Friday, 30 March 2012

SHE’S ALL THAT: In her prime, actress Nadean Rawlins is on a ‘role’

GOLDEN RULE: "It's like magic," Rawlins says of being a performer.

Just like a certain three-time Oscar winner, Nadean Rawlins is up for awards year after year – but the novelty of the experience has still not worn off. By her own admission, Rawlins’ continuing success as one of the finest Jamaican actresses of this generation has more to do with her natural gifts than any other possible factor.

“I know it sounds clichéd, but it is so humbling because what I have is a God-given talent, it’s not like I’m tryin’ a ting. It’s so innate that when I go on the stage I just explode into this magic,” says the seasoned actress, who is up for a pair of Actor Boy awards Monday – for her mesmerizing lead in Not About Eve and her fiery supporting role in Where Is My Father? “So to get these [Actor Boy] nominations now, even though it has happened so many times before, it feels like the first time.” Indeed.

Given that Rawlins has all but conquered the realm of theatre, is there another area of the arts she is longing to take on next? “I always wanted to be a dancer,” she tells TALLAWAH over the phone. “When I was in primary school I took dancing lessons and I started to learn dance techniques. But the dance teacher that I had recognized that there was something else in terms of my expression when I performed; she thought it was extraordinary. So I did speech and then I did drama. So I dove more into that part of it and pushed dance aside. But now I would really love to dance.”

That aside, if there’s one thing that’s incredibly important to Rawlins it’s passing on her knowledge to the imminent generation of actors. “I’ve been thinking of going back to my alma mater [Merl Grove High] next summer, because that’s where I got my first award. I won Best Actress at the Secondary Schools’ Drama Festival,” she reveals. “I know that right now they are trying to revamp their drama club. So I’m thinking of discussing with them the idea of doing a summer programme with schools, starting with Merl Grove, and see where I can take it from there. Because judging Tallawah, I find that young people out there are really hungry and thirsty for theatre, and I want to see what I can do to help.”

As for her next acting role, Rawlins (who has newly acquired a taste for tweeting and British Hello magazine) says there is nothing on the horizon at the moment. “Nothing in the pipeline right now, but I hope somebody will give me a call,” she says with a laugh, adding that Where Is My Father? continues at the Little Little Theatre until the end of April, before the cast flies out for an overseas tour.

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PON DE REPLAY: Standout new cuts from Pepita + Busy Signal + Delus

“What Tomorrow May Bring”
Artiste: Delus
Producer: Dameon Gayle, Warrior Misick Productions

“Mi ah gwaan live good today; tomorrow mi nuh know which number ah play,” croons Delus in his distinctive rasp on the new radio smash “What Tomorrow May Bring,” an eternally optimistic and groovy reggae record about approaching life with patience and positive intentions. But where the entertainer succeeds most is in promoting the essence of being true to oneself and finding solace in the liberating energy that comes with freeing your mind.” B+

“Luv Luv Me”
Artiste: Pepita
Producer: Collin ‘Bulby’ York, Fat Eyes Productions

Pepita keeps reminding us that there is no limit to her talents. Showing off her sugary singing chops, the former TV host has released her first-ever single called “Luv Luv Me,” which features a slick beat and delicate vocals pleading with a lover for tenderness. Though it remains to be seen whether music is Pepita’s true calling, this pop-reggae ditty is a surprisingly strong first outing for the young lady who prides herself on keeping it intense. B

“Come Over (Miss You)”
Artiste: Busy Signal
Producer: Wayne ‘Unga’ Thompson, Notice/Juke Boxx Productions

In recent times, Busy Signal has been fashioning a reputation for romantic reggae ballads. Now comes “Come Over (Miss You),” the lead single off his impending Reggae Music Again album. Full of yearning, passion and a tinge of sensuality, it’s a sweetly melodious tune that shows off the entertainer’s respectable singing voice. This one is not to be missed. B+

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ON THE RADAR: Calabar wins SCQ + Chris Browne for RFF + Entertainers speak out against gangs

SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY: Joining forces with the Ministry of National Security, a group of civic-minded entertainers and popular personalities are currently appearing in a televised PSA that aims to deter young Jamaicans from choosing a life of gangs and other forms of criminality. “A gang is a dead-end” is the resounding message. So far, the likes of Alaine, Emprezz Golding, Romain Virgo, Warrior King, Chino, Bambino and Tessanne Chin have all lent their star power to the worthy cause, which is bolstered by the apt slogan, We R Jamaica.

