Monday, 30 March 2015

MAGIC MIKE: Champion sprinter Michael O'Hara reflects on success, reveals his favourite things

VIEW FROM THE TOP: O'Hara, posing with the Mortimer Geddes Trophy at Calabar High on Monday.

Blessed with astonishing speed and vitality, he copped four gold medals for eventual champions Calabar High at Boys' Champs on the weekend - making him, next to Wolmer's star boy Jaheel Hyde, the most outstanding male athlete to grace the track at the championships this year. Michael O'Hara is a name Jamaica had better get used to. 

His self-confidence on the field of play and his regal air off it can't be missed and, in a nutshell, he possesses what we call the spirit indomitable. Where does his come from? "It comes from my mother [Kereen Williams]; I take everything off her," reveals the teen phenom and team captain, who is just two years shy of his 20th birthday. "My dad [Sidney] inspire me a lot, but my mom is mostly responsible for me becoming who I am today."

We are catching up at Monday's thanksgiving-themed morning devotion at the Red Hills Road-based school, where moments earlier he addressed the jubilant school crowd, a sea of white and khaki, to deafening cheers. A hero's welcome home. Later telling us about his successful captaincy of the squad, being leader of the Calabar Lions, he admits, "It's rough. To get a group of boys to stay focused and get quality results is difficult. But I'd watched the other captains in previous years, and I kinda worked off what I saw them do, and I think that made us a much better team."

Everyone from principal Albert Corcho to board chairman Rev. Karl Johnson to his teammmates sing Michael's praises, drawing attention to his charisma and innate leadership abilities. "Michael is an excellent student. He gets a lot of respect and he's also very respectful," Principal Corcho tells TALLAWAH. "And he does well academically. He's doing three CAPE units at the moment, and we expect him to pass all of them. The challenge for us now is balancing his athleic talent and the academics." 

When it comes to his bright future, for Michael (who specializes in the sprint double, as well as the sprint hurdles and 4X100M relay) the possibilities are endless. "I am going after opportunities that I know will make me a better athlete and a better man," he says. "There is always room for improvement."

> > MICHAEL'S PICKS: Getting to know the star sprinter

Favourite reggae and dancehall artistes: Popcaan and Kartel, of course. 

Favourite home-cooked meal: Stew peas and white rice 

Celebrity crushes: Rihanna and Tifa 

Sporting heroes: Usain Bolt, Asafa Powell and Warren Weir 

Three things he can't live without: My mother, father and cellphone 

The book he couldn't put down: Fifty Shades of Grey was a very interesting book. No details necessary. That's all I'm saying. (Laughs). 

Zodiac Sign: Libra 

Quality he likes most in friends: Being supportive and keeping me on the right track, no matter what. 

Most memorable movies: Takers, Transformers and Red 

Life after Calabar: I have UWI in mind, but we haven't decided what's going to happen. But I'm definitely not leaving Jamaica.

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SENDING A MESSAGE: Earth Hour concert unites artistes and activists in musical celebration

RAISING HER VOICE:Songstress Kelissa was among the musical acts who thrilled the large crowd

It's not very often that you see reggae's megawatt stars trying to blend in with us regular folk, enjoying a quiet change of pace for a change. Chronixx tried in vain to do just that at Saturday's well-attended Earth Hour concert at the Ranny Williams Entertainment Centre, supplying background vocals for his sistren Kelissa and joining younger bro Keznamdi to perform a spirited duet that won over the crowd and brought his fans scurrying to the front of the stage with phones and cameras in tow. Afterward, he joined the corps of backing musicians seated on stage.

But, in the end, the events universal significance outweighed the hefty star power that it attracted from the music fraternity. A global observance in respectful tribute to Mother Earth, Earth Hour was sparking a musical celebration in Jamaica for the third consecutive year, thanks in large part to the determination of the team, in partnership with brands like the Jamaica Tourist Board, the Gleaner Online, and the Nuh Dutty Up Jamaica campaign.

Chronixx's surprise appearance aside, the main highlight of the near three-hour concert was the lighting and ascension of about 100 white lanterns (starting promptly at 8:30pm) that lit up the night sky overhead. With all the venue's lights extinguished, patrons whipped out their smartphones, video cameras, Ipads and tablets to capture the visceral moment, making for a thoroughly modern celebration.

But it was a concert after all, so the live show resumed in earnest afterward, featuring the crowd-pleasing stylings of Nesbeth, Mario Evon, BlackAsCole, and several others. Music and message laced together in pitch-perfect harmony.

Earth Hour is undoubtedly one of those singular annual events where you truly sense that, as citizens of the world, we are showing some regard for the place we all call home.

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Saturday, 28 March 2015

THE BUZZ REPORT: Five Things We're Talking About

THE KID: He's a legend in the making whose name has become synonymous with astonishing performances on the track. Jaheel Hyde's latest stunner came on Day Four of the ISSA/Grace Kennedy Boys Athletics Championships, where the golden boy powered his way to a new national junior record in the Boys' Class One 400M hurdles at the National Stadium. Per media reports, Hyde's time of 49.01 seconds (down from 49.49) is the second fastest time in the world so far this year, bettered only by the American Michael Stigler (University of Kansas, the Texas Relays), who clocked 48.44 on Friday. Hyde is also a top contender for the gold in the Class One 110 M hurdles, one of the key events expected to bring the crowd to its feet on Saturday's final day of the championships. At the end of Friday's events, Edwin Allen held a commanding lead of 131 points among the girls, while Calabar High was in front on the boys' side with 104 points.

