Sunday, 30 September 2012

SHERYL LEE RALPH: The original diva on her roots, success, and Jamaican men

RED HOT: Ralph on the set of Smash's season 2, airing on NBC in January.

Acclaimed and well-loved Jamerican thespian Sheryl Lee Ralph, currently in the island as a guest of Sagicor, recently sat down with Profile’s Ian Boyne to bring local viewers up to speed on her life at this point. Whether dishing on her showbiz career, reminiscing about growing up as an island girl, or referring to her new book, Redefining Diva, Ralph was a delightful, warm and engaging presence, making for a thoroughly involving interview that ended all too quickly. Below, some highlights: 

On how her Jamaican roots keep her grounded in Hollywood: 
“I remember dancing for the Queen at Jamaica’s Independence celebrations 50 years ago, in 1962. It was a small group of kids from Mandeville, and I was a part of that group, and we did that little dance for the queen, although we were probably just a speck in her eye. We did “Dis Long Time Gal Mi Never See You.” And I’ll never forget those sorts of things. I did my first television commercial in Jamaica. So [in Hollywood] when things would be presented to me, I was always seeing Jamaica. I was always seeing my family. And I wanted them to be proud of me.” 

On steering clear of drugs and alcohol: 
“I just can’t go there. First of all, drunk and nasty never looks good, and I like to look good. And liquor has a tendency to mess with your looks. It’s like bad lighting; it doesn’t make you look good. You gotta have good lighting and fine wine (Laughs). So I prefer to do good by myself. I want to last. I want my family to be proud. I want my people to be proud. I want my children to be proud. I don’t want to be a disgrace.” 

On the secret to her success and her approach to her craft: 
“I come to work prepared. I come ready. In fact, people who follow me on Twitter know that there’s a saying I have that goes, “If you stay ready, you don’t have to get ready.” So I like to stay ready, because one just never knows. And I continue to walk in faith, because things may not have happened at the time and in the way that I would have liked them, but [they happened] in the way that God ordered my steps. So I must continue to be faithful, walking and knowing that my better days are ahead of me. When you are optimistic, you look good. You wear it. People can’t help but see it.” 

On working with Jennifer Hudson for Smash’s upcoming second season: 
“She is the sweetest girl; she couldn’t have been nicer. She looked at me and she said, ‘Miss Ralph, I want to be you. If I can have that, that’s what I want.’” The last day of the shoot she sent me flowers that were THIS BIG. Literally. And they must have weighed at least 25 pounds. I love that girl. I’ve got the most incredible showbiz kids, from Lauryn Hill in Sister Act II to Brandy on Moesha and now Jenifer Hudson on Smash. Three of my daughters.” 

On what we can all take away from that infamous Robert Mugabe statement about Jamaican men: 
“It goes back to the image. What is the image that has been exported? What is the image that has been seen? He doesn’t know about our well-educated, brilliant leaders and prime ministers. He doesn’t know that. All he knows is the ganja-smoking artistes that he might have to lock up for a day or two that come to visit his country. That’s what becomes “the Jamaican man,” when we all know that we have Jamaican fathers and brothers who get up everyday and do right by their families. Not to say that there aren’t a few who spend too much time in the rum bar, but if we could find more of them in the university it would help offset what’s happening... We’ve got to look at ourselves. We’ve got to look at what we made okay for other people to see.”

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TALLAWAH BOOK CLUB PICK: Kevin Powers’ The Yellow Birds

Widely described as “a powerful account of friendship and loss,” The Yellow Birds (Little, Brown and Company), set in Al Tafar, Iraq, chronicles 21-year-old Private Bartle 18-year-old Private Murphy clinging to life as their platoon launches a bloody battle for the city. Bound together since basic training when Bartle makes a promise to bring Murphy safely home, the two have been dropped into a war neither is prepared for. 

To survive in their hostile environment, the two young soldiers do everything to protect each other from the forces that press in on every side: the insurgents, physical fatigue, and the mental stress that comes from constant danger. As reality begins to blur into a hazy nightmare, Murphy becomes increasingly unmoored from the world around him and Bartle takes actions he could never have imagined. 