BOOK SMART: Calabar High went into ‘rat attack’ mode on Thursday night to capture the Schools’ Challenge Quiz championship trophy yet again. Following a closely-contested match-up, the boys of Red Hills Road emerged 2012 victors, defeating repeat finalists Titchfield High 37-31. One of the winningest schools in the history of the competition, Calabar last won in 2007. 64 schools took part in this year’s competition.

CINE JAMAICA: Poised to come off as the most successful staging yet, the 2012 Reggae Film Festival (RFF) is getting set to honour the oeuvre of filmmaker Chris Browne – in addition to showcasing a batch of local and international cinematic gems that entertain and pay tribute to Jamaica 50. Browne, following the enormous success of 2011’s Ghett’a Life, has turned his attention to his latest film project, The Tenth and Final, a rural love story set in the turbulent world of horse-racing in Jamaica. The RFF is scheduled for the week of April 16.

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REMEMBRANCE OF THINGS PAST: Honor Ford-Smith on safeguarding our cultural legacy

LEADING LADIES: Ford-Smith (second right), with Carolyn Allen, Scarlett Beharie and Nicole Brown, photographed at the School of Drama.

Whether she is illuminating the concept of 1930s Garveyism as a contentious mode of nationalism or explaining how the efforts of the late great dramatist Dennis Scott led to bold experimentations in the seventies, noted scholar and playwright Dr. Honor Ford-Smith is never less than an insightful presence behind the mic.

Engagingly addressing a sizeable gathering at the Edna Manley School of Drama on Wednesday evening as part of a special Jamaica 50 symposium on local theatre (“Performing Nation”), Ford-Smith put forward compelling arguments for how such icons as Garvey, Scott, Sylvia Wynter and Stafford Ashani helped to mould our rich history of cultural performance, why their collective legacy bears great relevance at this moment in the life of the nation – and why it is imperative that we “figure out a vision that makes us globally competitive” in the arts for the next 50 years.

But although Jamaica has much to celebrate and be proud of at this juncture, Ford-Smith emphasizes, the preservation of what we do have and the respect we show to the forebears who helped make the culture so opulent is paramount. “In a sense we are a society, as Walcott says, that is based on amnesia, of forgetting. So there is a lot that we still have to negotiate,” observes Ford-Smith, who is an Associate Professor at Canada’s York University and a contributor to the anthology 3 Jamaican Plays.

“And one of the things that I always talk about is the importance of remembering the ordinary people who fought particularly heroic struggles," she notes. "Amy Jacques is one. For some reason, she is not buried next to Mr. Garvey. She is buried at the Half Way Tree parish church. Her grave doesn’t look nice. Her sons don’t live here. But to me, it’s the responsibility of the whole society to keep those kinds of historic sites going.”

Adds Ford-Smith, “Maybe because I am getting old I am picking up these things, but I do think that in society, where our heroes are buried, their graves, the commemoration serve as instigation for inspiration. So I think we need to look at significant ways to keep their memories alive and with us.”


MISSION CATWALK 2012: A trio of designers riff on this year’s superfierce competition

DESIGNING WOMAN: Scott, photographed at the Mission Catwalk Season Two premiere party. Below, Hawthorne and McFarlane.

*Savouring the 2012 experience*

Keshon Hawthorne, 19: “It was nice because it’s a Caribbean show, and you know that personalities will clash. So it was full of drama, full of everything. And [Mission Catwalk] is not about designing only; you have styling and many other avenues. So it’s a good show, and what I bring to the show is a mix of fierceness and edginess.”

Kerin Scott, 24: “What was hard for me was getting up at 4am every morning, sometimes 3:30, and going out. And the shows are so closely packed together that you might not get a break. So it taps into every aspect of your body and your spiritual being. It was really hectic. I could not have done it without the support of my friends and my family.”