SECOND TIME AROUND: It was there, in May 2008, that he stunned the world by shattering the world 100M record, setting a new time of 9.72 seconds, subsequently lowered in Beijing. Now, seven years later, Usain Bolt is making his long-awaited return to the Adidas Grand Prix, set for June 13 in New York City. We're expecting another magical performance from Jamaica's sprint king. The organizers have already dubbed it the 'Bolt homecoming', and the event is expected to draw tens of thousands of spectators to the Icahn Stadium. The Adidas Grand Prix is the latest addition to the growing list of meets the World's Fastest Man will grace this season in the run-up to the 15th IAAF World Athletics Championships in Beijing, China, in August. On July 9, Bolt will face the starter at the Areva Diamond League meeting in Paris. Before that, on April 19, he'll treat his South American fans to an appearance at the Mano a Mano meet at Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro, where he'll compete in a special 100M exhibition race for the second year in a row.

VOICE OF REASON: Call it the end of an era. After hosting the long-running call-in programme for almost three decades, Barbara Gloudon and RJR FM's Hotline are parting company. Confirming the news in an email distributed to staff on Friay, Gary Allen, Managing Director of the RJR Group, hailed Gloudon as "a creative genius" who's given stalwart service to the country. "This brings to a close one chapter of her association with RJR 94FM, which she embarked on some three decades ago. We wish to place on record our sincere appeciation for her service to the nation via the Hotline programme, even as we look forward to engaging with her in other capacities moving forward," Allen said. Remaining with the RJR FM family, but in a slightly different role, Gloudon is set to host an upcoming Sunday afternoon programme at the station. No word yet as to whether she will be taking on-air calls.

CALLED TO SERVE: Hearty congrats to Jeffrey McKenzie, a noted man of the cloth, who's been appointed the new Custos Rotolorum of St. Catherine. Pastor of the landmark Phillipo Baptist Church in Spanish Town, McKenzie's appointment will take effect on April 1, according to the office of the Governor General Sir Patrick Allen, who recently presented the new custos with his instrument of appointment. McKenzie succeeds Sophia Azan, also a reverend, who has retired after 12 years in the role. 

SHOW TIME: It's the single most anticipated theatrical event of the year, so naturally the production team is pulling out all the stops. To help make King David the musical a truly unforgettable affair, Father HoLung and Friends have reportedly enlisted reggae superstars Shaggy and Tarrus Riley to contribute material for the show's soundtrack. Excellent choices, given their impressive track record and knack for tuneful, crowd-pleasing records. Meanwhile, we're dying to hear who's been cast in the lead roles for the show that opens at the National Arena in early May. Father HoLung productions always play before capacity crowds, with special days set aside for student audiences, and if the early buzz is anything to go by it's a rousing and visually stunning hit-in-the-making.

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Friday, 27 March 2015

MAN OF THE MOMENT: Is actor Glen Campbell having the best Easter ever?

HEAD OF THE CLASS: Campbell (centre), with costars, in Saving Alligator High

For Glen Campbell, starring in the vibrant TV ads for Maxfield Easter Bun that always come on this time of year brings him the kind of attention usually reserved for spotlight regulars, meaning things get really weird sometimes, but in an amazing way. "Some people think that because I'm in the commercial I work at [Maxfield] and always have bun to give away. So everywhere I go no, people are asking me for Easter bun," Campbell recalls, laughing. They even show up at his house, he adds, asking his mom for the bun Glen left for them. Like I said, weird. 

While starring in Patrick Brown's now-classic comedy series Titus, Campbell and his co-star Rosie Murray were approached by marketing personnel from Maxfield to appear in the TV ad they were working on. Of course they said yes. 25 years later, Campbell is still tight with the Maxfield fam. "It's a family business, so the mother has now passed on the responsibilities to the son, who has seen it fit to continue the association with Skatta, the character that I play." 

In 2015, Glen Campbell has more or less becomes the face of finger-lickin Easter, given his association with not just Maxfield Bakery but the immensely popular Tastee Cheese as well. And it's purely by coincidence - and a stroke of good fortune on Campbell's part. Much deserved, too, when one considers the actor's high-wattage theatre and TV career that spans decades and has arguably made him the quintessential Jamaican leading man of his generation. 

"The best part for me is the visibility because as actors we do need it," Campbell explains. "As you know the industry is very fickle and there are actors who have spent years and years performing on stage and then they are just forgotten. So it feels good to be recognized and to get this kind of support." 

And speaking of acknowledgement, the much-laurelled comedy veteran could be adding more shiny hardware to his collection later this month when he vies for Best Actor at the March 30 Actor Boy Awards. "My thing is that once you're nominated it says something about the level of work that you're doing; your peers figure your work is of such a standard that it warrants recognition," reflects the star, who is nominated for his memorable turn in Saving Alligator High and is up for a Thespy for Funnny Kind 'A Love. "But the work is what drives me and keeps me motivated. We have a thing here where every night before we go on stage we remind ourselves that we were born to do this." 

As he tells it, the high point of Alligator High this season has to do with the rare chance to slip into the guise of one of the most challenging yet rewarding professions ever - the role of a schoolteacher. "I have given workshops, done seminars and given talks at different schools, and I take my hat off to teachers. They are made of a different mettle than the average human being. Mi nuh have that at all. Teaching takes a lot," Campbell, who turned 50 last year, admits. 

But that doesn't mean he didn't knock himself out researching the role of cricket-loving maths prof Jeff Jones - and turning it out on stage every night for the audience. "The preparation was very eye-opening as to what Jamaican teachers are faced with, particularly the tools they need to get the job done and the lack thereof," Campbell observes. "So I think the play, and Patrick's writing, very cleverly highlights the plight of students and teachers and how we can improve the education system on a whole."

