Saturday, 30 May 2015

PEOPLE IN THE NEWS: Floyd Green's new mission + the latest on Rev. Al Miller + Stephen Marley in unstoppable mode

THE RIGHT START: An accomplished scholar in his own right, former G2K President Floyd Green firmly believes in the power of a solid education to transform the lives of young Jamaicans and brighten their future. For that very reason he is actively championing the Right from the Start project, and early childhood education rehabilitation programme newly introduced to South-West St. Elizabeth, for which he is the JLP caretaker. "[It] is geared towards setting a solid foundation and raising the level of education and positive stimulation in the early childhood institutions across the constituency," explains Green, adding that the project also seeks to improve the infrastructure standards of the area's basic schools. For Green, projects like Right from the Start form part of the groundwork being laid to ensure improvement in the socio-economic realities of residents. "This will augur well for the future of the communities, as the education and development of our children is of the utmost importance. Right from the Start will also boost the morale and increase the pride of the people in the community. It's a project that will be ongoing and one that I will take on on a larger scale when I become Member of Parliament." 

MILLER'S CROSSING: Embattled religious icon Rev. Al Miller is returning to court on June 5, the date that's been set aside for a final decision to be made concerning the non--case submission presented by his legal team to free him of the charge of attempting to pervert the course of justice, stemming from his involvement in the Christopher 'Dudus' Coke affair. Miller, who heads the Kingston-based Fellowship Tabernacle Church, was charged after police officers stopped him on Mandela Highway with the former Tivoli Gardens strongman in his motor vehicle. In his defence, Miller said he was transporting the fugitive to the US Embassy, where security officers were awaiting him for extradition to the United States. Miller's bail has been extended until his next court date. 

ROOTS ROCKER: Does Stephen Marley ever take a vacation? The Energize Bunny has got nothing on the workaholic musician and eight-time Grammy winner who you'll find either holed up in the studio laying down tracks or rocking a sold-out crowd on one of his regular tours. Sure enough, the hitmaker is gearing up to hit the road again.In support of his upcoming album, Revelations Part II: Fruit of Life, Marley is kicking off a multi-city run on August 1, when he'll headline Reggae on the River in Califormia. A series of festival and club dates in Europe will follow before he heads back to the United States on August 29 for Catch A Fire, a nationwide reggae tour which climaxes at the end of September. Completing the tour's star-studded lineup are Damian 'Jr. Gong' Marley, Morgan Heritage, Ghetto Youths and Tarrus Riley.

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Friday, 29 May 2015

PHOTO DIARY: Sights and scenes from the Talking Trees fiesta in Treasure Beach

THREE'S COMPANY: A dramatic reading of a new play is always in the mix at Talking Trees, and this year's selection, Devon (Fabian Thomas' gripping meditation on the father-son dynamic and the scourge of inner-city crime), was exclusively previewed by rising actors Jomo Dixon (right) and Daren Reid, seen here with festival co-organizer Janet Barrett

FRONT AND CENTRE: YA novelist Gwyneth Harold Davidson pulled triple duty at the fest this year, serving as chief organizer, programme co-ordinator and, to the delight of everyone, a presenter, reading a fictionalized account of the Paul Bogle story from her most recent book, Young Heroes of the Caribbean, which is being developed for radio.

READERS WELCOME: A peek inside the on-site bookshop, which carried a respectable assortment of West Indian titles, new and vintage, as well as used books (paperbacks and hardcover selections) priced from as low as $100. Everyone from Walcott and Selvon to Grisham and Cornwell.

TURNING PAGES: This female patron clearly found something to capture her gaze after spending some time browsing the bookstore. For $1000, you could take home a dozen or so almost-new novels.

MISS CLEAN: A vision in resplendent white, storyteller Amina Blackwood-Meeks greeted our lens moments after delivering one of the event's most entertaining readings two brisk and hilariously spun pieces about Mass Jabez and Likkle Miss Jing Bang, respectively, of which Jack Mandora himself would have approved.

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EPIC ACHIEVEMENT: Solidly entertaining King David yields stirring music, powerful performances

CURTAIN CALL: Cast members performing the production's show-stopping finale. Inset: Williams, who plays David.

When the tragic Absalom (Chevaughn Clayton) and his colleagues convert his father David's (Wynton Williams) royal court into a mini dancehall to the tune of the bouncy single "Rise Up", the audience gets to witness a moment of Biblical history given a thoroughly modern and Jamaican interpretation that compellingly reminds one of theatre's singular power to delight and astonish.

