Wednesday, 30 April 2014

STRONG REFUGE: Stylistic daring and ambitious storytelling make Noah a must-see film event

IF YOU BUILD IT: Crowe, as the titular hero in Aronofsky's version of the Biblical epic.

Of all the Bible's most heroic figures, Noah has always been something of an enigma. His incredible story gets its most compelling cinematic telling to date with Black Swan director Darren Aronofsky's electrifying vision of the Old Testament saga, spun with near-faithful adherence to the Biblical text and a stirring narrative laden with urgency and moments riddled with intensity. 

Although the stunning cinematography and captivating imagery make sterling contributions to the film's overall success, it's strongest asset is easily the robust performance offered by Russell Crowe as the great ark-builder. From Gladiator's Maximus to the titular man of tights in Robin Hood, Crowe has long displayed a knack for inhabiting mythical characters and bringing them to life with raw masculine energy and a quiet air of decency. As Noah, he convincingly embodies the patriarch's diligence and thoughtfulness. 

Summarized briefly, Noah embarks on an ark-building expedition after receiving a vision from God that the Earth would be destroyed by flood. And thus it came to pass. The arrival of the birds of the air and the beasts of the land to take their place in the ark, along with Noah's wife (a sublime Jennifer Connelly) and sons Shem, Ham and Japheth, and other "innocents", yields one of the film's most visceral moments. The enormous floodwaters (the result of stellar CGI work, no doubt) bashing against the gigantic boat is quite another. 

Noah also marks the long-awaited on-screen reunion of Crowe and Connelly nearly 14 years after they beautifully portrayed the Nashes in A Beautiful Mind. And by all accounts their chemistry is as palpable as ever. Anthony Hopkins, meantime, nabs a few scenes as Methuselah, Noah's grandfather. 

In short, Aronofsky's Noah is a must-see cinematic event. It's deftly directed and stirringly told, and brings the popular Biblical saga to the big screen with ambitious storytelling and no shortage of stylistic daring. Tyrone's Verdict: A

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Monday, 28 April 2014

DIRECTOR'S CUT: GATFFEST fuses emerging filmmaking talent and vibrant community spirit

 SCREEN TEST: Festival participants discuss the direction of a shoot.

The organizers of the Greater August Town Film Festival (GATFFEST) have dubbed the event "the Caribbean's largest community film festival." Naturally, one wonders how accurate a label this is. "We have done the research on that, so I know," responds Dr. Ian Boxhill, Chairman of the GATFFEST 2014 Planning Committee. "There are other film festivals of this kind across the region, but they are not community film festivals like ours."

A brainchild of the UWI Community Film Project (an initiative of the Mona Campus' Centre for Tourism and Policy Research), GATFFEST, now in its second year, was launched with the aim of providing an effective creative outlet for the young people in and around August Town, developing their filmmaking talents and short films, as well as offering them advancement opportunities.

GATFFEST is also a clear reflection of just how much the university has sought to actively take an interest in the lives of the residents who occupy the small communities surrounding the Mona Campus. "We started in August Town, but we are now in Mona Commons, Nannyville, and we're interested in going into a number of other communities," Boxhill reports. "UWI has been active in August Town and other communities for many years, especially the Faculty of Medicine, and then [the late] Dr. Barry Chevannes was there. So we are essentially continuing the work that was started."

For any event boasting annual recurrence, growth is always a major target, and GATFFEST is no different, returning to the cultural calendar this month, with notable additions and improvements, including an increase in the number of awards to be handed out at the closing ceremony and contributions from filmmakers living and working overseas. Such initiatives are exactly what the Jamaican film industry needs, observes Boxhill. "I think the film industry on a whole will take off provided that opportunities are provided for where the majority of the people are," he says. "We need to approach it in a more systematic way by unleashing the talent across the communities, across the parishes. Once we do that it will become as successful as the reggae music industry and the athletics. Mark my word."

Professor Kenneth Hall says he opted to serve as patron of GATFFEST 2014 having recognized the event's enormous potential. "The creative industries are becoming centres of innovation and engaging people with talent," Hall said, addressing Thursday's opening ceremony inside the Courtleigh Auditorium. "It's not just about entertainment. One of the ways to preserve our history is to document it, and the work of filmmakers provides one such opportunity."