The book’s incredible emotional authenticity, reviewers have noted, can be largely hinged to the debut author Kevin Powers’ past as machine-gunner who joined the US Army at age 17 and served in Iraq in 2004 and 2005. 

Writing in the New York Times, Michiko Kakutani notes, “The Yellow Birds is brilliantly observed and deeply affecting: at once a freshly imagined bildungsroman about a soldier's coming of age, a harrowing story about the friendship of two young men trying to stay alive on the battlefield in Iraq, and a philosophical parable about the loss of innocence and the uses of memory.” 

Kirkus Reviews hails it as “a novel about the poetry and the pity of war...Powers writes with a rawness that brings the sights and smells as well as the trauma and decay of war home to the reader.”

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BOLT’S AUSSIE GETAWAY: Sprint superstar and pals having a blast Down Under

OFF THE WALL: Bolt visits the Sydney hotspot Marquee at The Star.

As TALLAWAH previously reported, sprint king Usain Bolt and a handful of his colleagues – including singer Chris Martin, friend Norman, and brother Sadiki – arrived in Sydney, Australia last Wednesday for a “strictly recreational” post-season holiday. 

What has the Jamaican posse been up to so far Down Under? So far, they’ve headed west with Australia's own 400m sprinter John Steffensen to smash out a few laps in a go-kart at Eastern Creek. “Go karting, boss swagg!! Shut the track down!!!" Steffensen tweeted alongside a pic of Bolt and the crew. Steffensen also said they had a blast at the track, but remained tight-lipped on whether the World’s Fastest Man helped him be the fastest on four wheels. “Everything is good, man. Everyone's great, everyone is blessed, and everyone’s having a great time. We are glad to be here and ready to relax. We will show him a good time,” Steffensen said. 

Meantime, according to Syndey's The Daily Telegraph, Bolt began Saturday evening chowing down sushi and tempura prawns at The Star's Japanese eatery Sokyo before he and his entourage made their way upstairs to Marquee, where he posed for pics with fans. Bolt and the crew have also made stops at the Bondi hipster haunt and such Kings Cross hotspots as Backroom and Beach Haus. “He was having a great time, mingling and chatting but he was also trying to blend in which was a bit hard considering he is almost 2m tall,” one clubgoer said.

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NEWS + NOTES: Tosh’s former manager reacts to OM honour + Richie Spice on his acoustic tip

HE IS LEGEND: “Recognition for Winston Hubert McIntosh, aka Peter Tosh, at the highest level, by the land of his birth, is long overdue and well deserved,” notes Herbie Miller, Tosh’s former manager and present director/curator of the Jamaica Music Museum, in a Sunday Gleaner column. “Similar to the Rolling Stones and the Beatles, it is for artistic excellence, his social and political activity through music and his inspiration to others in diverse arenas across the world for which he is being honoured with the nation's highest civilian award, the Order of Merit, not whether “him cuss bad wud or smoke weed.” And after contemplation, I do believe Tosh would accept the OM in the name of and on behalf of the Jamaican proletariat. I also believe on acceptance he would find some meaning other than Order of Merit for this award.” 

RASTA GOT SOUL: Returning to the scene with refreshing tunes, Richie Spice is set to release a new album like none he’s ever put out before. The 15-track Soothing Sounds: Acoustic will be released on October 23 via Tad's Record and will feature some of the reggae crooner best-loved songs in an unplugged format. “I wanted listeners to look to the music and lyrics in my songs, and to show the world that good things come from Jamaica and our Jamaican music can play in any style and format,” he recently told the Observer. “Most time people just come listen your music, hol’ a vibe and dance without really knowing what the music is about. So with this acoustic album, I just want to present a more intimate vibe so that people can get a full ‘overstanding’ of what the music is about.”

