details of their sizzling romance under wraps but there’s no denying the power of their union. When they announced their pregnancy earlier in the year, it sparked a national conversation on pre-marital conception and, expectedly, an outpouring of support and vitriol. In September, the fab duo welcomed their daughter into the nest. Already Yendi is looking forward to another special delivery. “I want a son next,” she told Flair earlier this month. 

The Reporters: In Search of the Next Big Story 
It’s been a banner year for Jamaican journalists, but especially the standouts (Kirk Wright, Dionne Jackson-Miller (right), and The Gleaner’s Tyrone Reid, to name only a few) whose names have become synonymous with award-winning work. Whether they are reporting on key issues (political, health, socio-economic) or criss-crossing the nation to tell the story of what it means to be a Jamaican living in the year of our Golden Jubilee, these intrepid reporters have changed the face of television and print news while chronicling our triumphs and helping to unearth solutions for our national challenges.

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EDITOR’S LETTER: The 10 Things Tyrone is Most Looking Forward to in 2013

In the spirit of thinking about the future, I thought I’d offer up ten things I am eagerly anticipating in the New Year: 

1. TALLAWAH’s 4th Anniversary: 
As a leader helping to shape the cultural Zeitgeist, it remains TALLAWAH’s core mission to draw a line between culture and the style in which Jamaicans live their complicated and dynamic lives. As the magazine gears up to observe its fourth anniversary in April, the aim, of course, is to renew the focus of chronicling the best of who we are, while setting and attaining a host of new objectives. 

2. Compelling New Reads: 
Each year brings a fantastic bounty of exciting, noteworthy literary titles from both local and international writers. 2013 seems set to maintain that tradition with promised releases from the likes of Anthony Winkler and Mike Henry – not to mention new memoirs and story collections from a host of international scribes across the continents. 

3. Team Jamaica at the World Champs in Moscow: 
Given our extraordinary showing at the London Summer Olympics, all eyes will be on Team Jamaica at the upcoming Moscow Games, but in particular the powerhouse quartet of Usain Bolt, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, Yohan Blake, and Warren Weir. I am expecting nothing short of fireworks. 

4. Reggae’s New School: Protoje, Chronixx and Romain Virgo…. 
Vividly demonstrating that they’re intent on etching their names in the annals of reggae history, multitalented artistes Protoje, Chronixx, and Romain Virgo have another monster year ahead of them. Beyond that, they are simply tapped for greatness. 

5. The 3rd Annual Thespian Spirit Awards: 
Entirely in keeping with its mantra of saluting the best and brightest in Jamaican theatre, the keenly anticipated Thespy Awards (now in its third year) is set to step things up another notch, with renewed emphasis on excellence in writing and direction and, of course, performance. 

6. New Releases: Tanya Stephens, Tarrus Riley, Etana, Wayne Marshall, and more 
I always anticipate vibing to fresh records from homegrown talent, and by the looks of things, 2013’s crop of releases is already taking shape nicely. Up first are the latest from reggae-soul queenpin Etana and dancehall soldier Wayne Marshall. Later in the year, fans can expect noteworthy efforts from the likes of Tanya Stephens and Tarrus Riley. 

7. Maylynne’s Next Act: 
Besides being drawn to her earthy sensibilities and fierce stage presence, one can’t help following what actress Maylynne Lowe’s does. Unsurprisingly, theatregoers are eagerly looking forward to our gorgeous cover girl's comeback appearance in Basil Dawkins’ Dangerous Ambitions (now playing) and subsequent performances throughout the year. 

8. Pure Theatrical Magic: 
One of the greatest joys of being a theatre critic is having the incredible opportunity to assess the annual offerings – and, indeed, the evolution – of Jamaican theatre and its myriad of talented practitioners. Kicking things off with the Jamaica Junior Theatre’s Alice: The Musical, the coming 12 months are marked by feverish expectation. 

9. Awards, Awards Everywhere: 
Glitzy ceremonies for the Grammys, Critics’ Choice, the SAGs, the Golden Globes, and Independent Spirit are all set to pave the way for Hollywood’s biggest night: February’s Academy Awards, where such films as Lincoln, Les Miserables, and Zero Dark Thirty will duke it out for top honours. 