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Thursday, 24 April 2014

ON THE RECORD: How Wayne Marshall got his groove back

SHINING TIME: "As an artist you can't help but feel you are getting better and better."

Enduring reggae-dancehall disciple Wayne Marshall knew he wanted to create something akin to a classic when he hit the studio to craft his latest album, Tru Colours. Enlisting the support and expertise of the Marley clan - executive producer Damian Marley, in particular - whose track record speaks for itself, was at the top of his list. Since the album's release earlier this year, it has spawned a few notable radio hits ("I Know" and "Stupid Money" among them) while revealing a lyrical maturity and confidence the artiste hadn't revealed before. In other words, the success of Tru Colours has cast Wayne Marshall in a whole new light. 

For those of us who can't help but marvel at the impressive growth in his musical artistry, Wayne has repeatedly pointed out that joining forces with the Marleys forced hism to step his game up and push himself past his own expectations. And his ascension continues these days, as he co-headlines The Revelation Part II: The Fruit of Life tour with Stephen Marley and Stephen's son Jo Mersa (a fast-emerging young talent worth watching). 

The multiple-city engagement currently has them criss-crossing the United States, lighting up venues of all sizes. "It is definitely humbling to be sharing the stage with several generations of the Marleys. As an artist you can't help but feel you are getting better and better every night, simply from being around them," he tells the US-based Patriot Ledger in a recent interview. "That striving for the most professional level of performance and the work ethic they display is just inspirational." 

In spite of the heavy workload, life on the road, Wayne hastens to add, is immensely fun even as he savours the new career-defining lessons. "We've been performing in pop venues before enthusiastic crowds and the whole tour just has an amazing vibe," says the one-time member of the Bounty Killer-led Alliance. "Even on the tour bus, the camaraderie with all the musicians is just wonderful." 

From vibing with Junior Gong to teaming with his young son Giomar (who supplies the hook on "Stupid Money"), Wayne Marshall is obviously no stranger to sturdy collaborations. Yet there's one creative partner he seems to cherish above all right now: super-songstress Tessanne Chin, who co-wrote a track for Tru Colours. "A chance to work together with Tessanne is special, always a great experience. She is so gifted," Wayne reports. "She is working on her own album, and the world needs to be looking out for that one because it will be superb." 

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TAKING THE LEAD: Versatile actor Chris McFarlane on his evolving success and the view from the top

LEADING MAN: McFarlane cuts a stylish figure as he attends the 2014 Actor Boy Awards in Kingston.

You can say this for Chris McFarlane: he continues to advance from strength to strength as a well-rounded actor of the Jamaican stage. After years of yielding mixed results via performances in everything from tense dramas to comical fare, McFarlane turned in two of the past season's most magnetic portraits with his turns in Basil Dawkins' remount of Toy Boy (opposite an immaculate Maylynne Lowe) and Dahlia Harris' still-running To The Finish, with Nadean Rawlins and Julene Robinson. The theatre community has taken note of the lift in McFarlane's style, rewarding him with the best supporting actor statuette at the April 14 Actor Boy Awards to complement the Best Actor Thespy he won back in February.

How does he feel about the career high he's having as he heads into his 40s? "I am pleased with the work, and I am pleased with where I am and the work I am getting to do," he tells TALLAWAH. "If you understand the climate, it's not as lucrative as before, but it's always nice to be working hard and being acknowledged by your peers."

By his own admission, the Edna Manley College School of Drama alum relishes the creative risks that come with the territory, but he remains a firm believer in letting things unfold at their own pace as far as success is concerned. "I leave things up to the universe, which is what dictates what I get," he says. "And whatever the universe has in store for me is what I'm gonna work with. If it's gonna come, it's gonna come."

So what's next for the leading man? "I just started working on a television series with some youngsters. Provided that everything is everything it should be ready for this year," reveals McFarlane, whose previous screen credits include Chris Browne's prize-winning urban feature Ghett'a Life.