That crowd-pleasing scene is just one of the highlights in Father HoLung & Friends' King David, a show chock-full of visceral moments (the slaying of Goliath; Mikal's drowning), well-crafted and memorable musical numbers ("Building a House", "Searching for a Leader") and fierce acting turns from a cast of neophytes and veterans, led by Williams in a tour-de-force reminiscent of his triumphant showing in The Messiah and Moses.

With next to nothing to complain about, save for occasional glitches with the microphone, the show is a solid success. Thanks to the collaborative synergy of director Greg Thames, lighting and effects maestro Robin Baston, set designer P.J. Stewart not to mention a committed cast of nearly 70 King David fuses commendable storytelling, wondrous singing and technical wizardry into a satisfying and solidly entertaining whole.

But nothing can upstage the power and appeal of the peerless source material: a stirring Old Testament narrative, respectfully adapted by Richard HoLung, that captures the trials and tribulations, foibles and failings of a righteous man whose entanglement with desire almost brings about his destruction. And it's in this very context that the musical drama yields some of its most potent lessons about human nature, compassion and grace under fire.

Kudos to the acting ensemble, particularly the principal players, for tackling their roles with admirable brio: Hugh Douse (as the vengeful King Saul), Leighton Jones (lifelong friend Jonathan), Andre Shepherd (terrific as the young David), Allan Lewis (rocking a pair of stilts to play Goliath), Cateicia Smith (the prophetess Cassandra), Hanief Lallo (as army leader Uriah) and Kristen James, alternating with Geramie Yson as the fateful Bathsheba.

An achievement fuelled by ambition and electrifying entertainment value, King David is a worthy addition to the Father HoLung and Friends canon. Tyrone's Verdict: A-

> ON THE RECORD: TALLAWAH talks with song-and-dance man Wynton Williams

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KING'S TOWN: Edward Baugh + Konshens + Victor Chang + Busy Signal + Portmore's Futsal Champs + Stephen Miller + Usain Bolt

PARTY OVER HERE: May 24, Kingston. Amidst confetti and the deafening shouts and vuvuzela horns of spectators, the lions of Portmore celebrated the triumph as overall victors of the 2015 LIME-sponsored National Street Futsal competition inside the National Indoor Sports Centre on Sunday. Portmore, who beat determined rivals St. Thomas to lift the championship trophy, took home the coveted $1.5 million prize, presented by LIME's VP of Marketing, Carlo Redwood, who has vowed to introduce the futsal phenom to local high schools. Incidentally, an All-Manning versus All-DaCosta exhibition game preceded the final, during which the Miguel Coley-coached urban boys got the better of their rural counterparts. (Photo: LIME Jamaica)

THE FRONT PAGE: May 26, Czech Republic. By all appearances, Usain Bolt's 2013 autobiography, Faster than Lightning, is still a top seller in Europe. While celebrating his win in the 200M at the Ostrava Diamond League meet in the Czech Republic on Tuesday, Bolt's young fans turned up with quite a few copies to be inked with the signature of the World's Fastest Man. As ever, the Jamaican sprinter, who next competes in New York and Paris ahead of the Beijing World Championships this summer, graciously obliged. (Photo: AFP/Getty Images)

POWER PLAYERS: May 24, Kingston. There are those live performers who seem to get better with the years, and Busy Signal (right) is no exception. LIME's Sponsorship Manager, Stephen Miller, must have been offering his congratulations to the dynamic star, who lit up the National Indoor Sports Centre with a sizzling mix of artistry and showmanship as he entertained the packed venue at Sunday's LIME-sponsored National Street Futsal grand finale. (Photo: LIME Jamaica)

GAME FACES: May 24, Kingston. You can say this for Konshens: he always sets aside time for the fans. They were out in their numbers on Sunday at the LIME-sponsored National Street Futsal Finals at the National Indoor Sports Centre, where the dancehall megastar delivered a piping-hot set, proving that sports and live music can produce a combustible mix. (Photo: LIME Jamaica)

PREMIERE LEAGUE: May 23, Kingston. The venerable Edward Baugh (left) and Victor Chang pose for pictures at the Talking Trees Literary Fiesta in Treasure Beach, moments after delivering crowd-pleasing presentations during a segment called "Man Peaba," which also featured Easton Lee. The day-long fiesta, celebrating its fourth anniversary at the Two Seasons Guest House, also drew appearances by Lorna Goodison, Amina Blackwood-Meeks, Mervyn Morris and Cherry Natural, among others. (Photo: TALLAWAH)

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Thursday, 28 May 2015

A DAY TO REMEMBER: The Top 5 Moments at 2015's Talking Trees Literary Fiesta

SISTERS WITH VOICES: Carolyn Allen, Tanya Shirley and Sharon Leach having girl time in Treasure Beach.