10. Jamaica post-Golden Jubilee: 
As we move into the next half-a-century, it is a terrific time to consider where we are as a country, and where we are heading triumphantly. Full Usain Bolt speed ahead!

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BUILT TO LAST: Sprint king Usain Bolt’s 6 Greatest Moments in 2012

WARMING UP: Boldly unstoppable and promising that the best is yet to come, sprinting legend Usain Bolt dominated international headlines throughout 2012. Here, TALLAWAH slows down to take a look back at some of his finest moments: 

1. 100M Golden Run in London: 
The stage was set for a glorious moment in sporting history and we were not to be let down. With a blistering run of 9.63 seconds, Bolt retained his title from the 2008 Beijing Olympics, cementing his world-class, rising-to-the-occasion reputation – and adding another Olympic Record to his name. 

2. 200M Golden Run in London: 
In a stunning time of 19.32 seconds, Bolt transcended the world of sprinting as a superstar of athletics in another Olympic final, delivering a scintillating performance before a global audience of billions to lead a clean Jamaican sweep of the medals, followed by a world-record anchoring of the 4X100M to bring the curtain down on the Olympic Games in astonishing fashion. 

3. Aussie Getaway, Brazilian Treatment, Kiwi Hospitality, Japanese Love: 
Post-Olympics, a globe-trotting, PUMA-endorsed expedition to celebrate his remarkable exploits was a natural choice for the superstar sprinter, whose every move TALLAWAH tracked as he touched down in such fun, exotic locales as New Zealand, Australia, Japan and Brazil. 

4. IAAF Gala in Barcelona, Spain: 
Impeccably turned out in a sharply tailored outfit, Bolt was in dashing-hero form as he picked up one of his most attractive prizes of the year: the IAAF World Male Athlete of the Year award (alongside female counterpart Allyson Felix of the United States). 

5. The Multiple Magazine Covers: 
A year of exhaustive international media coverage saw the World’s Fastest Man snagging an impressive number of magazine covers, among them his second Sports Illustrated, his first-ever TALLAWAH, and several track-and-field-centric mags like Athletics Weekly and Runners’ Weekly

6. CNN Exclusive: Piers Morgan Tonight interview 
When you’re an international figure of a certain lofty stature, a one-on-one sit-down with CNN’s Piers Morgan Tonight goes a long way in solidifying that status. In the last quarter of 2012, Bolt hit up the CNN Studios to vibe with Morgan, dishing on everything from his many accomplishments to their rival football clubs (Manchester United and Arsenal, respectively) to the sprinter’s life outside the spotlight. The result, recently aired, was one of the most refreshing, insightful interviews either of them has ever done.

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TRUTH & JEST: Though clever-funny in parts, Krosses fails to hit home

MAIN COURSE: Ramsey and Bellanfante catch up on the hottest suss.

Krosses (Stages Productions) 
Director: Bunny Allen 
Cast: Keith Ramsey, Maxwell Grant, Dainty Bellanfante and Junior Williams 
Venue: Stages Theatreplex, New Kingston 

Krosses, the newest offering by Stages Productions is a slight, sporadically entertaining show that moves at a leisurely pace. It’s funny in its genuinely comedic moments, but seriously disappoints in its overall lack of worthwhile message and substance. My main grouse with the production is that it squanders valuable opportunities and the bulk of the running time by repeatedly rehashing the same bits of what Jamaicans would refer to as “mix-up.” As a result, the show offers very little in terms of a concrete storyline to interest, satisfy, let alone challenge its viewers. 

Which is kind of a surprise, given that with such previous efforts as October’s Scandal and Di Weddin’ Scamma earlier in the year, the dynamic and resourceful pair of writer Michael Denton and director Bunny Allen satisfactorily weaved together solid plot points with wit and humour and fun “gossip” with pretty decent results. 

As far as Krosses goes, the audience is transported to a rough-and-tumble community where Lashie’s Café (run by Lashie, played by Ramsey) is the local hotspot to hear all the latest community drama discussed and ridiculed at length. And that includes the sordid lives of such residents as Mavis (Bellanfante), caught in the midst of a love-triangle/baby-mama drama with local Rastafarian Sammy (Junior Williams) and the fresh-from-foreign Dave (Calvin Carty). Throw into the mix Maxwell Grant as Tippo, a loose-tongued old-timer who has his eyes on fiery, non-nonsense street-side vendor, Kim (played by Etesia Ramsey). 