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WATCH THE THRONE: School of Drama's Oedipus offers a solid take on a stage classic

MEN OF VALOUR: Roye (as The King) and Burke (as Creon) settle their differences.

As far as classic stage tragedies go, if William Shakespeare's Hamlet has any deserving equal it's Oedipus the King by Sophocles, a wrenching Greek masterpiece that's as relevant today as it was back in the BC era. It gets a fresh, strongly acted and visually stunning interpretation at the School of Drama this month, thanks to the brilliance of visionary director Robert 'Bobby' Clarke and a fine cast of student actors who bring the complex work to life with palpable gusto and rousingly fierce performances.

It's by no means a flawless show, however; the production team takes a few creative liberties with aspects of the original source material and it's a tad too long. But the production is, in all fairness, a success beautifully lit, the costumes are gorgeously designed, and the whole thing is anchored by a highly commendable lead turn by Damornay Roye as the titular ruler who must face the inconvenient truth that absolute power corrupts absolutely. Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.

The story is set in the city of Thebes, a land plagued by disease and a raft of social ills. The people look to the king for answers but he has problems of his own, caught up as he is dodging plots of treachery, ironing out family issues, and coming to terms with his destiny and his mortality. We watch, riveted, as Oedipus clashes with his strong-willed brother-in-law Creon (a solid DuVaughn Burke), square off against a blind prophetess (Joylene Alexander, terrific) and rattle his high-strung wife (Imaresha Smith-Cooke). And, like Hamlet, he's practically driven mad by the overwhelming circumstances.

Laden with eloquent speeches and moments that are deeply moving, both Hamlet and Oedipus keenly observe their respective creators' clear fascination with the doings of rich, regal, powerful men and the mistrust, disloyalty and thirst for revenge that pushes them to the edge. As both works climax, the actions of their heroes bear dire consequences and lead to unspeakable tragedy.

It's tricky adapting such a magna opus for today's audiences, but Clarke, a veteran director with the LTM National Pantomime, has proven he's game for (almost) anything. His ambitious take on Sophocles' vision has it hiccups, but as a whole it's nothing short of enlightening and full of visual interest. Tyrone's Verdict: B+

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Thursday, 26 March 2015

ON HER MIND: Yvonne Chin reflects on her roots and becoming a woman in full

HER BRILLIANT CAREER: The radiant hostess brightens the studio at Television Jamaica.

If you were to take a peek at Schools' Challenge Quiz hostess Yvonne Chin-Irving's long list of all the things she wants to accomplish in her next chapter, you'd probably find her dream of collaborating with and mentoring Jamaican youth at the top. "Young people really matter to me, and it's my dream to work with as many of them as I can, helping them attain the life skills necessary for future success," says Chin-Irving, who currently teaches television production at both UTech and UWI. "A lot of them don't know that they have to have a dream. Many of them need guidance and to learn how to be disciplined and manage their time wisely. I want to help where I can. God has been good to me, so I want to be good to others." 

Never has this been more clearer in Yvonne's mind than during her current stint as a quizmistress for Schools' Challenge Quiz, after spending some seven years in the UK, working in public relations at the Commonwealth Secretariat. But Yvonne's no stranger to the SCQ experience, however, having served the show back in the 90s when TV J had a different name, and she was a rising media star earning her stripes. So for those of us who've been admirers of hers since those halcyon days, she'll always be that on-camera pro whose disarming aura and megawatt star power light up the screen. 

In person today, she's just as down-to-earth and sincere as one would expect. The consummate professional. Having a conversation with her after a recent quiz match at TV-J, I ask if she still gets nervous when the cameras are rolling. "Yes and no. My nervousness has more to do with other things than being on-camera," she responds with a laugh. "I'm at my most relaxed when I am extremely well-prepared and have worked out in my mind all the possible scenarios that could arise while I'm on." 

By her own admission, the Schools' Challenge Quiz experience of 2015 is a cut way above that of yesteryear. "It's totally different; it's a whole new ball game," says the veteran presenter. "As simple as [being a quizmistress] looks, it's a demanding job. You have to be on top of things, keeping the pace, maintaining the clarity. But the judges are brilliant and they provide a lot of support." 

Now 42, Yvonne Chin-Irving got her start in journalism at 16, hosting the hip and informative show Rappin' that catered largely to a teenage crowd. She followed that up with a stint at Power 106 before moving on to the RJR Group, where she worked the news desk and later served as a producer for Smile Jamaica in the early days. A St. Hugh's High alumna, Yvonne counts the late great Wycliffe Bennett and the Atlanta-based voice trainer Judith Sullivan among her heroes. A product of St. Andrew's Kintyre community, she currently holds two Master degrees - in Business Administration (Lancaster University) and television journalism, courtesy of a Chevening scholarship. 

But perhaps the most life-changing part of her remarkable journey was the period she spent at the Commonwealth Secretariat, from which she "just got back to Jamaica," home sweet home. "I am extremely thankful for that experience.I was able to grow so much and become a more rounded person in the truest sense of the word," she recalls. 

Among other valuable lessons, she's come away with a renewed respect for the tireless efforts of world leaders. "To hear prime ministers talk about their work and listen as government ministers address their different challenges was just fascinating to me," she says. "I'd always been pro-development, but that experience totally opened my eyes."