For McFarlane, his role in the as-yet-untitled series is a reminder that he is indeed growing older and, perhaps, wiser. "I play a father, and you know you're getting up in age when you start playing people's parents," quips the actor who, incidentally, is Robinson's excitable dad in To The Finish. As for the upcoming show itself, he has high hopes for the finished product. "It's gonna be good," he predicts. "It's not one of those shows for adults; it's more for the high school type of crowd."

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MAN OF THE MOMENT: With record-breaking prospects and active philanthropy, Bolt season is just warming up

JUST KIDS: The iconic sportsman giving a pep talk to attentive wards at the Alpha Boys' Home.

Even at the height of preparations for the rigorous international track-and-field season ahead, society's less fortunate are never far from the mind of the World's Fastest Man, whose mission to positively impact young lives through the Usain Bolt Foundation recently took him and his managers to the Kingston-based Alpha Boys' Home, where the lads were more than happy to receive wise words of encouragement from the iconic sportsman and trendy athletic gear courtesy of PUMA. "It's a joy for me to be able to give back," the sprinting powerhouse reportedly shared with The Gleaner. "Honestly, it's the greatest part of my success to be able to give back."

Without doubt, it's this very humanitarian approach to his star power that continues to endear Usain Bolt to Jamaican fans of all ages and backgrounds, whether they're aspiring footballers in Sherwood Content or budding university undergrads hailing from Portland.

Bolt season (mid-April to December) is upon us yet again so we are going to be seeing and hearing a lot more from the track superstar who is finally turning 28 in August. As in years past, much of the sports-desk conversation surrounding Bolt these days has to do chiefly with his physical capacity (at this stage of his career) to break his own world records. "I have discussed with my coach what it will take to lower these records, and he thinks it is very possible," Bolt noted recently, according to online reports, referring to his 100M and 200M sprint records. "I trust my coach completely, so if Coach Mills says they can be broken then I know I can lower them."

And in other Bolt news, the CMC reports that the Jamaican Olympic champ is set to join his peers at the IAAF World Indoor Relays in The Bahamas next month, and is also scheduled to grace the track at sizzling meets this summer in the Czech Republic, France and Sweden. And if that's not enough, Bolt has signed on as the face of Visa's Brazil World Cup promotional campaign and will appear in their TV ad (premiering next month across some 22 markets globally.

And if you thought his unfortunate foot injury from a weeks ago would have stymied him any, think again. He's fully back in stride. "Setbacks are a part of track-and-field. I have come to accept that a long time ago," the five-time World Male Athlete of the Year conceded. "I had mine and now I'm back in training preparing for the upcoming season."

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SCENE AND HEARD: Nadean Rawlins + PM Portia Simpson-Miller + Damion Crawford + Lisa Hanna + Wykeham McNeill + Chris McFarlane + Mervyn Morris + Usain Bolt

DISTINGUISHED GENTS: April 15, Kingston. On the occasion of his appointment as the new Poet Laureate of Jamaica, legendary academic and author Prof. Mervyn Morris (centre) shares a light moment with Tourism and Entertainment minister Dr. Wykeham McNeill and state minister Damion Crawford (left) during last week's announcement ceremony inside the National Library of Jamaica. (Photo: National Library)

YOUNG AT HEART: April 15, St. Catherine. Completed to the tune of $25 million sponsored by the CHASE Fund, the Marlie Hill Basic School got a lively official opening ceremony (complete with a round of sing-along) attended by PM Portia Simpson-Miller, Youth and Culture minister Lisa Hanna, and Education minister Ronald Thwaites (not pictured). (Photo: JIS)

ART IMITATES LIFE: April 14, Kingston. Adding to their expanding stash of accolades, thespians Nadean Rawlins and Christopher McFarlane, currently co-starring in To The Finish at the Pantry Playhouse, topped the competition at the recent Actor Boy Awards at the Pegasus to walk away with Best Actress and Best Supporting Actor honours, respectively.(Photo: Actor Boy Awards/Facebook)

