Thursday, 28 June 2012

CALLING THE SHOTS: Paul Issa slips back into the director’s chair

“I haven’t in a long time so it’s a pleasure for me to be getting back into it,” says Paul Issa, referring to his status as a theatre director. It’s almost 7pm on a Tuesday night and Issa is on the rehearsal set of his latest play, Mr. & Mrs. Blacke, a buzzworthy marital drama (with Keisha Patterson and writer-actor Keiran King) opening in July at Philip Sherlock.

“I’m very glad that they asked me to direct it,” he tells TALLAWAH. “Keiran I just got to know recently when they were doing Last Call. And I was quite impressed by many aspects of that production, and he told me he’d written this play, and he sent it to me and asked me if I’d direct it, and I said yes.”

Describing it as a “very well-written and “unusual” work, Issa (who previously helmed the University Players’ Tartuffe) say he welcomes this latest career challenge. “The last play I directed had a big cast, and I was also in it and producing it as well. But this time I am just focusing on the direction and the [two] performances and trying to present truthful acting on the stage,” he says, adding that audiences are guaranteed an evening well spent. “It has a few surprising moments in it. It’s a serious play, but I think it’s entertaining. Audiences will be engrossed and entertained at the same time.”

Elsewhere, Issa continues to flex his cultural muscles with a recurring role as Royal Palm Estate’s put-upon attorney-at-law Aaron Levy – and as Chairman of the Edna Manley College board. “We have a lot of issues to deal with, but it’s a great college with a lot of talent,” he admits. “I just want to see it become a stronger institution.”

Meantime, when it comes to picking future stage projects, Issa abides by a simple rule. “I never know what I’m going to do next. I just wait for the right thing to come along.”

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BOOK BUZZ: Barbara Blake-Hannah resuscitates "Rastafari" + R. Kelly tells all in new memoir

The author of such well-received releases as Joseph: A Rasta Reggae Fable and Growing Out, Barbara Blake-Hannah has put out the 7th Gold Medal edition of her eye-opening 1980 effort Rastafari: The New Creation. With a new cover and revised text, it’s reportedly the first to contain several pages of colour photos, including full-page icons of the Ethiopian Kwerata Re'esu (Christ with the Crown of Thorns), Emperor Haile Selassie, the Black Madonna and Bob Marley. The book is available exclusively on order from in both paperback and Kindle editions and the author has announced that 10% of royalties will go to the establishment of a Rastafari Elders Medical Fund.

In Soulacoaster: The Diary of Me (SmileyBooks), Reggae Sumfest headliner R. Kelly shares his life story through episodic tales and exclusive colour photographs, vividly capturing moments in his eventful career. From the crippling learning disorder that rendered him unable to read or write, to the teacher/mentor who prophesized that his destiny was in music, not basketball, we follow his evolution from Chicago street performer to struggling L.A. musician and beyond. Kelly reveals his hard-won ascent to superstardom and his battle to move forward after legal and personal ordeals that threatened to destroy his life. Written in collaboration with noted biographer David Ritz, Soulacoaster packs a decent 392 pages.

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THEATRE SCOOP: Fifty 2 Rahtid has a big bag of surprises in store

Fans of Aston Cooke’s award-winning (and hilarious) revue Jamaica 2 Rahtid needn’t worry if the forthcoming Jamaica 50-themed incarnation will be a worthy addition to the series. Co-star and co-producer Dahlia Harris reports that the crew is busy whipping up another side-splitting dose of theatrical magic. “Fifty 2 Rahtid is in full swing. Deon [Silvera] returns, and she is pumping to go,” dishes Harris. “Kevin Moore of NDTC fame has joined as choreographer so movement will once again be slick and dynamic and, as always, Grub [Cooper] has come up with those catchy sing-a-long tunes!” Fifty 2 Rahtid is set to open at the Pantry Playhouse on August 1.

As for her next writing gig, an ambitious musical titled Jamaica Gold, Harris reveals that she’s been skillfully navigating a few hurdles. “It has been hit with venue challenges for the magnitude of the show. Scaling down is a possibility, but I'm holding out in faith!”