While the actors (and indeed their thinly drawn characters) get ample turns in the spotlight, they unfortunately spend most of the time engaging in extended verbal clashes (read: tracing). That’s not to say that the big laughs are scarce. In fact, Ramsey, as expected, delivers some of the play’s most hilarious lines with punch and precision. Special mention must also be made of Williams for fiercely attempting to imbue his conflicted character with some degree of gravity. 

Overall though, while Krosses doesn’t skimp on the undiluted Jamaican humour, the show comes dangerously close to falling flat and, substance-wise, leaves a lot to be desired. Tyrone’s Verdict: C+

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ALBUM OF THE WEEK: Hugely enjoyable, Bruno Mars’ latest offers an exhilarating, high-energy jam session

PITCH PERFECT: Mars achieves a sophomore smash with new album.

Hypnotic and hyperventilating are the first words that leap to mind to describe Unorthodox Jukebox, the newly-arrived sophomore effort from pop sensation Bruno Mars. It is by far one of the year’s best recordings. It helps, too, that the music is by turns polished and lyrically excellent, not to mention highly danceable and groovily infectious in its full-on exploration of sex and the good life. 

Each of the ten tracks kills, but any mention of the best cuts must include “Moonshine,” a psychedelic slice of cosmic bliss riffing on that A-grade love that takes you to new highs. Funky first single “Locked out of Heaven” equally displays Mars’ capacity for ferocious vocal performances. While “Young Girls” soars over a pounding bassline, “Gorilla” is a tuneful send-up of that passionate primal-carnal lovemaking. “You got your legs up in the sky, with the Devil in your eyes…. In this jungle you can’t run,” Mars proclaims. 

Like his critically acclaimed smash debut, 2010’s Doo Wops & Hooligans, this sophomore effort moves seamlessly between the genres, touching on everything from old-school disco (the delicious “Treasure”) to one-drop reggae (Witness the sublime instant hit “Show Me”).Ten tracks appear on the standard album, but the deluxe version offers five additional cuts, including marvelous acoustic/demo renditions of “Gorilla” and “Young Girls.” 

Throughout, Mars comes across as the daring songwriter (working alongside his production team, The Smeezingtons) who’s not afraid to go there in his lyrics while remaining true to the quality and class that put him on the map with fans and critics, who have deservedly ranked him among the new-generation vocalists (Frank Ocean, Miguel, Luke James) worthy of attention. Tyrone’s Verdict: A- 

DOWNLOAD: “Moonshine” and “Treasure”

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Saturday, 29 December 2012

TALK OF THE TOWN: Denise Hunt bids adieu to ER + Pulse's Romae Gordon is with child

EXPECTING: Following weeks of speculation, Pulse’s dynamic duo of Romae Gordon and Kingsley Cooper have announced that they’re expecting their first child together, thereby taking their sizzling relationship to a whole new level. Glorious news, indeed. Heartiest congrats to the fab power couple and all the best for the New Year! 

DEPARTURE: As the year draws to a close, media personality and part-time actress Denise Hunt says she is on the, um, hunt for fresh opportunities and new horizons, announcing her departure from her gig as the face of TV J’s Entertainment Report. “I am leaving the country. My family situation has changed, and I’ll be going back to school,” she disclosed to viewers at the end of Friday night’s episode. Hunt served as host of the entertainment/lifestyle programme for the past few years, working closely with show's conceptualizer and producer Anthony Miller, following her radio-hosting stints at Hitz 92 FM and News Talk 93 FM. 

DRAMA: As a thousands-strong crowd and multiple video crews watched closely, a fist-flying melee broke out onstage at Sting 2012 between feuding deejays Popcaan and Black Ryno, who apparently interrupted his rival’s performance and was subsequently shoved off the stage, sparking the scuffle. The Portmore police quickly whisked him off to the station. No charges have been filed yet.