IN TRIBUTE: April 14, Kingston. With High Commissioner Iva Gloudon looking on, PM Portia Simpson-Miller pays her respects to the memory of the late Trinidadian leader ANR Robinson, as she adds her signature to a book of condolences at the Trinidad & Tobago high commission. For PM Simpson-Miller, Robinson, who passed away April 9, made his mark as "one of the Caribbean's most accomplished leaders who fought urgently and advocatedly strongly for the sovereign rights of his countrymen and Caribbean people." (Photo: OPM)

CENTRE STAGE: April 9, Kingston. Christmas came early this year for the wards of the Alpha Boys' Home, who were paid a surprise visit by Olympic sprint champion Usain Bolt, who imparted empowering advice and track gear to the youngsters. The Usain Bolt Foundation partnered with PUMA to make it a day to remember for all involved. (Photo: Usain Bolt/Facebook)

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Tuesday, 22 April 2014

EASTER'S HOTTEST TICKET: Golden notes aplenty at University Singers' This Joyful Eastertide

HE IS ALIVE: The acclaimed Mona-based choir were in sizzling form this past Sunday.

Dazzling solo performances and powerful choral anthems constituted the brightest points at Sunday's fulfilling This Joyful Eastertide at the UWI Mona Chapel. For the past five years, the University Singers have set aside Easter Sunday for this musical celebration, alternately lively and meditative, to not only thrill their devoted patrons but to also highlight the true meaning and essence of the holy season. Yet this year the choir opted to shake up the traditional formula, injecting into the mix Theodore Dubois' compelling sacred cantata The Seven Last Words of Christ to kick off the proceedings. Herewith, the concert's five most thrilling moments:

The Agony and the Ecstasy
Under the direction of the consummately brilliant Franklin Halliburton, the Singers (led by marvelous solo work by Danielle Nelson, soprano; Roy Thompson, tenor; and O'Neil Jones as baritone) exquisitely captured the anguish and transcendent yearning Dubois so succintly and lucidly conveyed with the composition. Equal parts prayerful and soul-stirringly menacing, the cantata's strains quite easily recall aspects of Handel's master opus The Messiah — not in scope, mind you, but certainly in tone and texture. In other words, it's a Biblical tragedy (almost Shakespearean in its lyricism) set to an unshakeable score.

Easy like Sunday morning
A hush fell over the church when Marcelle Thomas sang "He That Dwelleth in the Secret Place of the Most High," wrapping her creamy contralto around each plaintive note and melody to produce a rendition so simplistically beautiful and poised we could have listened to it all evening.

Well Tuned Instrument
Few contemporary Jamaican sopranos possess the sheer magnetism and deeply passionate delivery of Althea McKenzie, who elicited resounding applause for her radiantly expressive take on Burleigh's "My Soul's Been Anchored." Here's a songbird who lends fresh meaning to "make a joyful noise."

Little Miss Sunshine
Don't let her teeny stature fool you; Alecia Forbes packs incredible heft (vocally and otherwise) in that diminutive frame, as evidenced by her roof-raising rendition of "This Little Light of Mine" at the Rex Nettleford tribute concert in February and her poignant performance of the standard spiritual "You Can Tell The World" on Sunday.

Strike up the orchestra!
Given the show's sturdy opening, a show-stopping finale was well anticipated, and we were far from disappointed thanks to the majesty and goosebump-inducing flourish of Beethoven's "Hallelujah Chorus," full of pomp and lush harmonies perfect for the mountaintop. 

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THE PERFECT CHOICE: Professor Mervyn Morris steps up as new Poet Laureate of Jamaica

MAN OF THE HOUR: Morris (centre), with the Tourism and Entertainment ministry's Damion Crawford (left) and Wykeham McNeil at the National Library of Jamaica.

Jamaica has not appointed a national poet laureate in well over half-a-century to put on the sturdy size-10 shoes previously filled by Tom Redcam (after whom the Kingston & St. Andrew parish library is fittingly nicknamed) and J.E. McFarlane. But who better to deservingly occupy such an important post now than Professor Mervyn Morris, the literary luminary, academic and legendary critic who has close to 50 years under his belt as educator, author and inspiration?