Not to be outshone or outdone, the Jambiz crew has a busy summer ahead with Yaad 2012, which debuts at Centrestage on July 25.

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SCREEN SENSATION: Fourth-grader Quvenzhané Wallis steals hearts in ‘Southern Wild’

Quvenzhané Wallis is a name you might want to get familiar with. The 8-year-old star of Beasts of the Southern Wild and indie darling of the moment gives such a commanding performance in the film (now showing in limited release in LA and New York) that she’s currently the subject of Academy Award buzz that could gain momentum all the way to next January when Oscar nominations are announced.

The Benh Zeitlin-directed film, a big winner at Sundance and Cannes earlier this year, tells the story of six-year-old Hushpuppy (Wallis), her ailing father, Wink (Dwight Henry), and a group of resilient people cordoned off from civilization by a large body of water and always fearing the flood that may wash away their lives. Pretty captivating stuff.

>> Check out the trailer:

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LIVING HER LIFE: Diana King says she loves girls, “I am not seeking anyone’s approval.”

After years of hiding her true self from the world, celebrated singer Diana King, 41, has come out as a lesbian. In a lengthy and impassioned letter to her fans, the “Shy Guy” songstress confesses that a fear of rejection held her captive all her life, but now she’s finally breaking free. Since King’s revelation, the Internet streets have been inundated with a flood of reactions running the gamut from genuinely jaw-dropping shock to the casual eye-roll and “Who cares?”

As could be expected, it’s a polarizing issue. (Sidebar: Does this means Diana is Jamaica’s first openly gay entertainer?)

On a more serious note, however, the singer’s courageous coming-out has again brought into sharp focus the twin matters of sex and sexuality, which have always been cast under the taboo umbrella. Then there's Jamaica’s perpetually homophobic climate which, to say the very least, remains itself.

In the meantime, personally, I highly doubt this bold confession of hers will dramatically alter the arc of Diana King's career, but there are those who will now perceive her differently. That's the reality.

Below, excerpts from Diana’s letter:


My name is DIANA EUGENA KING, known to most as DIANA KING. My fans call me KingSinga. I AM … WOMAN … MOTHER ... AUNT … JAMAICAN … AMERICAN ... INTERNATIONAL ARTIST ... SINGER ... SONGWRITER ... BAND LEADER … FRIEND ... LOVER ... ENTREPRENEUR ... GODDESS among other things. AND YES… I AM A LESBIAN, the answer to my most asked INDIRECT question. I welcome the "WHO CARES" right now.

I answer now, not because it's anyone's business BUT because IT FEELS RIGHT WITH my SOUL, and I believe by not answering or hiding it all these years somehow makes it appear as if I AM ASHAMED OF IT or THAT I BELIEVE IT IS WRONG. I FEEL NEITHER OF THOSE THINGS … or I would have grown my hair. But all kidding aside, I AM a private person, but sometimes one has to step outside of their comfort zone to GROW. This here, that I'm doing, is my road. Not everyone will OR is required to travel this way. Some people will carry this fact about themselves to the grave and that's their prerogative but, a "GOOD" reputation can be a GIGANTIC LOAD in a girls backpack. I KNOW now that it's time I fully practice the meaning of my face tattoo, which is LOVE YOURSELF LIVE YOURSELF. I JUST WANT TO KEEP IT REAL..

Read Diana's full letter HERE.

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ON THE SCENE: Chris Martin + Yendi + Cherine + Chino + Sean Paul + Usain Bolt

CHILL SPOT: June 27, St. Andrew. With big events on the horizon for both of them, longtime besties Usain Bolt and Chris Martin were photographed hanging out at Bolt's place earlier this week. Bolt has his plate full this weekend with the National Senior Champs while Martin is expected to open for R. Kelly at next month's Reggae Sumfest. (Photo: Usain Bolt)

JET SET: June 22, London. Megastar Sean Paul (in his favourite black Adidas tracksuit) was recently spotted heading to catch a flight out of Heathrow Airport. Earlier this month, SP officially launch his Tomahawk Technique album at Fiction. He's touring Europe and North America this summer in support of the album, which arrives Stateside in August. (Photo: Concrete Loop)