Combining the warm southern hospitality of Treasure Beach, the great outdoors, and the creative genius of some of Jamaica's pre-eminent literary voices (and the up-and-comers they've inspired), this year's leg of the Talking Trees Literary Fiesta (the fourth anniversary) at the Two Seasons Guest House on May 23, yielded a belly-busting feast of the written and spoken word and a day to remember chock-full of highlights. Herewith, TALLAWAH's top five:

> MASTER CLASS: Listening to Professor Mervyn Morris recite classic poems like "The Day My Father Died" during his afternoon appearance at the podium afforded his longtime admirers a nostalgic reverie and powerfully reminded us of poetry;s timeless tendency to captivate and provoke thought. The reigning Poet Laureate delivered other memorable selections as he reintroduced the anthologies that long cemented his status as one of the most revered literary voices in the Anglophone Caribbean.

> THE FLUFFY DIVAS: During a breezily entertaining segment dubbed "Belly Root", poetess Tanya Shirley and fiction maven Sharon Leach offered up readings equal parts provocative and reflective. With excellent diction and radiant charm, Shirley (She Who Sleeps With Bones, The Merchant of Feathers) began with pieces like "Don't Let The Fluffy Fool You" and "Flower Girl" before getting into the meat of the matter, while Leach, all chick-lit cool, won everyone's attention with a juicy excerpt from her debut short story collection, What You Can't Tell Him.

> THE ELDER STATESMEN: The "Man Peaba" session, meantime, featured three distinguished Jamaican men of letters - Easton Lee, Victor Chang and Prof. Edward Baugh - all sharing selections from bodies of work that suggest writers at the height of their creative powers. Baugh ("I hope the breeze don't blow me away") offered vivid pieces like "Hurrying Across Hill Country" and "Out of Stock"; Victor Chang conjured up a domestic dream team with the lively story "Miss Daisy and Miss Chin" (about a dutiful housekeeper and her employer) while Lee carried us on an adventure across the diverse landscape of folklore and tradition with a sampling of his poetry.

> THE SISTREN COLLECTIVE: Intellectual bad gyal Cherry Natural stayed true to form as she combined radical social commentary with red-hot word-sound power stylings on pieces like "Slanguage", "Compatible" and "Fight Back"; talented poet on the rise Peta-Gaye Williams made a solid connection with her passionate delivery, at one point recalling the grandmother in the turquoise dress "who made words neither Oxford nor Webster could define"; and ace storyeller Amina Blackwood-Meeks struck gold as she humorously heralded the return of Likke Miss Jing Bang with "Kiss Mi Granny" and bid adieu to Mas Jabez ("Jackass Pallbearers"), adding the timeless refrain "Ye who are weary come home." Williams, Blackwood-Meeks and Cherry appeared during a near 40-minute segment called "Lemon Grass."

> PHENOMENAL WOMAN: You know you'll be left wanting more when Lorna Goodison graces the microphone, so the 'encore' requests came as no surprise. Whether reading from her prize-winning memoir From Harvey River (tracing her family ancestry), reasoning with the crowd (on Jamaica then and now) or gliding from one gem of a poem to the next ("I Am Becoming My Mother" still mesmerizes), Goodison gave a lip-smacking lesson in satisfying appetites primed for inspiration and empowerment.


>> Goodison at Talking Trees: The poet enlightens and entertains festivalgoers
>> Easton Lee interview: The cultural icon on aging, children, and his message for Jamaica

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ROAD OF THE DREAD: Hardy and Theron prove a dynamic duo in George Miller's brutal new Mad Max

ALL OR NOTHING: A fight for survival plays out in the box-office-topping action thriller. (below), Theron puts on her game face.

Is there any acting challenge too great for Charlize Theron? The South-African-born Hollywood siren seems to pride herself on disappearing into roles that are odds with her luminous beauty and take her to dark places, which is usually where the good work lies. You'll recall her steely cop, opposite Tommy Lee Jones, in In The Valley of Elah, her lacerating portrayal of a tough small-town miner in North Country and, yes, that chilling tour-de-force as serial killer Aileen Wuornos in 2013's Monster, her Oscar-winning role.

