Thursday, 31 January 2013

GET IN, GET HAPPY: Controversial new Volkswagen ad perfectly illustrates the global reach of J’can culture

SUNNY SIDE UP: Volkswagen's Game Day commercial strikes an irie chord.

Mission accomplished for German auto-makers Volkswagen: Everyone is talking about their sprightly new Super Bowl commercial featuring a very cheerful white fellow sporting a thick Jamaican accent. The hilarious new ad, which will run during breaks from Sunday’s Super Bowl football showdown, follows Dave and his newfound sunny disposition (that manifests itself in a curious way), all thanks to his new 2013 Volkswagen Beetle. Reggae legend Jimmy Cliff provides the soundtrack with a laid-back performance of “C’mon, Get Happy.” [Watch below.] 

As it stands the minute-long commercial offers an apt reminder of the enormous appeal of our tiny island in the international sphere and is a sterling endorsement of our national brand at a time when so many ills (crime and a shabby economy included) threaten to overshadow all the great things about us. For generations, foreigners have been fascinated by the Jamaican culture, everything from our indigenous reggae to our irie dialect. Clearly, the marketing team at Volkswagen has happily embraced it and didn’t hesitate to use it in enticing the millions of viewers of this very funny TV ad. Racism? Nothing offensive here. 

And Opposition spokesman on tourism, Ed Bartlett, concurs. In a release from the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), Bartlett describes the Volkswagen ad as “a perfect illustration of Jamaican culture's global reach and our uncharacteristic penchant to be happy even in challenging situations.” This, the shadow spokesman further states, is underlined by the fact that Jamaica consistently ranks high on global happiness indices. Bartlett also points out that with brand Jamaica showcased so prominently as a “happy” destination, we will only grow stronger and better.


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ON THE SCENE: Michael Ammar + Dexter Pottinger + Mario Evon + Michael Cuffe + Lady Rennae

SMILE AWHILE: Jan. 29, Kingston. This past Tuesday night, Digicel officially unveiled its theme ("Le Masquerade") for this year's feverishly anticipated staging of Bacchanal Jamaica. Soca lover Michael Cuffe (seen here with a lovely gal pal) was in the mix, as well as a host of folks from the media and entertainment spheres. (Photo: Digicel)

DISHING DETAILS: Jan. 29, Kingston. A perennial fixture when it comes to the annual Bacchanal Jamaica festivities, Michael Ammar gave a spirited address to the gathering that assembled at the Knutsford Court Hotel for Tuesday's Digicel launch. Lady Rennae, who served as the evening's MC, shares in the moment. (Photo: Digicel)

STRIKE A POSE: Jan. 29, Kingston. Stylist to the stars Dexter Pottinger stands next to a stunning image of Digicel ambassador Yendi Phillipps at the Digicel Bacchanal launch. This Saturday, Pottinger is up for the Fashion Icon award at the Youth View Awards (YVAs). (Photo: Digicel)

THE RIGHT NOTE: Jan. 26, Trelawny. Rendering a soulful mix of covers and original tunes, singer Mario Evon gave a crowd-pleasing performance on the Talent Stage at Saturday's closing night of the Jamaica Jazz & Blues Festival at the Trelawny Multi-Purpose Stadium. Could a main-stage appearance be far behind? (Photo: TALLAWAH)

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Wednesday, 30 January 2013

REAL TALK: Rodney Campbell sounds off on JN Vibe, Michelle Obama, and the state of modern dancehall

MATTER OF FACT: Campbell accepting at the 2010 Actor Boy Awards in Kingston.

Opinionated, charismatic, and seriously well-versed in the ways of the world, Rodney Campbell is an ideal choice to sit on the panel of any talk show that could make ample use of his many talents. So it’s not the least bit surprising that he’s been tapped by the producers of JN Vibe to spice up the four-member cast with his trademark sense of humour and sly wit. (ZJ Sparks, Kaysia Johnson and George Davis are his co-hosts.) TALLAWAH rang up the superbusy multitasker to get some dish about the show’s brand-new season, and got much, much more: 

TALLAWAH: What sets JN Vibe apart from the influx of local television talk shows currently jockeying to be number one in the ratings and in the hearts of viewers? 
Campbell: It might sound clichéd but the show brings a new kind of atmosphere to television that we always seem to see captured in other parts of the world. And the truth is we decided to break down the stereotypes and push the boundaries, but more than anything else to offer true entertainment: to inform, entertain, and bring back the whole issue of what TV is supposed to be really all about. And given the variety of subjects and the diverse personalities put together as hosts, the product brings a lot to the table. 