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Friday, 28 December 2012

MAYLYNNE’S SECOND ACT: The actress on her new play, her blissful romance, and the epiphany that changed her life

COMEBACK KID: “I’m ready to work again.”

Sitting pretty at the back of the Little Little Theatre on this warm Thursday afternoon, Maylynne Lowe is telling me about her process for getting under her character’s skin in the hopes of giving a tour-de-force performance. “Usually I’m the nerd in the [cast]. I know my thing before everybody,” confesses the actress, currently treading the boards as the sole female star in Dangerous Ambitions, playing a down-to-earth woman caught in an unfruitful decade-long relationship. 

“I feel a little anticipatory going into this new show,” she continues, “because I’m working again with [playwright] Basil Dawkins, with whom I did three shows in a row (Uptown Bangarang, Uptown Bangarang 2 and Which Way Is Out?), so we have a synergy. Plus, we have a fantastic cast that I have to live up to. It really is an honour.” 

Before we know it, we’ve switched gears to talk about relationships and the current status of Maylynne’s love life. Like a love-crazy schoolgirl, the 36-year-old (who’s been divorced for seven years now) bursts into an infectious cascade of giggles as she reports that she’s happy in love with her new man. “Oh, it’s excellent. I’m very happy,” she says, blushing. “You know that if I don’t like it I’m not staying – with anything, whether it be man, woman, theatre, anything at all. If I’m not loving it, I am gone. But what I have now is something really special.” 

Meanwhile, as she prepares to step into the dawning New Year, Maylynne says she fully intends to bring that same disciplined approach to matters of the heart and life into 2013 and beyond. For her, making the New Year another truly meaningful one is about getting the little things right. “It’s about work. It’s about getting up off my ass and being productive, even with my blues,” she observes. “Time really flies, and if you’re not careful you will have little regrets about this and that later on.” 

If there’s one thing that her year-long hiatus from the stage has taught her, it’s that one should embrace the work that the universe is offering you. Turns out she received a much-needed wake-up call that appeared in the guise of an epiphany. “For the whole year that I was off theatre, I prayed and said, ‘Lord I want to do other things in my life. And my phone didn’t stop ringing for theatre productions when it wasn’t theatre that I wanted,” she explains. “So it’s about not being ungrateful, because there are a lot of actors who want a role and are not getting offers. You have to be careful. So I told myself that maybe this is my calling. Go to work.” 

Now older and wiser, newly energized, and embracing the endless possibilities that the universe is offering her, Maylynne Lowe is determined to attain new heights in her personal and professional lives. “I’m ready to work again,” she tells me, with a hint of finality in her voice. “It’s about having fun at what you’re doing. I belong here. It feels right.”

>>> PART 1: Maylynne on what led to her hiatus from theatre and her spirited comeback

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SEASON OF LOVE: Shaggy, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, and Usain Bolt bring holiday cheer to Jamaican kids

HOMETOWN HERO: Over the festive season, the World’s Fastest Man made the trip down to his hometown (Sherwood Content, Trelawny) to host a joy-filled Boxing Day treat for the kiddies, in collaboration with Digicel and the Usain Bolt Foundation. Food, music and gifts galore were the hallmarks of the afternoon. “It was good to spend a few hours with the kids in my community,” the legendary athlete (pictured above with Miss Sheron Seivwright, Principal of the Piedmont Basic School) shared with his Facebook family. “I even saw a few of my teachers from my basic, primary, and high schools. Thanks to my foundation, Digicel, KFC, my mom and dad, and other members of the community. We had a great day.” 

ONE OF OUR OWN: On Wednesday, Olympic champ Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce had the kids in her Waterhouse community of Ashoka in high spirits, as she hosted her annual Christmas treat. Fraser-Pryce, who turned 26 the following day, partnered with sponsors GraceKennedy, Digicel, and Nike to treat the kids to a day of music, sweet treats and fun activities, including free rides. “This is our third annual Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce Christmas treat. I think it’s a good thing for [the children] to come out and enjoy their Christmas because for me, I never remember enjoying my Christmas around here,” notes the sprint queen, who came of age in the rough-and-tumble Kingston community. “So bringing the gifts that were donated by my sponsors, I am able to come back and just help them have fun.” 