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BUZZ REPORT: Konshens speaks on proper parenting + Delcita strikes out on her own

MOVING ON: "I am [a woman of] standards, and people say I’m miserable and gwaan like mi a diva,” says actress Andrea ‘Delcita’ Wright, speaking with CVM’s OnStage over the weekend about her surprising exit from Stages Productions. “Standards are why Oliver Samuels has been around for such a long time, and Andrea ‘Delcita’ Wright wants to be around for a long time.” Striking out on her own, the crowd-pleasing actress and single mother says she plans to raise the bar in local theatre circles with her very own Big Stage Entertainment, whose first production is the comedy CourtHouse Drama, opening Oct. 12 at the Olympia Crown Hotel. 

REAL TALK: "My concern is that you can’t please everybody. So I’m just being me and being real. It all boils down to being real,” offers ace deejay Konshens in a sit-down last week with OnStage’s Winford Williams. As for the backlash over that adults-only strip-club video, the entertainer says, “I am in no way apologetic. Mi nah apologize none at all. There was no effort made to send it to the general public and to the immediate media. So you would have to log on to YouTube and prove that you’re 18 and over to watch it. Parents have the responsibility to protect their kids from big-people tings. I think we need to find back that line as parents first.”

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TALK OF THE TOWN: Did Dahlia Harris get married? + Yendi tweets her maternal bliss

In 2011, Dahlia Harris exclusively shared the wonderful news of her wedding engagement with TALLAWAH readers. Now, the word on the street is that the multihyphenate star recently tied the knot with Mystery Man and is now enjoying life as a happily married woman. Sounds lovely, but once I have all the real facts, you’ll be the first to know. Meantime, Harris can be seen these days treading the boards of the Pantry Playhouse in Jamaica Fifty 2 Rahtid
And speaking of leading ladies in Jamaican theatre, I hear that actress Camille Davis, who has been on hiatus from the stage since March, is expecting her first child. But is it truth or just plain rumour? Stay tuned… 

Since giving birth to her first child, a daughter, two Fridays ago, Yendi Phillipps has found herself wrapped up in a cloak of maternal bliss – and she just had to share her joy with the world. A few days ago, the new mom sent out these tweets to her thousands of followers, attracting a slew of responses: 

UPDATE: Busy Signal’s release date from prison is November 21, according to online reports. Meantime, a video for the deejay’s hot new collabo with No Doubt titled “Push and Shove” has been released online and is available for viewing via YouTube. 

What’s hot right now: Power with responsibility. Using your clout and influence to teach and save and transform lives for the better. 

What’s not: Violence (of any kind) against women and kids.

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Saturday, 29 September 2012

SCENE & HEARD: Romain Virgo + PM Simpson-Miller + Jodi Stewart + D'Angel + Asafa Powell

WHITE VISION: Sep. 23, Kingston. Back on our radar after a lengthy self-imposed hiatus, dancehall vixen D'Angel made the scene at last Sunday's Car Sexy bash at the Mango Ranch, looking oh-so-chic in dazzling white with a fresh, dewy face. Easy A. (Photo: Skkan Media)

MAN POWER: Sep. 23, Kingston. The name Asafa Powell has long been synonymous with fast, luxury automobiles, so little wonder that the ace sprinter was also on the scene at Mango Ranch last Sunday for the Zip-endorsed Car Sexy. (Photo: Skkan Media)

FACE VALUE: Sep. 22, Kingston. Ever appealing whenever she steps out for an event, camera favourite Jodi Stewart Henriques (and her luscious curls!) made quite an entrance at a recent birthday bash for auto pro Greg Millwood(Photo: Skkan Media)

TRACING HISTORY: Sep. 27, New York. Delivering Jamaica's policy statement during Thursday’s 67th session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, PM Portia Simpson-Miller underscored the country’s continued support for the work of the UN and its pursuit of human rights, justice, social equity, and the peaceful settlement of disputes, also reiterating the country’s adherence to the principles of the UN Charter, multilateralism and “the inviolability of diplomatic institutions in the conduct of relations among states". (Photo: UN) 