In one of the previews, you can be heard striking a sort of comparison between the respective hairstyles of Michelle Obama and Portia Simpson-Miller, as ‘bang’ versus ‘bangarang’. Hilarious! 
That’s what the show is about: sharing jokes and making plays on everything. And truth be told one of the dresses that Michelle Obama was wearing [at the Inauguration] looked very good (Laughs). Honestly, I don’t think there is another television show in Jamaica that is going to capture the essence and flavour of real talk TV mixed with the combination of powerful hosts that we have managed to put together. The production team did a wonderful job in putting together the four of us. Quite diverse in personality and appearance and at the same time we are still very much focused on our drive to provide a first-class product. And so far the feedback has been overwhelming. And we look forward to really kicking ass. 

Hot topic alert! So what did you make of the whole Popcaan/Ryno fiasco at Sting last December? 
Personally, I think that when it comes to Sting, one can always expect to see little things happening on the stage. But where Ryno is concerned, I could understand the possibility of his presence on the stage. But as for Popcaan, I can’t understand how you want to push a man off the stage and you screechy up behind him, look left and right, and then bounce the man with your shoulder. It was like a wifey and matey kind of thing, like when a selector in the dance say ‘Bounce a gal ’cause she nuh hot like you. (Laughs). Dancehall has come a far, far way, it’s on a continuum, and it’s taking yet another turn, but I don’t know where artistes like Ryno and Popcaan are going to fall in the mix. 

So who in dancehall would get your vote for 2012’s Entertainer of the Year? 
I have to give credit to Bounty Killer for not just staying relevant, but for also coming up against some strong young turks and still pretty much come out on top. So I have to big him up for being that long-standing epitome of dancehall. And I think it’s fair to single out Chronixx as the biggest new star, but this year I’m looking forward to seeing what he’s really all about.

>> Launch Report: JN Vibe aims to re-define local talk TV

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NEWS & NOTES: Norah Jones to grace the Oscars stage + Tony Young set to debut new radio show

LIVE & DIRECT: Veteran media man Tony Young is set to host KLAS Sports Fusion, a new and exciting Saturday-afternoon programme on radio’s KLAS FM. Set to commence on Feb. 9, it’s a magazine-type programme with marked emphasis on sports, mixed with great Jamaican reggae music. The five-and-a-half hour show (1:00–6:30pm) is already gaining popularity with live horse-racing coverage already in place and will now be intertwined with increased broadcasts of live sporting events. Formerly the station’s Programmes Manager and Executive Producer for eight years, Young is now busy building the Tony Young Network (TYN), a company dedicated to developing programmes and events for radio stations as well as planning events for numerous clients. One such venture under the TYN is Sports Fusion, whose debut episode will feature a tribute to retired pugilist and living legend Lennox Lewis

ON WITH THE SHOW: What’s in store for next month’s highly anticipated Oscars, scheduled for Feb. 24? As the biggest (and most glamorous) night in Hollywood draws closer, new details on the ceremony are gradually being revealed. By now everyone is aware that Seth McFarlane (Family Guy’s creator) will perform the hosting duties, but who are some of the big stars set to make appearances? Well, we can confirm that among those who will grace the stage are singers Norah Jones (above) and Adele, who are set to perform their respective nominated tunes in the Best Original Song category. And speaking of musical selections, the night will also see tributes to such blockbuster movie-musicals as Chicago, Dreamgirls, and Les Misérables.

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Tuesday, 29 January 2013

A PLACE TO CALL HOME: PM Simpson-Miller breaks ground for construction of new dwellings for hundreds of sugar workers

TILL NOW: The PM performs the symbolic ground-breaking at Hampton Court.

It's a multi-million dollar project set to change lives! Some 486 sugar workers currently living in barracks in Golden Grove, St. Catherine are set to become the proud owners of new lodgings, as on Thursday PM Portia Simpson-Miller broke ground for the construction of 225 houses at Hampton Court and Stokes Hall under the Barracks Relocation Project, which is being funded by the European Union to the tune of $308 million. 

“This exercise today gives me hope that even within the limits of our fiscal constraints, and amid the current economic challenges, we can transform lives and provide meaningful service to our people,” Simpson-Miller said. 