Shellane McFarlane, 22: “For the most part it was fun; I enjoyed myself. I was also a bit nervous because you only get like a couple hours to do one design, and you want to do it as best as possible so that you can put out. So it was nerve-racking. Every week somebody goes home. You don’t know when you’re going to go home. You don’t know what the judges are going to say. So it was really a mixture of feelings.”

*Overcoming challenges and taking creative risks*

McFarlane, a Waterhouse native: “In terms of creating my pieces, when I get an idea I already know what it’s going to turn out to be. That’s how I am. Once I know the design, I know how it’s going to turn out. So I’m just working for the end-product.”

Hawthorne, a Garmex alum: “I have no problem coming up with new ideas because each time I dance and hear a rhythm, everything just comes to my brain.”

Scott, Barbadian, a UWI Mona grad: “To be honest, I didn’t find that much of a challenge in terms of designing per episode. Some designers did, but for me it was okay. Sometimes it was difficult for me to relax, but you put yourself in a place where you probably listen to music that you like, and then you go again.”

*Long-term plans for a career in fashion*

Scott, who admires Claudia Pegus: “For me, I have two passions. One is fashion and the other is marketing. So I actively pursue both, and I hope to definitely be one of the fashion empires in the Caribbean in the future.”

McFarlane, who plans to study overseas: “Ultimately, I want to open my own boutique. Not just clothing but shoes, fragrances, interior, everything. The whole industry of fashion. One thing I’ve also always wanted to do is go to the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale because their fashion programme is so intense, and you get internships at major companies. So I’m hoping to do that.”

Hawthorne, who has interned at Saint International: “I’m really a fashion stylist and a fashion PRO, so I plan to enroll at VTDI in September. And I want to take my fashion to the next level by going international. I’m on my way to success so just watch out for me.”

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Wednesday, 28 March 2012

IT HAD TO BE HER: A quick chat with fashion designer and it-girl Lubica Slovak

SOFT FOCUS: There's something about Lubica.

Warm-spirited and undeniably alluring, seasoned fashion designer Lubica Kucerova Slovak is the kind of instantly likeable chick who will engage you in a conversation on almost any subject. Just don’t quiz her about her romance with the World’s Fastest Man. She is faithfully mum on the subject. Naturally, the 28-year-old sweetheart would rather dish on her love of Caribbean culture and her fashion-related passion projects – including the short film she is getting set to shoot and debut next month.

On Tuesday night, inside Barbican’s Acropolis Casino and Gaming Lounge, TALLAWAH cozied up to Lubica (at the Mission Catwalk Season 2 premiere party) to learn more about the girl everyone is talking about.

TALLAWAH: Your life trajectory has taken you from Europe to North America to the Caribbean at last. How have you been finding the experience this side of paradise?
Lubica: It’s been two years, and I love it. I used to live in Toronto so Jamaica is very different from what I’m used to. But I love the people, the climate, the culture. I really focus on the good things, and there’s a lot of good things.

Given that your area of expertise is couture, I’m a tad curious about the bit of journalism you’ve done since being in Jamaica. What’s the story there?
Well, I wrote briefly for a Slovakian newspaper. They wanted to find out more about Jamaica, so because I was here they asked me to write something about the culture. But [writing] is not something I do; I’m not against it. But I’m into fashion (Laughs).

Absolutely. What’s the latest on your upcoming pieces for the Lubica label? Anything to report?
Yes, I’m actually working on two collections, and I’m shooting a fashion film next week. So I’m superexcited.

That’s lovely. So what’s the film called?
I can’t tell you anything in detail yet. But it’s about fashion (Laughs). My fashion. It will be about five minutes [long], and there’s a story behind it. And we’re shooting in Strawberry Hill. I can tell you that much. It will be released at the end of April.

Will it be available for online viewing?
Yes. And I’m going to have an event at the end of April, so I’ll make sure I email you.

Let’s switch gears a bit. How does it make you feel to know that people have been discussing nonstop your relationship with superstar sprinter Usain Bolt?
(Chuckles and blushes). I’m not talking about that.

I’ve been told that all the attention and sudden media scrutiny slightly bothers you.
I don’t think I should comment. [Smiling].

I understand. So what do you enjoy apart from fashion and – sports?
I don’t really get to do anything else, apart from Pilates. But my company is young, and I do a lot of the designing and everything, so that keeps me pretty busy.