DATE NIGHT: June 25, Kingston. Spending some quality time together before the little one arrives, lovebirds Chino McGregor and Yendi Phillipps stepped out on Monday for the Digicel 4G launch on Ocean Boulevard. Check out those smiles. (Photo:

HOW SHE MOVES: June 24, California. Rocking the stage with her usual sass and flair, Cherine put it on lanky patron Micky during her set at the Sierra Nevada World Music Festival at the Mendocino County Fairgrounds in Boonville, California. Cherine's summer shows will include the Salmon Arm Roots & Blues Festival (Aug. 17) and the Calgary Reggae Festival (Aug. 18). (Photo: Cherine Anderson)

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Tuesday, 26 June 2012

BITS & PIECES: Trey Songz has a message for you + Kirk Franklin headlines Fun In The Son

No stranger to the island, Trey Songz’ eagerly anticipated appearance at next month’s Reggae Sumfest might very well be the highlight of your summer. But don’t take our word for it. Check out the R&B star’s message to his Jamaican fans below. Trey has become synonymous with not only supersexy songs but equally scorching stage performances – so expectations are understandably high right now. For the ladies, July 20 can’t come soon enough.


And speaking of honorary Jamaicans, island regular Kirk Franklin is poised to perform before a local audience yet again when he headlines Fun In The Son 2012 in Kingston next month. And you know Kirk is coming to put us in a jumping and flag-waving frenzy before slowing things down with some deep and reflective ministry. The gospel icon tops a list of excellent talent (including Papa San and DJ Nicholas) who will bring the praise to National Heroes’ Circle on July 14.

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NEWS & NOTES: Busy Signal’s first day in US court + Digicel Stars shakes things up

A dark chapter in the life of Busy Signal has begun. On Monday the beleaguered entertainer appeared before a judge in a Minnesota courtroom, where he pleaded not guilty to one count of failure to appear in court, in connection with a decade-old offence. Busy Signal (né Glendale Goshia Gordon) could face up to 5 years in prison if convicted on that count. The deejay was remanded yesterday pending his trial. The dancehall star has been implicated in a narcotics offence and was extradited to answer charges in relation to the offence, allegedly committed in 2002.


A talent-show audition over the phone? How cool and modern! With a new attitude and a new formula for unearthing local singing talent, the producers of Digicel Stars (yup, that’s the new moniker) have recruited a team of ‘mentors’ with expertise in different genres to help groom this year’s crop of stardom hopefuls. They are Carlene Davis (gospel), Derrick Coffie (Jamaican sound), D Major (Soul-R&B) and Conroy Wilson (Pop). But the kick is, you can audition via your telephone (until midnight June 28) by calling 444-2443.

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OUT & ABOUT: Asafa Powell + Khago + Sky Grey + Kevoy Burton + Natalie Neita-Headley + Beenie Man

SHINING EXAMPLE: June 23, Florida. Better Mus' Come actress Nicole 'Sky' Grey flashes a smile for the shutterbugs at the American Black Film Festival 2012 awards ceremony held at the Ritz Carlton in Miami Beach. Grey's film earned three nominations, garnering a Best Actor win for Sheldon Shepherd.(Photo: AP).

LIFE AFTER LOSS: June 25, Kingston. Jamaica's sports minister Natalie Neita Headley (left) pays her respects to Fay Gardner, wife of former Olympian and late sports administrator Keith Gardner, at the memorial service held for him at the University Chapel in Kingston on Monday. Looking on is their daughter Christine Bayyan. (Photo: OPM).