Last Tuesday, a 10-member committee assembled by the National Library of Jamaica and the Entertainment/Tourism ministry's Entertainment Advisory Board made the official announcement that Morris had accepted "the job" and is set to serve a tenure lasting for the next three years.

As Poet Laureate of Jamaica, Morris' responsibilities are sure to play to the cultural icon's strengths as both thinker and wordsmith of the highest order, as they include the promotion of reading and Jamaican literature, as well as the undertaking of poetry events for general public consumption. What's more, the role will see the Munro College and Oxford University old boy championing lyrical verse as a medium for entertainment and for "disseminating cultural heritage while celebrating and propelling Jamaican poetry to new heights."

Very much like such peers as Prof. Eddie Baugh and Dr. Erna Brodber, Professor Morris' illustrious career, public life and body of work have stood the test of time and hold him in good stead for the task ahead. Most popular among his acclaimed writings are Is English We Speaking (1999) and 2005's Making West Indian Literature. I Been There, Sort Of (2006), meanwhile, ranks highly among his six notable collections of poems.

As expected, the 77-year-old Morris views his appointment as yet another opportunity to contribute significantly (and help draw much-needed attention to) the country's dynamic literary culture. "It's an honour and I'm grateful," Morris, who became a member of the Order of Merit (OM) in 2009, has said in response. "My remit is to help promote Jamaican poetry at home and abroad." Come early next month, Governor General Sir Patrick Allen will officially present Mervyn Morris with his Badge of Office during a King's House ceremony. 

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INSIDE SCOOP: What's new, what's next, what's trending in Jamaican arts and entertainment

A trio of exemplary Caribbean writers (two Jamaicans and a Trinidadian) will go head-to-head as finalists for the overall 2014 OCM Bocas Literary Prize having topped their respective categories, organizers have reveald. While Lorna Goodison won the poetry category for her latest anthology, Oracabessa, and Robert Antoni bested all comers for fiction with As Whatless Flies to Boys, Kei Miller emerged the strongest candidate for the non-fiction award, thanks to the thought-provoking brilliance of his effort Writing Down The Vision: Essays and Prophecies. To say the least, the adjudicators were left mesmerized by Miller's skill and engaging style. "Miller is an original thinker who knows his own mind and is wary of orthodoxies," the judges report proferrs. "He is uncompromising and honest in his interrogation of issues and his experiences of these worlds." The overall winner of the 2014 OCM Bocas Literary Prize will walk away with a US$10,000 cash award.

On account of his magnanimous spirit and unwavering service to the people of Jamaica that have left an indelible mark, Robert Levy, Chairman of the Jamaica Broilers Group of Companies, has been presented with the American Friends of Jamaica International Award.

Sprint legend Ato Boldon (Trinidad & Tobago), PM Ralph Gonsalves (St. Vincent and the Grenadines), Rev. Ronald Thwaites, Mike Fennel, Michael Frater and Lisa Hanna lead an estimable panel of local and international speakers who will grace the podium at the 2014 Business of Sport International Conference, being held May 1 and 2 inside New Kingston's Pegasus Hotel, under the universally resonant theme "Transform The Game."

Now that the Thespies and the Actor Boy Awards have come and gone, local theatre producers are actively making preparations for the 2014-15 season. Among the new shows TALLAWAH is especially looking forward to seeing is Angie Binns' A Small Room, featuring a hefty ensemble cast that includes Thespy winner Rodney Campbell, it girl Lisa Williams and veteran leading man Alwyn Scott. Sporting the tagline "Great loves aren't only between lovers", the show starts previews at the Green Gables Theatre on May 23.

Not one to desert her loyal Christian supporters, playwright Dahlia Harris is hard at work putting the finishing touches to a new gospel revue (as yet untitled) that could do for Harris what Jamaica Sweet did for David Tulloch. Last Saturday night, the workaholic actress-writer-producer-director was going over musical selections with Tesfa Edwards at the Pantry Playhouse, where here most recent stage hit To The Finish continues to attract decent audiences. 