Last year you made headlines through your collaboration with pop-dancehall star Tami Chynn on a line called Anuna.
Yeah, we worked together for one collection. We talked about doing more, but we’ve been so busy. So maybe in the future. But I still dress Tami for some of her performances, like I dressed her for the Youth View Awards recently.

Will you be showing at Caribbean Fashion Week in June?
Ah, I think so, yes.

I hear that Usain is longing to start a family of his own. Do you have a desire for marriage and a baby at the moment?
Me?! No, I’m not thinking about that right now.

Okay, cool. Thanks for your time. Enjoy the rest of the evening.
Thank you.

FRESH FACES: Stylist Kerry-Ann Clarke and designer Lubica Slovak sit pretty at Tuesday's Mission Catwalk Season 2 premiere party at the Acropolis.

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REALITY STARS: Acropolis comes alive with star-studded Mission Catwalk premiere party

PHOTO FINISH: Keneea Linton-George (right) and Ayeola George share lens time.

What: Mission Catwalk Season 2 premiere party

Where: Acropolis Casino and Gaming Lounge, Barbican

When: Tuesday evening

Guest List: A who’s who of fashion industry insiders, media personalities, social starlets, and MC contestants new and old. Spotted in the mix were the likes of Kerry-Ann Clarke, Lubica Slovak, Brian George, Keneea Linton-George, Romae Gordon, Kingsley Cooper, Mykal Cushnie, Shenna Carby, Ayeola George, Safiya Cooper and Sanjay Smith, among others.

Room with a view: As the hour-long season premiere unfolded on mega-sized plasma screens, a quick sweep of the packed and buzzing room revealed nicely attired waiters serving up glasses of champagne, an appealing buffet table, and a kaleidoscope of Caribbean flags adorning the entire room, reinforcing the idea of a region-wide fashion reality series. Once the credits roll on the episode (which continues next week with judging and elimination), hostess Linton-George proposes a bubbly-induced toast to another smash season.

This ‘Mission’ is no walk in the park: “It was nerve-racking because every week somebody goes home. You don’t know when you’re going to go home and you don’t know what the judges are going to say,” 22-year-old Jamaican contestant Shellane McFarlane dished to TALLAWAH. “So being on the show has been a mixture of feelings.”

Mama Mia: For Bajan Kerin Scott, it was one of the most strenuous things she’s ever taken on in her young life – but, surprisingly, her doting mother back home helped her get through it. “[Being on the show] draws on every aspect of your body, especially having to get up every morning at 4am,” Scott, 24, confessed. “It was really hectic; I could not have done it without my friends, my family. And my mother called me from Barbados every single morning to wake me up.” (Laughs).

Who will rule the catwalk? Catch all the fierce drama and fabulous designs on all-new Season 2 episodes of Mission Catwalk each Tuesday at 8:30pm on TV J.

EMBRACEABLE YOU: Power couple Sanjay Smith and Safiya Cooper came out to support the return of the hit fashion reality series.

PURE JEAN-IOUS: One of the hardest working women in Caribbean fashion, Romae Gordon was on hand to witness the premiere of MC's second season.

KINDRED SPIRITS: Miss Jamaica Universe hopeful Crystal Patterson was spotted in the company of MC Season 2 contestant Gregory Williams.

MAKING WAVES: Tuesday's premiere party was a reunion of sorts for MC Season One breakout star-turned-rising couturier Shenna Carby, who met up with director/editor Mykal Cushnie and show conceptualizer and host Keneea Linton-George.

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Tuesday, 27 March 2012

ON THE SCENE: Yohan Blake + Regina Beavers + Stephen Miller + Danielle Crosskill + PM Portia Simpson-Miller

FOREIGN EXCHANGE: March 22, St. Andrew. During a courtesy call at Jamaica House, PM Portia Simpson-Miller presented a literary piece of Jamaica to Gao Hucheng, China’s Vice Minister of Commerce. The Prime Minister later informed Hucheng that the country is interested in advancing and exploring investment opportunities with China, noting that she was pleased with the projects China was already undertaking to assist in Jamaica's development.