RECORD SETTING: Sep 28, Japan. Singer Romain Virgo, presently in the midst of a Japanese tour with Mighty Crown, picks up a copy of Protoje's The Seven-Year Itch during a visit to record shop. Virgo's stint in the Asian country will culminate this weekend with performances set for Ichibancho and Osaka. In October, Virgo will head to the UK for dates in cities like Manchester, Birmingham and London. (Photo: Romain Virgo)

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Thursday, 27 September 2012

ONLY THE BRAVE: A Letter from the Editor

It goes without saying that a magazine’s “Special Power Issue” needs not only the right cast of influential figures to bring it to authentic life but additionally the right cover star who can sell it – and this year that honour falls to Nadean Rawlins, current reine of the Jamaican stage, quiet activist, fashion enthusiast, and longtime free spirit. 

When time came for me to choose this month’s cover subject, Nadean, who is experiencing a career high and great personal triumphs (“Singular Sensation”), was at the top of my list. From main-starring in a new theatre production (Whiplash, opening Oct. 6) to drafting proposals for a new talent-nurturing programme she plans to pitch to local schools, the actress remains a compelling presence in the artistic community, and seems to thrive best on a busy schedule, while standing out as one of the truly brilliant stage sirens of this generation. 

And speaking of her brilliance, it would be remiss of me to not tell you that the cover shoot theme (an avant-garde meets modern-day affair) was entirely Nadean’s idea. She pitched it to me over the phone, and I couldn’t resist. In the end, it worked magically. From the wonderful location (the quaintly charming Devon House mansion) to the wardrobe selection (courtesy of the ever-reliable Quindell Ferguson), everything came together perfectly to give us some amazing photographs and memories to cherish. And all this bears testament to Nadean’s incredible capacity for bold and clever concepts, thinking on her feet, and taking the initiative. (Thank you, thank you, Nadz.) 

Similar qualities could be cited to define the 20 luminaries, movers and shakers, and all-around great Jamaicans who populate TALLAWAH's two-part power portfolio (“The 2012 Power List” and “Coming On Strong”). Drawn from the worlds of politics, entertainment, sports and media (to name a few of the areas), these are only some of the fearless individuals who are profoundly shaping the cultural Zeitgeist in a Jamaican context with their talent, clout or leadership by example – and all deserve to be acknowledged for their remarkable and continuing efforts. 

Like Nadean, these amazing Jamaicans remind us that “having power” is one thing, but how we use it to teach and transform and save lives – and help us grow as a people – is what really counts. With power come awesome responsibilities. To whom much is given, much is expected.

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STAGE PRESENCE: Konshens sizzles at Tracks & Records, defends his self-expression

SINGLE SPOTLIGHT: The dancehall star takes centre-stage.

Top-flight deejay Konshens is fast becoming one of my favourite live performers, joining the ranks of Kanye West, Beyoncé, J-Hud, and of course, MJ. To be perfectly honest, that’s an incredible feat in and of itself because giving a live performance is not just about rendering your big hits to the audience’s delight; it’s about delivering a high entertainment value steeped in compelling stagecraft and keeping it real. 

As TALLAWAH readers are fully aware by now, the 27-year-old deejay is all about keeping it real – which can sometimes attract controversy. But ninety percent of the time, his lyrical and emotional authenticity makes his audience appreciate him that much more. Hence his burgeoning success locally and abroad. And speaking of success, the deejay’s “Behind the Screen” concert held last Tuesday night inside Usain Bolt’s Tracks & Records was all that and more. 

The crowd that he drew to the Marketplace venue was so humongous that dozens had to enjoy the show from the outside. Meantime, the early birds and those fortunate enough to be part of the standing-room only audience got value for their hard-earned dollars. The performance Konshens gave was not only laced with lyrical brilliance but also a fun sense of improv and forging a real connection with those standing before him, predominantly screaming females aged 21-35. 

By the time I arrived at Tracks & Records, the deejay was already in the midst of “Winner,” after which he segued into the heartfelt “She’s Happy” and the provocative “Gunshot Ah Fire.” Fan favourites like “Gal A Bubble” and “Stop Sign” were met with deafening screams, which only intensified when the deejay removed his shirt to reveal a white merino. “Take it off!” a woman in the back shouted. “You take yours off,” Konshens responded to a round of laughter. It’s that sort of easy give-and-take that continues to endear him, I think, to followers while widening his loyal fanbase. 