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SHOW STOPPERS: Jambiz hits, Anancy Chaptaz dominate 2014 Actor Boy winners

PICTURE PERFECT: Ladies of the Night cast members celebrate their big win alongside Fae Ellington and Oliver Samuels.

"It's more than inspiration. It is like a reward for all the hard work you put in," offers Damian Radcliffe, celebrating Anancy Chaptaz: Winners' Circle's impressive five-trophy haul at last week's well-supported Actor Boy Awards ceremony at the Jamaica Pegasus Hotel in New Kingston. "For you to invest blood, sweat, tears and time, and at the end to be awarded by you peers is motivating, rewarding, humbling and exciting." 

But the Independent Actors' Movement's vibrant children's musical (directed by Radcliffe and written by Sabrena McDonald) at the April 14 event (hosted by Sakina Deer and Kanhai Condison) where the local theatre community (under the auspices of the International Theatre Institute's Jamaica Chapter) and its chief practitioners paused to acknowledge their peers for their outstanding work onstage and behind-the-scenes last season, with awards in over 20 categories. Among the awardees in the key categories:

Best Production: Ladies of the Night (Jambiz International)
Actor: Glen Campbell, If There's A Will
Actress: Nadean Rawlins, Departure in the Dark
Director: Brian Heap, Departure in the Dark
Supporting Actor: Chris McFarlane, To The Finish
Supporting Actress: Sakina Deer, If There's A Will
Comedy: If There's A Will, There's A Wife (Jambiz International)
Musical: Anancy Chaptaz: Winners' Circle (Independent Actors' Movement)
Drama: Departure In The Dark (The University Players)
New Jamaican Play: Jonkanoo Jamboree (The University Players) 

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Saturday, 19 April 2014

FLICK OF THE WEEK: Explosive Captain America sequel packs heat, intrigue

PRIMED FOR ACTION: Evans (as Captain America) and Johansson (as Black Widow).

Here's one way to craft a supercool and memorably entertaining action blockbuster: combine high-octane thrills and deftly choreographed fight and chase sequences with solid acting and emotional heft. The result could out to be a loud and messy affair but in the case of Marvel/Walt Disney's Captain America sequel, The Winter's Soldier (which has attained the largest April opening at the box office in movie history), it's a turbo-charged superhero epic and edge-of-your-seat thrill ride. 

As far as the plot goes, the whole idea of nefarious power brokers intent on world domination is nothing new but the far-fetched circumstances here (combined with the titular hero's derring-do) are largely what help make this popcorn smash so endless fascinating and worth the trip to the cinema. 

When disaster strikes, the battle is not Captain America's (the charismatic Chris Evans) alone, as he is well-backed by a strong support unit comprised of the high-powered Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), tough cookie Black Widow aka Natasha (Scarlett Johansson) and the newest recruit, a buff Anthony Mackie as Sam Wilson/The Falcon. 

Long-time cinephiles will get a kick out of seeing Robert Redford stepping outside his comfort zone of serious drama to tackle the role of Alexander Pierce, a corporate bigwig who may be up to no good. Another noteworthy cameo: Emily Van Camp of TV's Revenge as a slick undercover agent. 

All sorts of mayhem breaks loose, underhanded schemes are brought to light and as the film climaxes, director Joe Russo ratchets up the boom factor. So while Captain America doesn't exactly add anything new to the superhero canon, it yields an exciting story full of intrigue while centred on themes of patriotism, diplomacy and honour. Tyrone's Verdict: B

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MAKING A POINT: This week's food for thought featuring Maxine Henry-Wilson, Rev. Ronald Thwaites, Carol Aina, Donovan Stanberry and Father Richard HoLung

"I felt it was the right time. Younger men will have to step forward and lead the Missionaries of the Poor into the future. I will still help and be active." -- 74-year-old Father Richard HoLung announcing the culmination of his tenure as head of the Missionaries of the Poor after three-plus decades 

"It has been a wonderful year, particularly because it's our 40th anniversary year and we ensured that we continues to display how good the school is." -- Principal Carol Aina of the Norman Manley Law School on the venerable regional institution's latest mega-milestone 