CHEQUING IN: March 19, Kingston. Local entity Supreme Ventures Limited has come on board as a sponsor of the Miss Jamaica World 2012 pageant. Here, SVL's Carlene Edwards presents a sponsorship cheque to pageant co-ordinator Regina Beavers (centre) while reigning Miss Jamaica Danielle Crosskill and UTech's Tracey Hamilton look on. This year's batch of MJW finalists will be selected on May 26.

SIGN ME UP: March 24, St. Ann. Reigning world champion Yohan Blake autographs one of his special 'YB Afraid' shirts for Alex Morrissey on a visit to the Joseph's department store in Ocho Rios. Blake was recently in the garden parish to promote his non-profit foundation and meet-and-greet his fans.

TECHNO CLUB: March 27, Kingston. Wolmer's athletes Kristopher Bryan (left) and Leighton Blackstock and mascot Champsy watch as LIME's sponsorship manager, Stephen Miller, demonstrate how to use the new Champs Blackberry application, just launched by the telecomms company. Via the application, LIME's Blackberry smartphone users will be able to access the schedule, results and updates during ISSA Boys & Girls Champs 2012, scheduled for March 28-31 at the National Stadium.

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THE CASTLE OF MY SKIN: Race and class collide in Melanie Schwapp's Dew Angels

ABOUT A GIRL: Schwapp's fiction debut earns kudos.

Out promoting her widely praised debut novel, Dew Angels, author Melanie Schwapp recently sat down with Judith Falloon-Reid for a taping of the new arts-based series Shelf Life, which airs weekly on Flow TV.

Populated with lovingly crafted characters and scenarios that ring true for Jamaicans everywhere, Schwapp's laudable novel tackles such weighty themes as prejudice, fractured family relationships and domestic abuse in spinning the tale of Nola, a young dark-skinned Jamaican girl who must learn to love herself even in the face of full-on discrimination.

With her lyrical voice, Schwapp succeeds most in shining a light on troubling issues (class, self-esteem, race) that don’t get sufficient attention in our contemporary fiction. Evidently, the range of widespread misconceptions associated with skin colour, for example, is something Schwapp feels strongly about. “There are a lot of Jamaicans who still have a problem accepting their skin colour for what it is,” Schwapp reports during her hearty discussion with Falloon-Reid. “This is why we have such a problem with bleaching across the island.”

It’s the thorough examination of such bulls-eye observations that makes Schwapp's novel a worthwhile option for those currently in the market for a good read. Universally relevant but distinctly Jamaican, Dew Angels is an involving and insightful book that deserves attention.

[Catch all-new episodes of Shelf Life on Flow TV, Tuesdays at 6:30 pm. Melanie Schwapp's Dew Angels is available via bookstores and]

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GENTLEMAN: “I never found God in a church; I found it in music”

ART & LIFE: The entertainer on his craft and career.

German-born singer Gentleman ranks among today’s attention-worthy reggae stars that don’t shy away from incorporating a sense of spirituality in their music. But Gentleman’s case is made all the more special by the fact that his dad is a minister of religion back home. In a recent sit-down with MTV Iggy in New York, he was asked whether he and his old man share a similar worldview when it comes to the dual concepts of religion and spirituality.

“It’s different because I believe in God but not in a church. But there are similarities too, and it’s nice to discuss with him. Very interesting. It’s very radical but sweet,” Gentleman admits. “I think that the thought is the same, and the destination is supposed to be the same, being closer to God or energy, or Jah, or whatever you wanna call it. But for me I never found God in a church, I found it in music. I found God in travelling. I found God in nature. I found God in the diversity of things.”

As it happens, Diversity is the title of Gentleman’s latest studio effort (released by VP Records), a mixture of soulful roots reggae and hard-hitting socio-political commentary. “It’s like following my inner voice. It’s a surprise where it leads you to. You don’t have to be in Jamaica to make good music, but for me this is the motherland, with a high concentration of the music,” Gentleman says of bringing a sense of authenticity to his brand of reggae.

“The lyrics you hear are my personal thoughts, and this is what I would call authentic. I see myself more as a cosmopolitan than a German. I think we need to stop thinking like that. My son is 11 now, and if I look in his class there are 32 kids and 17 nationalities. We should think more globally and universally and see that we’re all small in God’s world. Our mind is too small too. There will always be questions that we cannot answer, but we don’t need to.”