STRIKE A POSE: June 23, Kingston. The recent Best of Summer concert featuring Rick Ross brought out some hot young stars like Kevoy Burton, who was spotted hanging with an older female companion. (Photo:

NIGHT VISION: June 23, Kingston. Dancehall kingpin Beenie Man rocked some bling and sleeveless denim alongside ascendant hitmaker Khago at the Best of Summer concert in New Kingston on Saturday. (Photo:

A PLACE IN THE SUN: June 25, Kingston. Apparently, Asafa Powell believes he's the world's most photogenic track star. All week the sprinter has been tweeting random photos of himself. Pics of him cooking Sunday dinner, grocery shopping, and basking in the sun poolside. This weekend, Powell will be in action at the National Athletic Championships at the stadium. We're bracing for photo-ops galore. (Photo: Asafa Powell).

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ALL EYES ON KEISHA: The cover girl riffs on ambition, her favourite things, and being a new woman

EVOLVER: "I’m in a very creative space now."

In the second instalment of our interview with the you-oughta-know-her star, TALLAWAH discovers a creative soul overflowing with passions. Find out what she has to say about ambition, TV addiction, Christina Aguilera, and being a brand new woman.

On growing up: “As a child I was very impressionable; they couldn’t do anything around me without me trying it. As I age, I’m still that person… so I had to stop watching TV. I became addicted; I was watching everything for hours upon end. I’ve stopped watching TV now... I had to stop.”

Some of her fave movies: Valley of the Dolls, Devil Wears Prada and Mean Girls.

The mood of her on-the-way album: “This new one is basically who I am, because I listen to jazz, I listen to hip-hop, I listen to reggae, I listen to pop, I listen to dancehall. So this album gives me a chance to not just sing standards and ballads, but it gives me a chance to sing some fast songs too. I sing songs that you can dance to. I’m not trying to prove something. I’m not trying to prove that I can sing. I enjoy music, so I’m trying to give people good music.”

Who she’s listening to right now: “Christina Aguilera. There’s this song that she did called “You Lost Me.” [She sings a bit of it]. It is just sooooo beautiful. My gosh, the girl makes me cry... She’s a real inspiration for me.”

Feeling an inner surge of creativity: “I don’t know what’s happening to me, I want to be an artist, I want to paint, I want to draw. There’s something happening in the world now with maybe the planets aligning that’s affecting me. I think I’m in a very creative space now, a very open and creative space.”

On landing the part in Mr. & Mrs. Blacke: “I am humbled that they would choose me, and I really hope that I bring this character to life and that I impress people, because that is what I hope to do. I hope to IMPRESS. (Laughs).”

Why she wants it all – now: “I’d love to win a Grammy. No lie. As a singer, when I was younger I didn’t look at it like Oh, I want to win a Grammy. I just wanted to sing. Now I want to set a goal. Now I want a Grammy, now I want an Actor Boy Award for acting. I want that. I want it now."

>> PART I: Keisha dishes on her new role, nutrition and the future

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STILL STANDING: Patra on finishing her education, her new music, and sex in reggae

WITH AN EDGE: "There’s nothing for me to compare myself to."

If you thought you’d seen or heard the last of Patra, think again. Dancehall’s original vixen (née Dorothy Smith) says she’s still in the game and poised to reinvigorate her career with some hits for the summer and a new studio album (later this year) that will let fans get to know her again. The 39-year-old star recently chatted with VIBE Magazine. Below, some excerpts:

On her lengthy hiatus from the spotlight: “What happened was I was taking a break, to get my career on track. It’s very simple. I just wanted to be in control, finish my education, and just to be happy, that’s basically it. There’s nothing really dramatic to discuss. I just needed to take that break to get myself and things together in order to be in control of my own business. To me that is the most refreshing thing I was able to accomplish from my absence from the scene is to be in control of my stuff.”

On her upcoming album: “I decided to keep it simple and name it Patra: The Continuation. Because actually, I didn’t go anywhere, I was just focusing on getting stuff straightened out and I just want to continue where I left off and try to be even better.”

On still keeping it hot and spicy: “It’s always going to be about sex with me, nothing political. I’m just focusing on being sexy all the time. That’s all I’m doing right now. Just being sexy, chopping up the charts and everything. I just want to feel good! I love what I do, and I’m excited to be back. And of course, the original dance queen come back!”