With the intent of building wholesome communities and removing the stigma associated with living in barracks, the Barracks Relocation Project was conceived to build decent houses and communities for the current and future generations of prospective occupants. 

 Under the new initiative, each recipient will get a Registered Title for a house on a lot in their name – at no charge, although they will be required to pay a small fee for the processing of the title to the Land Administration Management Programme (LAMP). Designs for the houses are complete and tenders for their construction will be invited within the next two weeks.

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IN THE MIX: Denyque dishes about upcoming EP + Shaggy teams up with Sly & Robbie + Mr. Vegas, author?

WORKING GIRL: Boasting a blend of pop-esque R&B mixed with the essence of reggae-soul, singer Denyque is poised to drop her eponymous EP, Her Name Is Denyque, sometime next month. Though the project delivers production work from the likes of Ricky Blaze (Jazmine Sullivan, Vybz Kartel) and she’s currently in talks to do remixes with rapper Pusha T and pop star Sean Kingston, Denyque seems most thrilled about finally getting to work with award-winning beatmaker Stephen ‘Di Genius’ McGregor. “Working with Stephen was really great,” she dishes to The Gleaner, “and he undoubtedly knows what he’s doing, so I knew the single [“Make Me Believe”] would be good. Denyque who is up for Young, Hot & Hype Female at the Feb. 2 Youth View Awards (YVAs) says she is expecting tremendous high points in her career in 2013. “The limit is beyond the sky this year,” she says. 

FUTURE CLASSIC: Speaking of talented people, Shaggy says he’s currently in the studio putting in work on a new album with superproducers Sly & Robbie! Sounds like a classic in the making. The as-yet-untitled project is due out later this year.

STORYTELLER: According to online reports, embattled entertainer Mr. Vegas has now added author to his résumé, following the publication of a saucy new novella. Wonder what it’s about. Any ideas?

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OUT & ABOUT: Michael Bolton + Miss Kitty + Fenton Ferguson + Wayne Marshall + PM Portia Simpson-Miller + Usain Bolt + Roger Clarke + Mary J. Blige

SHORT STORY: Jan. 25, Trelawny. Like a true headliner, hip-hop/soul queen Mary J. Blige captivated her audience on Night 2 of the Jamaica Jazz & Blues festival at the Trelawny Multi-Purpose Stadium serving up a hypnotic batch of her beloved hits while rocking this eye-popping all-white ensemble. Hail Mary! (Photo: Flow)

SMOOTH OPERATOR: Jan. 25, Trelawny. Entertainment living legend Michael Bolton was also a crowd-pleasing delight at the festival on Friday night. Like John Legend the following day, Bolton filled the stadium with his lush vocals and virtuosic instrumentation, making for a truly unforgettable musical experience. (Photo: Flow)

CAT POWER: Jan. 25, Trelawny. The three-night jazz and blues fest drew a diverse nightly crowd, including famous faces like radio diva Miss Kitty (seen here in the company of a friend), to the Trelawny Multi-Purpose Stadium eager to revel in the great musical offerings and the great outdoor setting. (Photo: Flow)

WAYNE'S WORLD: Jan. 25, Trelawny. Reggae-dancehall hitmaker Wayne Marshall (photographed here with a pal) was also in the mix at the Jamaica Jazz & Blues Festival on Friday night, out to support his belle and mother of his unborn child Tami Chynn, who was among the acts slated to grace the main-stage. (Photo: Flow)

SIGN OF THE TIMES: Jan. 24, PM Portia Simpson-Miller, Agriculture minister Roger Clarke, and MP Fenton Ferguson affix their signatures to documents outlining plans for the construction of 226 new homes to benefit sugar workers in Hampton Court and Stokes Hall under the Barracks Relocation Project, which is being funded by the European Union to the tune of $308 million. (Photo: OPM)

HILLS OF GLORY: Jan. 26, St. Andrew. Against a stunning backdrop, Nissan's Director of Excitement, Usain Bolt, takes a seat to respond to fan questions from around the world, while on the set of a new ad for the auto giants, filmed by a diligent crew on the weekend at the UWI/Usain Bolt Track at Mona. (Photo: Usain Bolt)

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TALK THAT TALK: With the hottest topics and youthful appeal, JN Vibe aims to re-define J'can talk TV

ALL IN THE DETAILS: Thame speaks at the recent season-two launch. Below: a group of young professionals in attendance.