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OUR LADY OF POP: Madonna is back with a vengeance on MDNA

TOUR DE FORCE: Madonna's new album blends the tough and tender.

Brimming with pumping electro-pop confections, Madonna’s newly arrived 12th studio album, MDNA, evokes an inescapable club ambience, even as it compellingly reminds us why the music legend still reigns as the enduring Queen of Pop. In short, the album is a dancefloor slave/party animal’s dream record fuelled by a channel-surfing of moods and emotions running the gamut from rage and longing to danger and desire. At a tidy 50 minutes, the 12-track CD deserves repeated listens. It’s so tantalizingly good that there’s hardly a dull moment.

Like the expert manipulator she’s always been, Madonna lures you into the groove and you can’t help but obey and play along – even when the lyrics occasionally dip into violent connotations, sly innuendoes and sexual deviance. To wit, provocative song titles like “Gang Bang,” “I’m A Sinner” and flirty album opener “Girl Gone Wild” immediately arrest your attention. But upon giving them a couple spins, you are positively drawn into this perennial Material Girl’s uber-sexy world, where a kind of tongue-in-cheek brilliance is offset by the usual risqué sensibilities and slick production work from the likes of collaborators William Orbit and Benny Benassi.

Madonna’s signature dalliance between tough and tender, fun and fierce, plays out on cuts like snappy lead single “Give Me All Your Luvin” (featuring cheerleaders M.I.A and Nicki Minaj) and the brazen “I Don’t Give A …,” where Minaj reprises her one-of-a-kind rude-gal sass. But the real winners here are the slow-burning instant classics “Masterpiece” and “Free Fallin,” two elegant slices of nostalgia and glamour that transport you back to Madge’s golden Ray of Light era.

Given her penchant for crafting timeless records that leave a lasting dent in the cultural psyche (“Like A Virgin,” “Papa Don’t Preach”…), it’s no surprise really that the pop superstar has managed to strike gold again with MDNA, which is certainly a worthy entry into the esteemed Madonna canon. What’s more, you simply have to take your hat off to a woman who continues defy the rules and expectations by proving her staying power and relevance in a youth-obsessed industry now dominated by a tireless string of Gagas and Rihannas. Tyrone’s Verdict: A

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Sunday, 25 March 2012

GIRL OF THE MOMENT: Lenya champions national pride with “Yeh Man Jamaica”

THE RIGHT NOTE: “Right now I am very happy with where I am,” says Wilks of her burgeoning career.

Singer Lenya Wilks first caught our attention back in 2007 as a supremely talented aspirant on the televised talent series Rising Stars, belting out hits of love, hope and empowerment week after week, impressing judges and home audiences. Apart from top two finishers Romain Virgo and Jodian Pantry, she was all anyone was talking about. And with the way she sounds (blessed with a glorious multi-octave range), there’s a lot to discuss.

Take for instance, her latest original single “Yeh Man Jamaica,” a pulsating ode to the spirit of excellence that defines true Jamaicans everywhere. The catchy and beautifully performed tune was written to coincide with this year’s special Jamaica 50 celebrations and to help bolster the resolve of our athletes as they take on the rest of the world at the Olympics in London this summer. “It’s a song that we are really proud of and want to share not just with our fellow Jamaicans but with the rest of the world,” says a beaming Wilks, calling via telephone. “I think that 50 years of Independence is a great achievement that highlights what we have achieved, and I hope that [the country] continues to excel.”

Promotion has been progressing steadily for the blockbuster single, which shows off the singer’s throaty vocals and is set to outperform such previous Lenya Wilks sleeper hits as the intimate reggae-R&B ballad “I Hate Love.” Both songs were penned by Wilks’ discerning manager Sam Berley of ZX5 Productions, who hopes “Yeh Man Jamaica” will get some real recognition from the government.

For her part, Wilks says she and Berley share a wonderful dynamic. “It’s a fantastic chemistry. He writes the tracks and together we sit and work out the melodies until we get a perfect match, and then I use my vocals to bring the music to life,” explains Wilks (now in her 20s), who has famously worked and toured with the likes of Beres Hammond before Berley took her under his wings. “I’ve been with ZX5 since 2011, and I can say that I am really happy I made that decision.”