On controlling her destiny: “When you have old school artists like me, you can evolve and change. I haven’t evolved, but I’ve evolved in terms of my company. But I’m not changing anything. I haven’t seen a change really. I think everybody is doing what they’re doing. I’m just blessed to be doing what I’m doing and taking reggae music to a whole other level. There’s nothing for me to compare myself to.”

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Monday, 25 June 2012

“It’s A Fantastic Feeling”: Sheldon Shepherd shines at US film fest

BORN TO WIN: Shepherd greets Williams at the ABFF awards ceremony at the Ritz Carlton in Miami Beach on Saturday. (Photo: Terrence Jennings/AP)

With his superb turn in Better Mus’ Come, Jamaican actor (and NoMaddz band leader) Sheldon Shepherd so greatly impressed judges and audiences at the 2012 American Black Film Festival in South Beach, Miami, over the weekend that he walked away with Best Actor, a prize that includes US$5,000 sponsored by Gold Peak Tea.

Dubbed the Grand Jury Prize for Best Performance by an Actor, Shepherd shared the honour with Malinda Williams, who shone in The Undershepherd. The other nominees were Nicole Beharie, Common, Isaiah Washington and Lance Gross.

Shepherd says he’s tremendously thankful for the honour. “An award like this makes you feel that the work you’ve put in over the years is finally paying off,” he tells TALLAWAH. “And whenever you can be acknowledged by your peers in the arts, and in a market as viable as the US, it’s just a fantastic feeling. From we got to the festival, it was just a loving vibe, from beginning to end.”

Better Mus’ Come, directed by Storm Saulter, earned nominations for Best Screenplay and Best Director. In the film, Shepherd stars as Ricky, a gang leader grappling with conscience, poverty and a ruthless political system. Director Storm Saulter says Shepherd’s win is among the latest triumphs for West Indian cinema. “This is a major moment for Caribbean film and actors in particular,” he says. “It was very much a star is born moment.”

Film Life's American Black Film Festival (ABFF) is in its 16th year. Held annually, it’s an independent film festival that primarily spotlights the works of Black filmmakers.

Meantime, Shepherd and his NoMaddz bandmates are currently working on a video for their Golden Jubilee project, "Sort Out Yuh Life Jamaica," which is slated to premiere later this week.

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Sunday, 24 June 2012

NEW HORIZONS: A Letter from the Editor

Here at TALLAWAH, in addition to the remarkable ways in which Jamaican culture impacts people’s lives, we’ve always been interested in the new and the next. And with everyone presently in Jubilee mode as the nation turns the big 5-0, what better time to look to the future – even as we reflect on our storied past?

When it comes to brilliant institutions and individuals who are doing just that, the examples are endless, but we’ve managed to shine the spotlight on a worthy few in this issue, starting with The National Dance Theatre Company (“A League of their Own”), whose lifelong motto of “continuity and renewal” has taken on added significance in this post-Nettleford era.

Like Jamaica, the NDTC, a cultural giant in its own right, is marking its fifth-decade anniversary this year with a clear and knowing emphasis on the new generation. The Company’s upcoming season, I am told, promises to be one of the most unforgettable in recent history.

Having emerged winner of Mission Catwalk’s just-concluded sophomore season, designer Gregory Williams has shown what many of us knew all along: he’s a genuine talent who is going places (London included). As you will read in “London Calling,” Gregory is keenly aware of what it will take to establish himself – and his fabulous womenswear designs – on the international scene, and he’s drawing on that very Jamaican mix of raw talent and sheer ambition to conquer those new frontiers. We wish him the very best.

Similarly, this month’s cover star, Keisha Patterson (“Playing for Keeps”), is shaking up our perception of what it means to be a chameleonic performer in a business where versatility is the thing. I have been following Keisha’s singing-acting career with deep interest since her teenaged days with Ashé, and it’s an absolute pleasure to see her still striving and thriving, while shattering stereotypes and other people’s expectations along the way.

Now, with a great new stage role and a second album in the works, the girl is having the time of her life, perfectly in sync with the mood of Jamaican culture these days – which, of course, is one of change and celebration. I am utterly intrigued to see what She will do next.

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