"We take the issue of climate change seriously, and this is indicated by the government's injection of funds to take some measures against the possible threat. The intention is to protect our sector and our coasts from the threat of climate change." -- Permanent Secretary Donovan Stanberry on new efforts being undertaken by the Ministry of Agriculture 

"We have to look at new ways of presenting what we have; we have to look at new assessment methods. Everybody won't learn the same way; people have different abilities. How do you measure all those different abilities that people have? There is much to be done to transform the sector and build a coherent, synergistic system. This must be standard-driven, not based on individual institutional measurements." -- Commissioner and CEO of the Jamaica Tertiary Education Commission (TEC), Maxine Henry-Wilson on current approaches to research at the tertiary level 

"Research has shown a direct link between the success of a country and the education of its people. It is our aim that, especially during this week, our children will spend more time reading and stimulating their young minds." -- Education minister Ronald Thwaites addressing the National Reading Week opening ceremony at Allman Town Primary in Kingston recently. The week was observed under the theme "A great reader makes a great leader."

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Wednesday, 9 April 2014

LOTUS LIVING: Bena Nakawuki champions the year-round benefits of natural health and raw-food nutrition

VITAL STUFF: The Lotus Line invites Jamaicans to make healthier lifestyle choices.

Given the jaw-dropping rates of common lifestyle diseases (diabetes, heart disease, The Big C, etc.) among Jamaicans, it should come as no surprise that more and more of us are giving greater consideration to our overall health and well-being -- and increasingly looking to natural health products and services to savour the life-altering benefits they offer our bodies.

That's precisely why Bena Nakawuki conceived of and established The Lotus line, which provides an appealing range of "superfoods" and "detox juices", training and consultation services to help more Jamaicans discover the life-saving power of nutrients found in food, a greater spiritual connection to food, increased mental clarity, and even better reproductive health, endurance and vitality.

"I've always had a passion for wellness generally," explains Nakawuki, a thirtysomething Ugandan nutritionist and raw-food advocate who has called Jamaica home for the past decade-and-a-half. "I love natural foods, raw foods, and those kinds of things, and to feel the benefits first-hand is something I wanna share."

With clients in Kingston, Montego Bay, Ocho Rios and other spots across the country, most of Bena's days are spent helping everyday folks strike a healthier balance in their approach to food, fitness and healthy living. "I teach workshops and classes as well," she informs TALLAWAH, before making mention of the hands-on training in food preparation, private catering jobs, personal chef services and retreats that her company also organizes.

Unsurprisingly, Bena says she's giving serious thought to taking her natural-health message regionally while setting her sights on taking the Lotus brand globally. "I think the Caribbean as a whole could benefit from just more awareness about natural health," observes Bena, an avid sports enthusiast who is equally passionate about arts and culture. "When we look to the West, they're already on board with the whole wellness campaign, with things like Meatless Mondays, and ho eating less meat can have a positive impact not just physically but on the environment and the planet overall."

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MISS CONGENIALITY: Radiant beauty Kerrie-Ann Baylis riffs on style, family, and supporting great causes

THE KERRIE EFFECT: Above, with a staffer at the Russian Embassy last September. Below, calling on PM Portia Simpson-Miller at Jamaica House in October.

Though impossibly fresh-faced and preternaturally gorgeous, Kerrie-Ann Baylis, 25, is more, way more than just a pretty face. The reigning Miss Jamaica Universe has a mind for serving the Jamaican community by aligning her star power with key projects aimed at transforming lives. Case in point: the National Blood Bank/Lucozade donation drive, which opened on Monday at the Girl Guides HQ in Kingston, where Baylis was on hand to motivate the young first-time donors (the KC boys seemed particularly excited to be in her company) and bring TALLAWAH up to speed on how she's been fulfilling her life's purpose.

TALLAWAH: Why was it important for you to endorse this Lucozade/National Blood Transfusion Service initiative? 
Baylis: Many people know this already because I have made no secret of it: my sister Katrina has a very rare disorder which affects her bone marrow and her ability to produce blood cells. She often needs blood donations, so this is a cause that's very dear to me; it hits home. And when Lucozade asked me to be a part of it I was more than happy to join forces with them. Something that I've always wanted to do is keep my own blood drive. I think people need to realize how important it is to give blood. It's all about raising awareness because the blood banks are very low constantly.