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Wednesday, 25 March 2015

CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK: LMH Publishing on the cutting edge + Kudos for Oedipus actors + Bolt to renew his Brazilian connection

THE LEGS HAVE IT: Brazil wants more Bolt. For the second year in a row, the World's Fastest Man has been invited to headline the Mano a Mano 100M sprint in Copacabana, Rio de Janeiro. Incidentally, Rio is hosting the 2016 Summer Olympic Games, where Bolt is hoping to create more history when he lines up for the sprint double and the sprint relay. Meanwhile, marking a repeat of last year's event, Bolt will compete against three other sprinters on the 100M track, at the Mano a Mano meet on April 19. Watch a clip HERE of the Jamaican sprinter's run at the 2014 staging. 

COSTUME DRAMA: Season after season, student actors at the Edna Manley College's School of Drama never fail to astonish with performances so committed and luminous that one can only conclude that the school's faculty is doing its job! This semester is no exception, with a trio of genial turns emerging from their first major production of the year, Sophocles' Oedipus the King, a fresh and solidly acted interpretation, helmed by Robert 'Bobby' Clarke (Princess Boonoonoonoos). Damornay Roye (as the titular king of Thebes), DuVaughn Burke (his tough-minded brother-in-law Creon) and a regal Joylene Alexander (as Teiresias the blind prophetess) are the standouts in a cast brimming with exceptional talent. Roye, in particular, is in splendid form, nailing the strength and steely stupor as an embattled monarch coming to terms with the inconvenient truth that uneasy lies the head that wears a crown and absolute power corrupts absolutely. 

MAKING STRIDES: An air of crisp modernity courses through the offices of LMH Publishing these days, and this new mood is a reflection of the company's renewed vision of catering to their ever-expanding customer base as the swift shifts in literary technology keep everybody on their toes. "A lot of the focus right now is on e-books, and not just in publishing but in the book industry on a whole," reports the ever-enterprising Dawn Henry, who's been kept busy ushering the company into most vibrant yet increasingly challenging new era. "Book sales are down on a whole, so what we've been doing is tapping into all the new platforms that publishers are using to attract readers all over the world. So now our website is playing a major role where that is concerned. For the past few years, LMH has made significant strides in academic publishing, churning out a raft of educational texts for CXC students in particular, which Henry told TALLAWAH are being gobbled up by the schools across Jamaica. As for what's next, more educational stuff is in the pipeline, as well as new works by some of the company's most popular authors and at least two autobiographies from boldface Jamaican names, which she predicts will be flying off the shelves. "It's too early to give details," Henry said, doing her best to contain her glee, "but these are books that everybody will be talking about."

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Tuesday, 24 March 2015

GAME, SET, MATCH: Former Archer pupils win big at TV J for their late mentor

WE ARE FAMILY: The Ardenne-ites (from left) Falconer, Giles, Gordon and Dunn.

The four-member Masters team that represented the Ardenne High family inside the TV J studios on Monday morning didn't lack for motivation as they went up against a St. Jago High quartet, largely because they had come together to pay tribute to their fallen hero Rev. Glen Archer, in whose honour the friendly match was being staged this year. A fun, light atmosphere enveloped the studio once quizmaster Kalando Wilmot got the ball rolling and judges Ave McIntosh and Theresa Easy - and a sizeable audience - took their seats.

Overall, it was a spirited encounter, keenly contested by both sides, but in the end Ardenne's team managed to surge ahead to secure the victory. (You'll have to tune in to TV J later this week to see for yourself and to get the final score.) "This result was very important to us because we came here to win and do our alma mater and Rev. Archer proud," captain Keenan Falconer, who represented Ardenne in Schools' Challenge Quiz from 2012-13, told TALLAWAH. "We were told about the match only three weeks ago, and we had only yesterday to practise as a team, so the preparation was very limited."

Still, despite the odds, Falconer (Ardenne's current SCQ head coach) felt they pulled off a job well done, a performance of which Rev. Archer, a man of notoriously high standards would have approved. "He was a colossus, and his legacy is well-respected by all of us. It's not a minor achievement by any standard," Falconer said. Anthony Williams, who chaperoned the team, heartily concurred. "[Archer] was a stalwart, a man of great educational and inspirational legacy who lived up to our school motto, 'With God as our guide, we seek the best.'"

That's why winning the 2015 SCQ championship would mean the world to not only Falconer and Williams, but the entire Ardenne family and their throngs of supporters. "It would certainly add to the school's profile as the most sought-after secondary institution in Jamaica," observed Williams, a past head boy. On Wednesday of this week, Ardenne (the 2013 champs) will face perennial powerhouses Kingston College in the semi-final round to book a place in the grand finale, set for March 31, against either Campion College or St. Jago High. 

"We're looking forward to it, because [KC] beat us last year and we want to settle the score," Falconer noted. But, when all is said and done, winning the title for their dearly departed coach and mentor is perhaps the greatest motivation they'll ever need. "Winning the match on Wednesday and going on to win the finals would be exceptional, and the best possible tribute to him."

For the Masters match, the St. Jago family was represented by Greg Drummond, Desmond Campbell, Dalton Martin and Shawn Henry, while Ardenne's players were Dujon Dunn, Akeem Gordon, Janielle Giles, and Falconer.

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KEEPING IT REAL: Author K. Sean Harris spins juicy tales that captivate and titillate

ROYAL SEAT: "When you're shining bright, the spotlight finds you," Harris reflects.