New tune “No Hesitation” mixed with Marvin Gaye’s “Sexual Healing” quickly followed, and “Give It to Dem Different” featured a crowd-pleasing demonstration with a young lady plucked from the front row. But the night was just getting started, as Tarrus Riley (“Good Girl Gone Bad”) and Delus (“What Tomorrow May Bring”) and Darrio (“Gal Sidung”) would later appear to help their brother raise the roof before the show closed with an abbreviated take on “Do Sumn.” 

“The performance was good,” Konshens told me after the show. “The band played well, and the artistes that pass through came and delivered well, and the fans were pleased. And that is the point of the whole thing.” The ace deejay, who is up for a MOBO Award in November, also addressed the recent spate of criticism over the adult-only “Clap Dat” video he did with Leftside. “That is something that I overlook,” he explains. “That is more important to the outside than to me. Mi nuh really business. Mi ah express myself, and anything that I express I stand behind it.” 

And he plans to end 2012 in trademark fashion. “Just more music,” he says. “Just as how I started this year, I plan to just constantly be doing music.”

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TAKING THE LEAD: Nadean Rawlins on Meryl Streep, favourite authors, and what she values most

HOUSE PROUD: Rawlins strikes a pose inside the iconic Devon House mansion.

If you were marooned on a deserted island for days awaiting rescue, list three things that would best help you pass the time? 
(1) Pencil (2) a thick notepad (3) Lots of red rum. I would chase it with coconut water. I want to write my autobiography and what a perfect place to do it. The rum is for entertainment and to pass the time. 

What has surprised you the most about your (ongoing) evolution as an actress? 
However grateful I am for the success I have had so far as an actress, what surprises me is the success. I stumbled upon [this] acting career even though my family, teachers and friends knew I had it in me. Now I am so happy I did it, it's one of the things that keep me most motivated. 

Latest memorable fashion purchase: 
Three pairs of shoes in DSW. 

Which do you desire more: wealth or fame? 
Wealth. Fame can’t go shop, sadly. 

Meryl Streep or Glenn Close: Who gets your vote for World's Greatest Living Actress? 
Meryl Streep! How she totally becomes the character she plays. And she has done so many and none are alike. She is revered as one of the best actresses of our time, and she is one of the most humble. 

Name some of your favourite literary heroes, whether authors or characters? 
John Grisham, Dan Brown. 

What's your main goal in life these days? 
I am going to buy a house! 

What are your ideas for keeping Jamaica an artistically outstanding nation? 
We are not just a nation of athletes and singers/DJs. More exposure is needed for other artists and talents. More opportunities to showcase talents e.g. repositioning Edna Manley College, revamping the film industry, building more theatre houses, and heightening the focus on talent development is schools. This can only be achieved through major government and private sector support. 

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be? 
Physically, my breasts; weight loss is great but it has its downside. Other than that, I have my ‘ways’ but who doesn't? I am pretty comfortable with who I am. 

What is it that you value in life above all else? 
There are several things I value so it is difficult to choose one, but what I value the most is this drive and commitment I have to just be the best in whatever I find a passion.

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TIME OUT: Olympic star Warren Weir on his top music picks and life off the track

DUET: Weir poses with Khadyn Ridley at the Konshens concert.

"Locally, I have to big up Tommy Lee, who is a very good artiste running the place right now,” offers track star Warren Weir, referring to his top pick for the hottest Jamaican entertainer of the moment. “Popcaan is still holding it down, too, and several cultural artistes. Internationally, I have to give ratings to Drake and the whole MMG crew, who I enjoy listening to.” 

The Olympic bronze medallist (one-third of Jamaica’s history-making 1-2-3 Men’s 200m team in London) and avid dancehall supporter was on the scene last Tuesday night at Tracks & Records for Konshens’ “Behind the Screen” concert, where he spoke to TALLAWAH about his taste in music and how he spends his time off the track. 