Although she readily admits that the sky is the limit when it comes to her music career, Lenya Wilks says she’s content to take it one day at a time. “Right now I am very happy with where I am. So far we’ve released about six original tracks, and we are in the process of working on an album that we hope to release in time for summer. My main goal is to make Lenya Wilks a household name in world music,” she tells TALLAWAH. “So I feel extremely good about what’s been happening.”

Is there someone special in her life at the moment? “I am single,” she responds without missing a beat. “Right now my focus is really on my career. I do hope that in the future I will have a relationship, but for now it’s just me and my career. And I’m okay with that.”

[“Yeh Man Jamaica” is available via iTunes and Amazon.]

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AGAINST ALL ODDS: The Hunger Games hugely satisfies

TWO OF A KIND: Lawrence (as Katniss) and Hutcherson (as Peeta).

In a way, Jennifer Lawrence’s breakout, Oscar-nominated lead in 2010’s Winter’s Bone helped prepare her to take on Hollywood’s latest hyperventilating page-to-screen franchise The Hunger Games, based on the Suzanne Collins bestselling trilogy. As Bone’s Ree Dolly, Lawrence disappeared into the part of a courageous and resourceful young woman trying to keep her family together in the Ozarks (a mountainous region heavily marked by poverty and an overwhelming sense of desolation), when her father skips out and leaves them to fend for themselves.

Fast-forward to 2012, and Lawrence is brilliantly stepping into the shoes of another brave, resourceful soul in Katniss Everdeen, the strong-willed force in the fatherless household she shares with her timid younger sister and delicate mother in Panem. But where the Ozarks forms part of contemporary American geography, Panem is a fictitious dystopian realm in the not-too-distant future where the panoramic Capitol rules its districts with an iron fist, keeping the oppressed, revolt-prone citizens in line with the annual Hunger Games, a violent spectator sport that sees a pair of youngsters from each of the 12 districts pitted against each other in a viciously brutal game of endurance and survival – while the rest of Panem watches the spectacle unfold on gigantic screens.

When her kid sister is selected to represent their district in the latest incarnation of the Games, Katniss volunteers to take her place and embarks on a rigorous training regimen along with her male counterpart Peeta (played by The Kids Are All Right’s Josh Hutcherson with wide-eyed charm). As deftly directed by Gary Ross (Seabiscuit), the movie delivers an edge-of-your-seat exercise in heart-pounding action and anxiety, which is only heightened by the gritty violence that plays out onscreen once the Games begin. Think machete-wielding teens hacking each other to death. In other words, as disturbing as this truth may be for some, it’s really murder for sport. The film itself, however, is a livewire, full of electricity and thrills and emotional heft and strong performances from a cast led by Lawrence and Hutcherson.

As Katniss and Peeta (who strangely find time to romantically connect amidst the mayhem), Lawrence and Hutcherson make for a likeable, attractive pair. You can’t help but root for them as they strive to stay alive in the cruel jungle among their ruthless rivals and bring pride to their district. Aiding them in their preparations for the bloodbath are the comical mentor Haymitch (Woody Harrelson); the colourful chaperone Effie Trinkett (Elizabeth Banks); and Lenny Kravitz, who perfectly embodies the calming essence of Cinna. Rounding out the starry cast are Donald Sutherland as President Snow, the white-bearded head of the Capitol; Wes Bentley (American Beauty) as the wicked gamesmaker Seneca Crane; Stanley Tucci as high-spirited talk-show host Caesar Flickerman; and Liam Hemsworth as the handsome Gale, a close friend of Katniss back home.

Though its unsettling core subject matter may prove a turn-off for some, The Hunger Games is an enormously satisfying winner. A frequently gripping look at love, poverty, oppression and hope in a hopeless place, the film is a compelling mashup of brow-raising provocation and high-stakes entertainment that’s beautifully designed (the costumes and scenery are often dazzling) and brilliantly executed. Kill or be killed; that’s no way to exist. But it’s an all-too authentic reflection of the modern-day world, where hope is the only thing stronger than fear. Tyrone’s Verdict: A-

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