Neatly arranged near the top left hand corner of K. Sean Harris' work desk is a stack of about seven novels, his own creations, boasting such titles as The Stud, Merchants of Death, Redemption and The Snake Charmer. That's only a handful of the books Harris has penned and published over the course of his decade-long writing career, consequently winning a legion of fans who can't get enough of his combustible mix of sex, relationship drama, harsh socio-economic realities and the scourge of crime across Jamaica.

A long-serving managing editor at LMH Publishing, who publishes his work under his own imprint Book Fetish, the Kingston native prides himself on the eclectic number of genres he's tackled and his prolific output at least two books a year, thank you very much. The keenly observant and immensely private scribe (he won't even reveal his age!) is gearing up to publish his 20th book, a wide-ranging story collection titled The Flying Ostrich, due out in May, while basking in the buzz that his most recent release, Queen of the Damned 2, is generating at home and abroad.

Last week, TALLAWAH called on this stalwart storyteller at his office at LMH to talk about his burgeoning literary career, why he shuns the spotlight, and his message for those who say reading is boring.

TALLAWAH: As a relentlessly productive Jamaican author you've published more than a dozen novels, including a number of sequels, yet your fans and the wider public knows hardly anything about you. Is that deliberate?
Harris: I don't put myself out there; that's just me. And I won't change that approach just because I've reached a certain level of success. I want to be able to look back and say I did it my way. I just do the writing, get the book published and let the work do its job.

TALLAWAH: So you're not one who craves the spotlight? 
Harris: I'm more of a reserved person, and again I just don't see the need. The work will speak for itself. And I trust the rhythm of the universe. When you're shining bright the spotlight finds you; you don't have to seek it out.

TALLAWAH: Who are some the authors who pulled you into the literary world as young writer still puzzling out your voice? 
Harris: I've been an avid reader since I was about six. And as I got older, the kids I knew were reading the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew books. But I was more into books by Sidney Sheldon and Robert Ludlum. I never planned to write, so I wouldn't say I have any major influences. About ten years ago, I wanted to publish a collection of erotic Jamaican stories, but the person who was supposed to do the writing couldn't deliver, so I ended up writing the book myself. And I've been writing ever since.

TALLAWAH: And now here you are, 19 books later. How do you define yourself as a storyteller?
Harris: Life is my muse. I like to tackle real-life issues I find other writers are afraid to write about, especially sex. When I'm writing I don't censor myself. I'll go in depth. I like to create organically. I don't write with the audience in mind. I just tell the story.

TALLAWAH: Through your managerial job at LMH, you have the clout to take a person's work from edited manuscript to published hard copy. As an editor, what are you usually looking for?
Harris: First and foremost, you're looking for a good book, something that's well-written, relevant and complements our catalogue. As you know we are known for books that are mainly based in Jamaica, but we want the kinds of stories that can be exported abroad. Show the world that we can compete with anybody in terms of talent and quality.

TALLAWAH: What are you currently reading? 
Harris: I won't call any names, but I'm reading a lot of esoteric material at the moment. It's what I'm drawn to right now, but I have my next fiction book lined up: The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. 

TALLAWAH: If you were to toot your own horn for a bit, what would you say has got so many readers hooked on K. Sean Harris? 
Harris: I would say my storytelling ability is top-of-the-line. I have the utmost respect for my abilities. The consensus is that when you pick up one of my books, you better have time on your hands and a comfortable seat because you're gonna be there for a while. You have those people who say reading is boring. Well, they're definitely reading the wrong books. 

> For more on K. Sean Harris and his body of work, visit

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Monday, 23 March 2015

ARTIST SPOTLIGHT: Actor-singer Rudy Tomlinson on Ashé's growth, creative challenges, and plans for the future

CROWD PLEASER: "For me ambition means using my talent to inspire and empower," says the actor, in a scene (above) from Ded Leff.

As far as multi-talented Jamaican singer-actors go, Rudolph 'Rudy' Tomlinson is fast establishing himself as a force to be reckoned with  a versatile performer who can move quite easily between rocking the stage with impeccable vocal dynamics at a Redbones concert to thrilling theatregoers in stage plays like this season's hit musical drama-comedy Ded Leff (from Ashé), in which he gives a memorable star turn as an aging rural father whose difficult son re-enters his life after years abroad. TALLAWAH dropped in on the 26-year-old stage vet (Dreamgirls, Moses, Ah Soh It Go) to hear about life as a modern leading man, the early exposure to the arts that changed his life, and his game plan for the future.

TALLAWAH: You've banked stage time with Father HoLung & Friends, the JMTC, Robin Baston and Ashé, among other troupes. What's it usually like working with a big ensemble cast?
Tomlinson: It's a very good experience because before I joined Ashe I learnt a lot from doing shoes with Father HoLung and JMTC. Now I am able to pass on my knowledge and use my experience to teach the younger castmates and help them grow as well. We're learning while growing, and it's a fun cast. We live like sisters and brothers. We're a family.

TALLAWAH: Indeed. Ashe has come a long way since the days of wonder kids Rovleta, Roslyn and Keisha. What do you make of the group's evolutionary curve?
Tomlinson: I think the company has evolved tremendously, and that's mainly because of the work that we put in. [Ashé] is now at a level where we can own our own theatre. Certain standards have been set, and it's now for us to follow those standards and go beyond. They set the mark; now we have to carry on the legacy. 

TALLAWAH: You're a Papine High old boy. How did life up there prepare you for the artistic journey you're on now? 
Tomlinson: It's funny because I was actually thinking about that the other day. I did lot of JCDC festivals in high school, and that's where I got my first opportunity to expose my talent to Jamaica. When I was 13, I got to work with Father HoLung for the first time. We did Amazing Grace, [in which] I played a character named Half Pint. It was my first time playing a lead role. And that's basically how I got started. 