It's been quite a year for you. How have you been enjoying the ride?
My reigning year has been very busy, eventful, exciting. All of the above. Going to Russia to represent Jamaica was great because I always enjoy going to new places. It was my first time in Russia so I had to get used to the cold weather. But I think that's one of the benefits of actually being in a pageant like that; you get to travel the world and experience different cultures and meet new people. The Miss Universe pageant itself and just being an ambassador on a whole takes a lot of hard work. You quickly realize that it's not all glamour and red carpets as some people might think.

Apart from blood donation awareness, what are the other projects of national import you hope to get involved with?
The list is endless, so I try to help in as many different areas as I can. Having this platform, a lot of people come up to you, which helps. I try to say yes to everything that comes my way where I know I can make a difference.
What's next for you professionally?
I have a few things in the pipeline I can't mention quite yet. Just keep an eye out.

Let's switch gears and talk relationships. Do you see a spouse and kids in your future?
Hahaha! Not anytime soon, but we'll see.

What's one thing people would be surprised to discover that Kerrie Baylis is into?
I actually enjoy very simple things. I don't get much downtime, so when I do I very much like spending time with the family. I love going to the beach and visiting different parts of Jamaica and exploring the natural beauty that we have on this island.

You're always so impeccably turned out for your appearances. What does style mean to you?
I think style is a great way for people to express themselves, and especialy as a woman how you feel on the inside is reflected on the outside. No matter how I'm feeling, I make sure that I wake up and I dress up. It really brings out what I'm feeling and boosts your confidence. I love fashion and I love style; it's my little way of expressing myself. 

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THICKER THAN WATER: Jamaica's Blood Bank and Lucozade mark ten years of a life-saving partnership

LIFE SUPPORT: Healthy Jamaicans aged 17-60 years can act as blood donors.

"The Blood Bank is always in need. Right now we should be getting 70,000 units of blood per year from donors, and we're only getting about half of that amount." A sobering revelation there from Sonjay Radway, one of the dozen or so nurses we encountered during Monday's blood drive (a two-day event) at the Girl Guides Headquarters in Kingston.

Since 2004, Lucozade and the National Blood Transfusion Service have been partnering to drive home the message to Jamaicans that safe blood saves lives and to spread the knowledge among the young that blood donation is a vital part of everyday life.

"We have a great concern because not enough persons come to give blood on a regular basis. So we are always in need," Radway explains. "But we've been doing our best to encourage people as much as possible, so we do a bit of marketing to make the process a bit more enticing, especially to the young people.'

And that's where Lucozade, a subsidiary of the GlaxoSmithKline conglomerate, enters the picture, putting on the two-day event with giveaways and musical entertainment to complete the package. "This is our tenth year of putting on this blood drive, and it all came out of realizing that there is a great need," notes Rebeth Streete, Lucozade's Caribbean Marketing Manager. "And it's a great fit for our brand because we're all about replenishing your energy and your fluids once you've given blood."

In addition to the numerous adults we encountered, Monday's event was also supported by reigning Miss Jamaica Universe Kerrie Baylis, a few reggae acts, as well as students of corporate area high schools like Immaculate Conception High and Kingston College, who all seemed to be enjoying themselves for the most part.

"We have watched it grow over the 10 years, and we're really grateful to persons who continue to support us," says Streete. "More and more schools have come on board; the young people are realizing that they can discard all the myths and appreciate that it's a healthy and life-saving thing to do."

Who can donate blood? Healthy people as young as 17 years and as mature as 60 years. "You need to think first of all that there's a bigger mission, and that is helping to save lives," Streete advises. "There are many occasions when people have relatives who need donations, or they themselves need blood for surgery after an accident or whatever the case may be. Donating blood means you're going to help someone else and, in the long run, you may end up helping yourself."

To learn more about the National Blood Transfusion Service and their "One Love, One Blood Partnership for Life" campaign, visit 21 Slipe Road, Kingston.

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