SUPER SHAGGY: In keeping with his annual tradition, Grammy winner Orville ‘Shaggy’ Burrell brought Yuletide cheer to the Bustamante Hospital for Children on Thursday afternoon, bearing dozens of toys and other presents for the eager and utterly appreciative youngsters. Shaggy, who has a long-standing relationship with the hospital, has donated millions of dollars to the venerable institution through his Make A Difference Foundation and the Shaggy & Friends megaconcert. As it happens, the Christmastime treat is now in its 10th year. “We look forward to Shaggy every,” says medical doctor Toni-Ann Fulford. “It always brightens the children’s day. They also look forward to the concert after the treat.”

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Thursday, 27 December 2012

STARS OF WONDER, STARS OF NIGHT: On the holiday party scene with Daryl Vaz + Mario Evon + Kamila McDonald + Brick & Lace + Ann-Marie Vaz + Jah Cure

AT FIRST BLUSH: Dec. 25, St. Andrew. Spending quality time with each other while rocking eclectic outfits, recording artiste Jah Cure and wife Kamila McDonald were among the popular faces in attendance at Appleton A-List, hosted at the Hope Gardens on Christmas evening. (Photo: Skkan Media)

SISTER ACT: Dec. 25, St. Andrew. US-based songbirds Naila and Nyanda Thorburne of pop-dancehall duo Brick & Lace spent much of their Xmas break on home soil, putting in sporty appearances at last Tuesday's Appleton A-List party on the grounds of the Hope Gardens. (Photo: Skkan Media)

IN SIGHT: Dec. 24, St. Andrew. Soulful crooner Mario Evon also hit up the party circuit over the festive season, gracing the Soiree Spotlight party (alongside this cute gal pal) on Christmas Eve in the cool heights of Stony Hill. (Photo: STUSH)

TO HAVE & TO HOLD: Dec. 25, St. Andrew. The very well-supported Appleton A-List fiesta at the Hope Gardens even brought out members of the political sect, including MP Daryl Vaz, who kept company all night with this enchanting lady love, Ann-Marie(Photo: Skkan Media)

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Wednesday, 26 December 2012

FEELING CHANGE: Powerhouse actress Maylynne Lowe is back in stride and at the top of her game

Excited about returning to the bright lights and live performance, the prize-winning thespian gets real about her self-imposed break from acting, working again with Basil Dawkins, and recognizing what’s truly important in this circus called life. Story by Tyrone S. Reid.

Looking supertrim and bursting with infectious enthusiasm, Maylynne Lowe’s sunny disposition announces her arrival inside the Little Little Theatre on a golden Thursday afternoon. After a quick hug and the exchange of pleasantries, we waste no time in getting down to the business at hand: capturing her uber-chic, easy-breezy look in a series of stunning photographs for our cover shoot. Pose after lovely pose, Maylynne proves she’s a natural, fully alive and present in the moment and giving full rein to her inner free-spirit. 

The Thespy-winning actress has been doing precisely that for years, rendering vibrant and memorable performances that compellingly suggest Cate Blanchett-meets-Naomi Watts – all the while building a solid body of work that has positioned her in the pantheon of contemporary Jamaican thespians that directors would kill to work with. But as is so often the case with hardworking artists, feverish dedication to one’s craft can take its toll, requiring you to step back and take a breather. Maylynne, who’s not appeared on stage in well over a year, knows all about this. 

“After I did Ghett’Out with Shebada, I was extremely exhausted,” she tells me, as we settle into seats at the back of the near-empty theatre. “It was a fun experience and we toured extensively, but I knew I needed to take a break. I was really tired. And I did get a lot of offers for scripts that I didn’t take. Some of them I’ve regretted just because I would’ve liked to see what I would have done.” Spoken like a true workaholic. 