“We are excited to have this partnership with Television Jamaica and we look forward to a compelling season of programming that will have our viewers glued to their television sets.” So proclaims executive producer Angela Thame in reference to the eagerly anticipated second season of the Monday-night gabfest JN Vibe, which got a well-attended launch recently inside Usain Bolt’s Tracks & Records. 

The show, previously titled The Vibe, is a partnership between Panache Entertainment and Jamaica National Building Society, which gladly came on board as the title sponsor of the new season. “The focus on lively, fun television taken by The Vibe, covering current issues in the country is very appealing,” notes Leon Mitchell of Jamaica National. “At [JNBS], we see its eclectic programming mix as a powerful force helping to crystallize values and ideas current among younger Jamaicans who are carving a space for themselves in our emergent social landscape.” 

Fully aware of its power to impact lives – and in an industry generating new talk shows every other month – the creative team behind JN Vibe is quick to emphasize that among the show’s objectives is the aim of re-defining the Jamaican television landscape by primarily including the views of young Jamaican professionals in innovative ways. Says senior producer Sonya Stewart, “I am thrilled to be part of the team that will drive the next 13 weeks of hard talk, social commentary and discussions from young professional minds capable of sparking change in the corporate world, while sharing their views in a relaxed environment.” 

As for the faces viewers can expect, in addition to George Davis (returning from season one), ZJ Sparks, Rodney Campbell and Kaysia Johnson will bring their no-holds-barred opinions to the programme each week as the new and ever-dynamic co-hosts. TUNE IN: JN Vibe airs on TV J every Monday night at 9:30 with a repeat on Wednesdays at 6:30 pm.

>> Rodney Campbell sounds off on JN Vibe, Michelle Obama, and more

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Monday, 28 January 2013

2013 SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL: Fruitvale, Blood Brother take coveted grand jury prizes

STUNNED: Writer-director Ryan Coogler is at a loss as he accepts his award. Below: Michael B. Jordan in a scene from the film.

Fruitvale, written and directed by first-time filmmaker Ryan Coogler, was the big dramatic winner at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival, which drew to a close on the weekend in Park City, Utah. The film, starring Michael B. Jordan (Friday Night Lights) and Oscar winner Octavia Spencer, and produced by Forest Whitaker, claimed the grand jury prize for dramatic film as well as the drama category's audience award at a ceremony Saturday night. 

Fruitvale is based on the real-life story of Oscar Grant, a black 22-year-old Bay Area resident fatally shot by a white cop at the Fruitvale subway stop in the early hours of New Year’s Day, 2009. The killing drew immense community outrage. “When I first made this project, it was about humanity, and how we treat the people we love most and the people we don't know,” said Coogler, 26, accepting the award. “To get this means that this film made a powerful impact. This goes back to my home, the Bay Area, where Oscar Grant lived for 22 years. I can't wait to see you all when this is said and done and I'm more articulate and not so emotional.” 

Jury member Tom Rothman praised the film for “its skillful realization, its devastating emotional impact and its moral and social urgency” and said it was destined for future greatness. As it happens, last year’s dramatic grand jury prize winner, Beasts of the Southern Wild, is currently nominated for four Academy Awards. 

Blood Brother, directed by Steve Hoover, was the big documentary winner, sweeping the grand jury prize for documentary and the audience award. The film follows a young American who moves to India to work with kids infected with HIV.

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SAG AWARDS 2013: Argo claims top award, emerges awards-season pack leader

TAKING ONE HOME: Winners Anne Hathaway, Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lawrence.

Perhaps the best thing about the annual Screen Actors’ Guild Awards is the fact that it’s centred on Hollywood actors honouring their peers who shone brightest the previous year. At Sunday night’s ceremony, the CIA/hostage thriller, Argo, earned the most coveted award (Best Ensemble), which director and star Ben Affleck gleefully accepted though there is no denying the look of surprise etched on his face when he appeared on stage. After all, Steven Spielberg’s war epic Lincoln (which picked up two acting statuettes) was the alpha-dog going in. Now, however (and with the Oscars mere weeks away), it seems Argo has assumed leadership of the pack. 