TALLAWAH: In Ded Leff you portray Desmond, a father who experiences a kind of 'prodigal son' moment when Jonathan shows up out of the blue. Could you relate to your character's roller-coaster of emotions? 
Tomlinson: It was a real challenge, but one that I enjoyed. To get the character I knew I had to do some research. You know, think of my own father and what he is like as a father. Desmond is filled with regret over not having had a proper relationship with his son. It wasn't a situation I could relate to from any personal experience, but it wasn't hard to imagine when I was creating the character. 

TALLAWAH: In addition to being a vocalist and an Edna Manley College undergrad [Music - Voice] you're a budding thespian. How will the Rudy Tomlinson story unfold from here on? 
Tomlinson: I definitely want a successful solo career in music. I also see myself doing musical theatre on Broadway. I'm going to get there some day. For me ambition means using my talent to inspire and empower. I can use my gifts to do a vast amount of things, and I want others to see that they can do the same. I've been exposed to many different genres of performance, and I want to keep going. 

TALLAWAH: What would you say is the most life-changing thing that's ever happened to you? 
Tomlinson: Seeing how much my talent has touched other people. People will come up to me after the show and say how much my performance in the production opened their eyes to certain things. That means a lot to me as a young performer who is still learning and growing  and it propels me to keep going.

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Saturday, 21 March 2015

ALL THAT GLITTERS: Committed performances, bold themes anchor slight rendering of Soyinka's Jewel

THOSE SWEET WORDS: Baruka (Crossgill), right,  makes Sidi (Sewell) a promise she can't refuse.

The Lion and the Jewel
Director: Kenny Salmon
Cast: David Crossgill, Shanice Sewell, Gabio Campbell and Christina Starz
Venue: Theatre Place, New Kingston

Depending on how you feel about hot-button issues like polygamy and the kinds of roles women were born to play, The Lion and the Jewel might just be your cup of tea or you'll be somewhat put off by it. It's a rather polarizing work, to be sure, laden with controversial adult themes. That's why it's such a surprise that it's become a fixture on the current CXC Literature syllabus. But that's another issue for another time.

A Yoruba comedy-drama from the oeuvre of Nigerian Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka, the play (staged at the Theatre Place this week) revolves around young Sidi (Shanice Sewell), a wide-eyed bush girl who is the most desired belle in the village of Ilunjinle. Small wonder that she becomes the object of passionate obsession for Baruka, a very powerful and primal brute (played with enormous swagger and feral angst by David Crossgil), who is nicknamed the Bale of Ilunjinle.

But there's another man who has his own bulging eyes on Sidi the lowly schoolteacher Lakunle (Gabio Campbell), who desperately wants to make her his bride. Trouble is, he has only sweet words with which to woo her, and a girl like Sidi is drawn to power and the promise of a future with financial security.

In any case, Baruka must have her. "It's been five full months since I've had myself a wife," he declares. Never mind that his palace is overrun with servants, including the young women he keeps at his beck and call to cater to him. The leader of the pack is Sadiku (Christina Starz, terrific), the head wife who is no longer the apple of Baruka's eye but obeys his every command nonetheless and sets about netting and 'grooming' Sidi for her master.

But does Sadiku have a hidden agenda of her own for playing along? It matters little, since her boss has made it clear that only a sexy young thing like Sidi can make him feel virile again. How this aging lion pursues his prey, combined with the play's absorbing mix of primal passion, heartbreak, betrayal and family honour, lends the story its fiercely beating heart.

As directed by Kenny Salmon, who adapted the work for the local stage to benefit students sitting the May-June CXC exams, the young energetic actors are not the most expressive, but thankfully they bring a commitment to Soyinka's weighty characterization, challenging dialogue and scene work that belies their age and inexperience.

What's more, Salmon's bare-bones honest approach to the story makes it at once accessible. And, in spite of the unflattering set design and bland lighting, the play's universal message, not to mention Soyinka's deft handling of the delicate and provocative matters inherent in his plot, strike a chord and makes the viewer connect deeply with the story. Tyrone's Verdict: B

> KNOW HER NAME: Actress Christina Starz aims high in art and life

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Friday, 20 March 2015

PEOPLE IN THE NEWS: Barack Obama's anticipated visit + Verene Shepherd to give UN address + Christa Lundh's upcoming memoir

MUST READ: One of the most highly anticipated books on our radar this season is Christa Lundh's From Hitler to Stalin to Manley in Paradise (LMH Publishing), being promoted as "a remarkable story of one woman's courage and compassion for her family amidst the turmoil of World War II and migration to Jamaica." At its core, the memoir (being launched in Kingston next month) is a candid chronicle of Lundh's eventful life and that of her extended family (mostly women) through three generations: coming of age under the tumultuous regimes of Hitler and Stalin, fleeing German communism and landing in Jamaica at the height of the Michael Manley era. "In spite of the mass exodus during the 70s," the publishers further note, "the women persevered until they built and now operate one of the more well-established family-owned businesses (in Jamaica) - the Hotel Four Seasons." 

GUEST OF HONOUR: The Leader of the Free World is coming! According to reports, US Commander-in-Chief President Barack Obama will be paying a state visit to the island April 9, on the eve of the Summit of the Americas, to be held in Panama from April 10-11. Terrific news. While in Jamaica, the US President will attend meetings with CARICOM heads for talks on a raft of pressing issues, not least among them security and trade. The CARICOM-US Summit will be co-chaired by President Obama and Bahamian Prime Minister Perry Christie, who is also the current Chairman of CARICOM. "We are confident that the visit will be marked by fruitful dialogue and exchanges," PM Portia Simpson-Miller has said, "that will serve to strengthen the close relations that exist at the bilateral level between Jamaica and the USA and between the USA and CARICOM." In 1982, Ronald Reagan was the first serving US President to visit Jamaica. 