But, for my money, she has scored her most brutish part yet, playing the one-armed force-of-nature Furiosa in George Miller's Mad Max: Fury Road, opposite Tom Hardy. Dark and wrenching and filled with unexpected twists and turns and some of the most ghoulish characters seen on-[screen in recent times, the film is a boisterous and bombastic trip into the dangerous mind of one of modern cinema's most fearless provocateurs.

It's set in an apocalyptic wasteland that looks like a stand-in for Hades, ruled by a merciless madman and populated by depraved creatures who wouldn't be out of place in Freddie Kreuger's world. It's a savage place to exist, no wonder Furiosa has loaded up her rig, rescued a bunch of girls being kept as breeders, and fled for greener pastures. This, of course, draws the ire of the men who set out after her to reclaim what they deem rightfully theirs. What results is a punishing trip across barren lands, where Furiosa encounters Max (Hardy), a loner on a similar survival quest. Furiosa and Max soon join forces against their common enemy, waging an epic battle that features some truly out-of-this-world visual effects and breathless chase scenes.

An unforgettable viewing experience that spares no punches, Fury Road is the season's most action-packed thrill ride and proves equally rewarding for its terrific leads Theron (rocking a fierce baldie) and Hardy (all brawn and silent-type machismo). The likes of Zoe Kravitz and Nicholas Hoult put in sterling supporting work. 

But in the end, it's Miller's vision (he also co-wrote the script) and smart directorial choices that leave the most lingering impression. Mad Max: Fury Road shows us a rather extremist kind of existence - it;s not for the faint of heart - where you'll drink your sweat for water because at least you know it's not contaminated. Tyrone's Verdict: A-

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Wednesday, 27 May 2015

FATHER FIGURE: Cultural icon Easton Lee on aging, children, and his message for Jamaica

GOOD COMPANY: "We need to treat our children better," insists Lee, sharing a photo-op at the recent Talking Trees festival with Marjorie Reynolds.

Fact: Age ain't on Easton Lee's page. Well into his eighth decade on the planet, the cultural icon and living legend moves with the alacrity and purpose of a man several decades his junior and can recall age-old details at the drop of a hat. In conversation, the well-respected poet (Behind the Counter), playwright (The Rope and the Cross) and long-serving priest (the Anglican Church) is a pint-sized ball of fun, whether regaling a festival crowd with Jamaican folklore or reciting a piece of verse from his vast and impressively diverse oeuvre.

As he his newest book, the anthology Kiss Mi Granny (Bala Press), continues to rack up glowing critic and word-of-mouth reviews from Kingston to his adopted Florida - and attract fans from the new generation, Lee takes a moment to speak to TALLAWAH about raising smart and well-adjusted children, being a fan of other poets; work, and how we can keep Jamaica great.

TALLAWAH: What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Lee: I try not to look at my life in that way. God put us here to work and that's what I focus on; using my talents to make a difference in people's lives. I enjoy it all - the poetry, the stories, the culture, my work in the church. I enjoy doing the work.

TALLAWAH: Speaking of the literary arts, what's your writing life like today?
Lee: I have been writing more! I am now retired, so I can sit down at the computer and work for hours. My children and grandchildren are like five minutes away, so I don't have to worry about a thing.

TALLAWAH: How do you feel about the state of the creative arts in Jamaica today?
Lee: Kingston is the only place I know of in the Caribbean where you can see four or five [theatre] shows in almost any given month. So we're doing something right. People in the arts talk a lot about the poor state of the economy being a hindrance to development, but that's a story in itself; that's something to get people talking through the arts.

TALLAWAH: This past weekend you shared the stage at Talking Trees in Treasure Beach with esteemed colleagues like Victor Chang and Prof. Eddie Baugh.
Lee: It was wonderful. They are people I've admired for years, and they each have written poems and stories that I wish I had written. We are all playing a role in documenting and celebrating Jamaican culture, and it's important work that must go on.

TALLAWAH: You write so much about the Jamaican family, especially the folks who raised you.
Lee: That to me has always been important. My mother is Chinese and my father is from Junction, just a little while from here, and that love of family and community and properly raising children was what they firmly believed in and instilled in us growing up. So when I hear of all these terrible crimes against children it saddens me. We need to treat our children better. We need our fathers in the families actively helping to raise the children, especially the boys.