Now fully rested and refreshed, the Actor Boy winner is poised to make a triumphant return this month as a down-to-earth Jamaican woman caught in a thankless relationship in Dangerous Ambitions, Basil Dawkins’ scathing look at power, fantasy, and gender politics in our supercharged age of power struggles and increasingly harsh realities. “It’s a glorious show. It’s funny, funny, funny. Every scene and every moment,” Maylynne gushes about the production, helmed by Douglas Prout and co-starring the likes of Volier Johnson and George Howard. “I’m so happy to be back in mainstream theatre. Excited because it’s been a while. It feels good, It feels right. And what’s also nice is that in coming back I am the only woman in the cast, and I have a lot to live up because it’s such a tight cast with years and years of experience behind them.” 

At 36, Maylynne knows she’s been inordinately fortunate in an industry where actresses have to fight to land the really gratifying roles. “I feel grateful,” says the actress, well-known for her decade-long portrayal of Tanya Blackburn on TV’s Royal Palm Estate and The Blackburns and her frequent collaboration with Mona’s University Players. “I feel sort of scared of my own potential sometimes. I feel like I hold back, and sometimes I withdraw and take myself away. Sometimes it gets so overwhelming.” 

When Maylynne speaks it’s with an unselfconscious candour that holds you riveted. She buzzes with a garrulous energy that speaks volumes of her passion for the topic at hand. “When you try to reach a certain status and achieve certain awards, and not in vain, I’ve come to realize that after getting through with those accomplishments, it’s not really about winning an award or getting the nomination,” she says with the requisite seriousness to match. “It’s about am I enjoying this. Am I enjoying the process? Am I growing? So sometimes you really have to just step back, take a deep breath, and assess.” 

>>> PART 2: Maylynne dishes on her new play, her blissful romance, and the epiphany that changed her life

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JAMAICAN OF THE YEAR: Usain Bolt -- global phenom, terrific role model, game-changer

LEGEND: The star sprinter at the Summer Olympics in London.

From multiple golden runs at the London Summer Olympics to gracing magazine covers to garnering a raft of prestigious and richly-deserved accolades, sprint king Usain Bolt is living in the moment and having the time of his life. 

Everyone can agree that when it comes to Jamaicans who ruled in 2012, no one came remotely close to exerting the kind of phenomenal global impact that the 26-year-old had on the planet throughout the past year. 

Charismatic, charming, and supercool when he wants to be, he’s a terrific role model for youngsters: astonishingly gifted, extremely family-oriented, and never failing to leave a lasting impression. Not to mention, silencing his countless detractors by rising to the occasion when it matters most, and making a solid point of giving back to society through his eponymous foundation. 

Still, if there’s one thing that has become clear in the wake of the London Games, it’s that Usain Bolt’s rock-star appeal runs deeper than what meets the average eye. Put simply, the sport of athletics needs him. It’s not just about shattering a world record or winning an Olympic gold medal for the second time in a row. In Bolt’s case, it’s really about the energy and optimism and sense of down-to-earth realness that he brings to the sport that’s made him a globally beloved superstar. A natural talent the likes of which the world has never before seen. A living legend. 

>>> NEXT TIME: Bolt’s 6 Greatest Moments in 2012

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ENTERTAINER OF THE YEAR: Romain Virgo shines as he expands his range and repertoire

IN THE KEY OF LIFE: I feel like there’s always room for growth.”

In 2012, singer Romain Virgo turned the music industry on its ear, proving that an under-25 artiste can have the same sort of profound (or even more powerful) impact as his older and more seasoned colleagues. Many people felt that his exuberant, reflective, and all-round terrific sophomore album, The System, which came out in the earlier half of the year, had peaked, but the young singer and his management team knew the album still had a lot of life. 

By trusting his instincts, he dropped multiple singles (including an emotionally-charged take on Adele’s “Don’t You Remember?”) and embarked on sold-out tours across Asia and Europe, his first major outing as a solo headliner. The move worked, keeping Virgo’s singles in heavy rotation and making him one of the most in-demand reggae acts of the year. 

Given the huge amount of respect he’s been garnering of late, it comes as no surprise that the 24-year-old singer-songwriter is already being dubbed a young legend in the biz. When I mention this to him, as he prepares to wow the massive crowd at Sting, he lets out a hearty laugh. “It’s motivating,” he responds. “And it feels good to get that kind of love, knowing that there’s much more room for improvement. A lot of people are looking for me to do well and make them proud. And I feel like there’s always room for growth.” 