WORLD STAGE: To mark the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, a special meeting of the United Nations General Assembly is being convened on March 20. Jamaica's own Professor Verene Shepherd will be in attendance to deliver a keynote address at the special commemorative sitting. Observing the theme "Learning from historical tragedies to combat racial discrimination today," the special sitting coincides with the commencement of the International Decade for People of African Descent 2015-2024. The current chairperson of Jamaica's National Commission on Reparations, Professor Shepherd is a member of the UN Working Group of Experts of Peoples of African Descent." 

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Thursday, 19 March 2015

ON THE DOWNLOAD: Hear these radio-ready hits from reigning reggae and dancehall hitmakers

Like a lot of the tracks in his arsenal, Protoje's latest, off his brand-new disc Ancient Future, is a flavourful, old-school sampling treat that finds the innovative reggae hitmaker dropping tight verses over a slick beat supplied by longtime collaborator Winta James. Irresistibly vintage and full of clever wordplay, the tune demands repeated listens. Take a listen. [B+]

Morgan Heritage
"Perform and Done"
You know the irresistible allure Caribbean women possess that drives men over the edge? That's precisely what Morgan Heritage is riffing on in this tune, a brassy, tell-it-like-it-is jam that's ready for the dancefloors and radio rotation. The close-knit bandmates may be all about that it's-cool-to-be-conscious vibe, but it's quite refreshing to hear and feel them bring the heat every now and again. Take a listen. [B+]

Richie Stephens feat. Bunji Garlin
"Hall of Fame"
Just in time for 2015's bacchanal season comes this pulsating high-wire anthem celebrating pride, self-worth and achievement that dually represents a fine Jamaica-Trini musical linkup. But its best selling point? Ecstatic vocals from the ever-charismatic Stephens and the fired-up adrenaline of soca warrior Garlin. Take a listen. [B+]

"Be Proud"
You can say this for Bugle: he has a spledid knack for combining hard-hitting lyrics with winning melodies. On this Daseca-produced track the ascendant hitmaker shows a respect for street-smart living, that innercity hustle and survival in the face of insurmountable odds. Easily one of the most affecting and best crafted tracks on the Advice Riddim. Take a listen. [B+]

Shaggy feat. Melissa Musique
Mr. Bombastic has more or less perfected the art of crafting pop-flavoured dancehall, and his track record speaks for itself. Now comes this mid-tempo banger, buoyed by Shaggy's lyrical swag and a candy-coated hook supplied by radiant newcomer Musique. In the end, it's a spirited collabo reminiscent of Sean Paul's 2013 hit "Got 2 Luv U", with Alexis Jordan. And that's a good thing. Take a listen. [B+]

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Wednesday, 18 March 2015

SHINING TIME: Rising actress Christina Starz follows her light, embraces her destiny

POISED TO SOAR: "I have no limits when it comes to acting," shares the up-and-comer, who has done TV, theatre and film.

The first thing you want to ask is if Christina Starz is in fact her real name. For the record, it's not. Just like Whoopi, Gaga and L.A. Lewis, it's a nome de stage adopted by the thirty-something actress who, from as far back as she can remember, has always had ambition in her heart and major-league stardom on her mind.

"From I was in primary school I've been writing my own skits and performing in shows at church," shares Christina, who grew up in Montego Bay, completing studies at Mount Alvernia High before moving on to Kenilworth HEART Academy in neighbouring Hanover and a stint in the Turks & Caicos Islands. "I aspired to learn everything I could about acting, so I would watch a lot of movies and study what the actors did."

Years later, Christina's strategy is paying off and she's steadily reaping the fruits, landing roles in everything from small films (Jollywood's Cane and Abel, Protecting Harris) to television (Royal Palm Estate) to commercial theatre (When the Cat's Away, the Thespy-nominated Laff It Off, which she sums up as one of the best experiences of her life.)

Unsurprisingly, doing mainstream theatre has presented a steep learning curve for the actress who faced the toughest (and most thrilling) transformation challenge of her burgeoning career when she landed the plum role of headstrong first wife Sudika in Kenny Salmon's version of Nigerian luminary Wole Soyinka's The Lion and the Jewel, playing this week for a limited engagement at New Kingston's Theatre Place.

"Taking on a character like [Sadiku] is a joy because you get to escape into another culture and become somebody that is nothing like you," she says of doing the play, a Yoruba comedy-drama exploring family, honour and polygamy. "I'm a fan of African shows and I love different dialects. I've always wanted to do speak Nigerian so that helped me in preparing. I always go back to the movies whenever I'm trying to get something right." Trust us, she gets it right, nailing Sadiku's nurturing traits as well as her vindictive tendencies. She even wrote a couple of the songs that are performed in the production.

For Christina, who appeared as Sonny T's nurse on Royal Palm and will next costar in the ensemble comedy Bashy Big Yard, there is no limit to what she hopes to achieve in the years to come, as she sets her sight on finely honing her craft and raising her game on her journey to the top.

"I see myself doing more movies and embracing the broader spectrum of theatre," says Christina, who is simultaneously getting her feet wet in the beauty biz with an all-natural total-body line of products, Crave Me, which she launched with a friend in December. "I don't see myself dimming at any point in my life," she predicts, waxing lyrical about her future. "I feel like no one can dim my light." And since you must know, Marshaire Rose was her given name at birth.