Below, the complete list of SAG winners: 

Best Ensemble: Argo 
Best Actor: Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln 
Best Actress: Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook 
Best Supporting Actor: Tommy Lee Jones, Lincoln 
Best Supporting Actress: Anne Hathaway, Les Miserables 

Comedy Series Ensemble: Modern Family 
Actor in a Comedy Series: Alec Baldwin, 30 Rock 
Actress in a Comedy Series: Tina Fey, 30 Rock 
Drama Series Ensemble: Downton Abbey 
Actor in a Drama Series: Bryan Cranston, Breaking Bad 
Actress in a Drama Series: Claire Danes, Homeland 
Actress in a Movie or Miniseries: Julianne Moore, Game Change 
Actor in a Movie or Miniseries: Kevin Costner, Hatfields & McCoys 

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J’CA JAZZ & BLUES 2013: John Legend, passionate singing and masterful piano-playing

WOW FACTOR: Legend delights the crowd. Inset: with Gramps Morgan.

What a show! Perhaps the most mesmerizing example of a musician perfectly in tune with his instrument is John Legend lording over his piano and his rapt audience. The result, as witnessed Saturday night at the Trelawny Multi-Purpose Stadium, is nothing short of ear-pleasing magic. 

Possessed of a commanding tenor and masterful piano-playing skills, John’s one-of-a-kind charisma is matched only by a riveting stage presence. Once he got the show going, his plethora of crowd-pleasing solos (including “This Time,” “Everybody Knows” and “So High”) came off wonderfully, but the consummate entertainer knows how to raise the musical stakes, as they were, and he pulled this off beautifully by teaming up with Jamaica’s own Tarrus Riley for a spirited, sweetly flavoured version of “Stay With You” and earlier with Gramps Morgan on “The Lord is My Shepherd.” Both performances met with resounding cheers.

To say that the patrons thoroughly enjoyed those totally unexpected moments would serve to diminish the gloriously profound impact. But arguably what left the most lingering impression was the fact that Legend sat and played for well over an hour without showing the slightest sign of exhaustion. Such a trouper! More to the point, John blessed us with a pitch-perfect blend of straight-from-the-heart singing and passionate delivery. 

YOUNG LEGEND: Romain Virgo, a serious talent too outsize to be ignored 
Delivering a spellbinding set, replete with manic energy and melodious highs, Romain Virgo once again proved what TALLAWAH has been preaching all along: he is a young legend and heir apparent to Beres Hammond’s throne. Appearing in an eye-catching all-blue suit (his nod to the name of the festival), Virgo wasted no time in stamping his authority on the stage as he reeled off consecutive hit tunes, best among them “Love Doctor,” “Rich In Love” and the heartfelt anthem “I Know Better.” Still, the real highlights, without doubt: well-applauded “When a Man Loves a Woman,” “Let’s Get It On,” “Don’t You Remember?” and the curtain-closer “The System.” Quite possibly, the finest showing to date by the now 23-year-old singer-songwriter.

>> Dionne Warwick and Monica: Class acts, unique styles

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J’CA JAZZ & BLUES 2013: Two American ladies of song delight with unique styles

DIONNE WARWICK: A study in class and timeless perfection 

By the time, Dionne Warwick invited her eldest son, David Elliott, onstage to join her for a lively performance of the megahit “Say A Little Prayer,” the mega-sized crowd at Jamaica Jazz & Blues was long in her thrall, completely entranced by this ageless goddess who expertly weaves a beautifully melodious tapestry of lyrical beauty and vocal precision to delight and satisfy her fans and listeners. As the most dignified performer on the third and final night of the festival, Warwick left us more than satisfied, offering glorious renditions of everything from “Walk on By,” “Anyone Who Had a Heart” and “Do You Know the Way to San José?” to bring-the-house-down, singalong tunes like “Heartbreaker” and “That’s What Friends Are For,” to name only a few. Naturally, a standing ovation greeted Miss Warwick as she took her final bow. 

MONICA: Pulsating R&B-soul from the Grammy-winning Atlanta songstress

Confession: I didn’t know quite what to expect from a Monica performance at an event like Jamaica Jazz & Blues, given that while her repertoire does include a cache of wonderful R&B cuts, her body of work remains limited in scope. Still, the Atlanta-based songstress was able to inject her Saturday-night performance with a shot of adrenaline and moments of soulful resonance – not to mention drawing on the noteworthy chops of her fantastic trio of male backup singers, who thrilled with their performance of a Bob Marley suite. Monica, meantime, showed that those vocal chords haven’t lost an ounce of their power. “Everything to Me,” “You Should’ve Known Better” and “Just One of them Days” were splendidly sung standouts. Finishing off her set with a classy yet energetic touch, she belted Whitney Houston's "I Wanna Dance With Somebody." Not a bad option.

>> John Legend: The Wow Factor!

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