Warren, who turns 23 next month, says his downtime allows him to indulge his favourite pastimes. “I play football with my friends, play some video games, go out and get some food to eat, and practically that.” With training for next year’s athletic season set to commence within a few weeks, the Racers athlete says he’s making the most of the leisure time he now has at his disposal. “The off-season is not a very long one so, yeah man, you have to enjoy it while it lasts.”

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IN THE MIX: Man of the moment Tommy Lee pays homage to Jackson’s “Thriller”

CHILLS & THRILLS: The late King of Pop’s genius has influenced every contemporary entertainer who truly values innovation and stagecraft. As it turns out, dancehall’s man of the moment, Tommy Lee, is no exception. With Halloween on the horizon, the fast-rising, envelope-pushing deejay, known for his gritty lyrics and dark themes, has released his very own quasi-horror flick, “Shook (Uncle Demon),” which pays sly homage to Michael Jackson’s 1983 genre-defining opus “Thriller.” According to the deejay, he’s long been an admirer of the Jackson classic. 

“Uncle Demon is entertainment,” he explains. “Mi want recreate the horror house from school days and weh me see Michael Jackson a gwaan wid back inna the days. Everybody love scary movies, that is just excitement.” Personally, I recently happened to catch a glimpse of the “Shook” video on YouTube. Its impressively done, but with its vivid, zombierrific imagery, it is not for the faint of heart. The thrilling-terrifying clip, which finds Lee portraying his alter egos Uncle Demon and Nephew Demon, was filmed in Port Royal by DK Konsepp. Take a look at the video HERE

DYNAMIC DUO: Popular reggae collaborators Richie Stephens and Gentleman, who’ve both enjoyed tremendous success this year with hits like “Live Your Life” and “Warrior”, have joined forces again for a new 12-track album aptly titled Live Your Life, slated for release next month on VP Records. Gentleman, who is currently in Jamaica putting finishing touches to the disc, is very upbeat about the project. “It is nice to see how things have turned out with the album. We have some excellent songs that fans are gonna really enjoy,” he says. “The project came out of a natural vibe between the two of us without being planned. We put a lot of work into the songs, and I am very happy with the finished product.”

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SHINING TIME: With talent and tenacity, up-and-comer Darrio is one to watch

WATCH ME NOW: “Hard work, hard work, and more music."

Though not yet a household name, Darrio seems poised to be dancehall’s next big thing. The fast-rising SubKonshus deejay, who has already earned a well-deserved spot on the roster of emerging Jamaican talents who matter, is now looking to cement his place in the industry. 

“Right now is a good look for the progress that I’m making inna the music business because ah years now mi ah do this,” he told TALLAWAH last Tuesday night following his pulsating performance alongside Konshens at Usain Bolt’s Tracks & Records. “So with the little attention that ah turn my way now, I feel good about it. So ah just more work mi ah put in.” 

Armed with a knack for clever rhymes, a booming baritone, and a wicked flow that suggests years of practice, the 26-year-old (né Darrio Johnson) whose popular cuts include "School Fee" and "Touch Di Road," reveals that dropping a mixtape for the fans is among the plans he has in the pipeline. “Right now I’m working on the mixtape, but the problem is that I got too many selector friends so I don’t know who to give the job to to make the mixtape. So maybe mi drop all three mixtapes one time, because it’s a bag of songs.” 

Meanwhile, he has nothing but high praises for Konshens, his SubKonshus labelmate with whom he has recorded such notable tracks as “Hooked On You” and “Gal Sidung.” “Konshens is like my bigger brother musically,” he explains. “So he teaches me a lot about the music, like singing on key and a whole heap of other things. He teaches me things as a youth because he’s a youth that’s very hardworking and intelligent, so him have whole heap fi teach you.” 

With 2012 almost over and a New Year on the horizon, Darrio feels its time to step up his campaign for even bigger success and stardom. “How I plan to end this year is just like how I start it,” he says. “Hard work, hard work, and more music – and try to get the name and the face Darrio out there some more.”

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