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LESSONS FROM RIVERTON: Widespread public debate, sobering truths in wake of Riverton Fires

NO SMOKING: Alexis, with the National Health Fund's Rosemarie Stewart, attending the NHF Wellness Festival at the Police Officers' Club on Saturday.

One of the most keenly debated news stories to come along in recent months, the fires at the Riverton City Landfill  and the resulting smoke nuisance across the capital  has for the past several days drawn strong reactions from the political boardroom to the corner barbershop, while bringing into sharp focus the shortcomings hampering the island's waste-management system. Here, TALLAWAH captures a few of the critical voices weighing in on the crisis and its implications for the country's future.

"We urge the relevant agencies to increase public education and safety in regard to proper waste disposal and the dangers of smoke inhalation. Communities in the immediate vicinity of the disposal site should be focused on as soon as possible. We hope that the Cabinet of Jamaica will be definitive and implement the necessary measures to permanently address the clear public-health risks that the Riverton landfill continues to pose."  President of the Medical Association of Jamaica (MAJ), Dr. Shane Alexis, in a release sent to the press on Monday

"We can safely say that the fire is contained and we are in a better position than we were last week. We are confident that as long as the resources there today remain operable, we will extinguish [the fire] by the weekend."  Commissioner of the Jamaica Fire Brigade, Earl Mowatt, waxing optimistic about things returning to normal

"The disaster has provided an opportunity for us to really look at how we can improve risk management across the board  at the national, corporate, community and individual levels. This situation is not new, and I believe the disruption that it has caused could have been averted."  JPS President and CEO, Kelly Tomblin, adding her voice to the debate

"An educational campaign needs to be initiated immediately on the proper handling of solid waste in the country, from the sorting to collection and treatment. These matters are of national importance, and we are going to appeal to the Government to ensure that they are followed through."  President of the Private Sector Organization of Jamaica (PSOJ), William Mahfood, speaking out on the issue

"I do not accept that I am incompetent or out of my reach. I accept the fact that I am managing a disposal site that is 55 years old, that needs a lot of resources to bring it to a certain standard. However those resources have not been forthcoming due to challenges. I believe that we have done exceptionally well in keeping even the regular garbage collection going to the site and disposing of it in the way that we have been able to. If it weren't for some of those creative mechanisms, I believe there could have been greater danger."  Jennifer Edwards, executive director of the National Solid Waste Management Authority (NSWMA), rubbishing claims that she is to be blamed for the fires at Riverton

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GLORY DAYS: 25 years later, Actor Boy is shining brighter than ever

ALL OF US: Ladies of the Night cast members celebrate their big win in 2014, alongside Fae Ellington and Oliver Samuels. 

That the Actor Boy Awards ceremony has enjoyed a glitzy, star-studded run at the Pegasus Hotel in New Kingston for the past two seasons  and now seems poised to call it home ― not only vividly demonstrates how highly Actor Boy's profile has risen but is ample testament to the little engine that could. 

In spite of the financial challenges and criticisms that have been levelled at the show, today, at 25, it continues to do its job of saluting excellence in homegrown Jamaican theatre, bringing together theatre practitioners, established and emerging talents, honouring their own.

Even so, for long-serving organizing committee members like Ainsley Whyte, that the awards is still going strong and appears more vibrant than ever is nothing short of miraculous. "We have to be thankful. Not many awards in Jamaica, and the rest of the Caribbean for that matter, can say that they are 25 years old," he observes. "Jamaican theatre is strong and alive, but we're not getting the kind of support an awards show of this calibre deserves. Sometimes it felt like we wouldn't be able to put on the awards a particular year. But I'm hoping that as a community we are proud of the achievement and the tireless efforts being made by the team working behind the scenes to keep it going."

If history is any indication, the Actor Boy Awards has gone through quite an evolution since 1990, when it got started under the auspices of the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission (JCDC), as the agency's head of events, Michael Nicholson recently reminded us. And since the dawn of the TALLAWAH era, we've witnessed its staging everywhere from the crammed Pantry Playhouse in New Kingston to the tiny South Beach Cafe on Lady Musgrave Road to the Little Theatre on Tom Redcam Avenue.

Now, armed with its rotating phalanx of judges, a diligent sponsorship-seeking committee chaired by Michael Daley and Maurice Bryan, the endorsement of the Jamaica Association of Dramatic Artists (JADA) and the prestige of the International Theatre Institute (ITI), Actor Boy has stepped up to the Pegasus on Knutsford Boulevard in a major way. And people like JADA's Scarlett Beharie, who've been fighting the good fight for years, would have it no other way. "I'm very proud of [the awards] for managing to stay relevant and be consistent, oftentimes with very little support from the actors and corporate sponsors," Beharie notes. 

For Hilary Nicholson, Actor Boy's appeal rests in the camaraderie it fosters among industry players. "It is very important because without a union for actors we'd just be scattered all over the place," says Nicholson, a past Best Actress winner. "It brings the theatre community together."

The work is far from over. To our mind, Jamaica's Actor Boy Awards has the potential to attain the quality of perennial Hollywood products like the Golden Globes. Leonie Forbes, who's seen it all and done the rest, believes we can get there. "Of course. 25 is young still enuh. With all the gray hair I have I should tell you," she jokes to TALLAWAH. "But I think this kind of milestone is a wonderful thing. We have to keep acknowledging our people."

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