By his own admission, what accounts for Virgo’s fearless rise to superstardom and his compelling presence on stage is simply the fact that he released the fear long ago and is busy tapping into his inner power and confidence. Witness his showstopping performances at mega-sized events like the GT Taylor Extravaganza and Sting 2012, where he shared the bill with the likes of Tommy Lee and Busy Signal. “Those are the kinds of crowds that we love to go and perform for,” Virgo explains. “And that’s one of the things that I appreciate most about myself: I don’t fear anybody. It doesn’t matter who goes on before me; I will go on after anybody to perform.” 

Reflecting on the wonderful year he’s had, Virgo says getting to perform on shows like Sting is in large part a reward for being one of the year’s standout entertainers. “It just goes to show how well you do did for another year, so I’m just looking forward to passing this next exam and pleasing the fans,” he tells TALLAWAH a few hours before the show, which is held every Boxing Day at the Jamworld Complex in Portmore. 

The New Year will bring its own share of challenges and triumphs, but Virgo makes it clear that he’s ready for the hard work it will take to emerge on top. Up first is the release of a brand-new mixtape, due out in January. “It’s my first-ever mixtape featuring new songs and songs that nobody has ever heard before, and songs that we released a long time ago that people never got to hear,” says the singer, who now has two acclaimed albums under his belt. “So we are doing this mixtape in a detailed way for the fans.” 

And he’s not done yet. “Our main focus for next year is on getting the Romain Virgo image out there some more,” he says. “So people can expect a lot more things. There are some many songs that we have and are eager to put out. I am looking forward to a bright 2013.”

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A CUT ABOVE: Designing costumes for Alice: The Musical, Ayanna Dixon brings a fresh twist to fantasy

SKETCH ARTIST: You've got to understand the importance of being part of a creative team.“ Below: Alice design illustrations by Chin-Yee and Dixon.

The forthcoming Jamaica Junior Theatre production of Alice: The Musical draws on the talents of a diverse and lavishly talented behind-the-scenes team, not the least of which are the show’s costume designers, Carolyn Chin-Yee and Ayanna Dixon, who is making her debut as a wardrobe mistress of note. 

The fantasy-driven storyline, based on the classic fairy-tale of Alice in Wonderland, has allowed Dixon, a Mission Catwalk alum, to tap into her own visions of magic and whimsy to craft eye-popping pieces (with a touch of the dramatic) that will shimmer under the bright lights of UWI Mona’s Philip Sherlock Centre when the curtains go up on January 4. “Working with Chin-Yee has been a wonderful experience,” Dixon tells TALLAWAH over the phone. “She told me what her vision was, I read the script, and then I put together some ideas, and then we came together and discussed what we found. It’s been a great learning opportunity, as well.” 

Dixon, who’s been making a name for herself in local style and fashion circles (with a rapidly expanding high-end clientele) ever since her first runner-up stint on the fashion reality series, will be the first to tell you that there’s a solid line between costume design and working in couture. “Designing costumes is totally different from designing for fashion because the performers have quick changes to make,” she explains. “So you have to decide how best to craft the pieces and whether they should have things like Velcro openings and closures, etc.” 

Challenges aside, in the end they came up with a vibrant array of outfits for the group of some 50-odd performers. “We designed for the whole cast, and worked with the props people also. We did the actors’ outfits, the dance outfits. If a particular character needed something to wear, we created a design for it.” 

Meanwhile, Dixon, who has roots in musical theatre (having appeared in three JMTC productions), says she wouldn’t mind becoming a regular costume collaborator on future shows. “I was a part of the JMTC productions for three years, so I understand the importance of being part of a creative team, and I wouldn’t mind giving back to a company that did a lot for me.” 

As for 2013, the 24-year-old has a lot to look forward, including continuing her work with the Jamaica Business Development Corporation (JBDC), where she teaches workshops to micro-business owners. She’s also set her sights on having her fashion pieces grace the racks of boutiques across the Caribbean. “Personally, I want to keep flourishing. I know I told you last year that I wanted to be in stores regionally, but I wasn’t able to fulfill that,” Dixon says. “So now I definitely want to be in stores across the region. So that’s the main focus, and just getting the ASD brand out there some more.”

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