TALLAWAH: What must Jamaicans do to keep the country great?
Lee: Educate our children. Instil in them good family values. Give them a solid foundation and the rest will take care of itself.

TALLAWAH: You're turning 86 next year. Describe the feeling.
Lee: I feel that I've been blessed. I firmly believe that I am living out my purpose. I've been married to a wonderful lady for 66 years now, raised four kids and nine grandbabies. What can I say, life has been wonderful.

> Talking Trees Report: Lorna Goodison delights and instructs festivalgoers

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FIGHTING TEMPTATION: Strongly acted Night Work blows hot and cold

BEDROOM CONFIDENTIAL: King (as Paul) and Maye (as Jenny) play two vastly dissimilar people who rock each other's worlds.

Hard to believe, but by his own admission, Paul Coxsman (Hugh King) is 54 years old, and he's never seen a woman in the nude. And he's been married for years to Mary (Gracie-Ann Watson), a prudish schoolteacher who wears long skirts to bed and gives him grief over his erectile dysfunction while lamenting the absence of fireworks in their marriage bed. (She seeks out one Dicky Benwood for counselling!)

So you're not the least bit surprised that when Coxsman, a university lecturer and esteemed sociologist, encounters an illiterate prostitute - the sparkplug Jenny (Zandriann Maye) - along Knutsford Boulevard one night, he doesn't have a clue as to how to handle her. Faster than you can say French letter, she whisks him off to her place and rocks him to the core with a no-holds-barred introduction to a world of sexual fantasy and cheeky repartee, with Coxsman hanging on for dear life. But, as we soon discover, he has a few lessons of his own to teach her, Pygmalion style, as they get to know each other intimately with life-altering consequences.

You'll find plenty to laugh and think about while watching Night Work, a remount of the "classic Jamaican comedy" penned by Hugh King himself back in the day, now dusted off and reworked for today's generation by director Pablo Hoilett. Though it's not the scorching slam-dunk that some might be anticipating, the play (closing May 31 at the Theatre Place) makes a strong point about class and morality and generates plenty of heat thanks a sizzling cast led by the red-hot Maye, who burns a hole in the stage.

Given its daring subject matter, Night Work is a story that begs to be thrust under the microscope: a well-learned older man takes under his wing a hooker several decades his junior and proceeds to give her an education in the tradition of Mr. Higgins, that opens her up to a world where the prize is what's between her ears and not her legs. Jenny, convincingly portrayed with grit and slinky naivete by Maye, takes to her newfound passion like a fish to water, and witnessing her transformation is one of the play's most delightful highlights.

Even so, Jenny's academic awakening can't detract from the play's more brazen and sobering themes of adultery, sexuality and class relations  a mix that the veteran Hoilett is all too familiar with and handles with sufficient tact and restraint. Suitable for mature audiences only, given its adult content, Night Work has its flaws (the pacing could be tighter) but overall it's a fun little romp about late bloomers, the world of promiscuous sex and transforming a sow's ear into a silk purse. Tyrone's Verdict: B

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Tuesday, 26 May 2015

STARS OF THE SHOW: Busy Signal and Konshens bring stadium status to LIME’s Futsal Fiesta finale

PEAK PERFORMERS: Lifelong soccer fans Konshens and Busy Signal easily connected with the futsal crowd.
Some entertainers approach their live performances with the ferocity and sharp focus of an athlete and have the adrenaline – and the arsenal of crowd-pleasing hits – to go the distance. Among dancehall’s elite du jour, Konshens has never been found wanting, bringing the kind of versatility and consistency to the party that keep fans in his thrall.

The deejay was a natural fit at Saturday’s grand finale of the 2015 LIME-sponsored Street Futsal competition, rendering a supernova-hot performance inside the National Indoor Sports Centre that showed what can result when you combine a knockout talent with pyrotechnic audio-visual effects and hundreds of screaming spectators caught in the happy grip of football fever.

Sporting a crisp Number 10 jersey (his salute to Lionel Messi), jeans, sneaks and a cool pair of shades, Konshens wasted no time seizing the moment, diving into his catalogue for popular power cuts like “The Realest Song”, “Winner”, “Do Sumn” among several others that made way for more recent heatseekers like “Original Daddy”, a brilliant ode to model fatherhood that deserved greater attention.

But Konshens being Konshens, he never graces a big stage without importing some tried-and-proven advice to the people – his younger fans in particular, who got some pearls of wisdom from the LIME brand ambassador chiefly about the supreme importance of ambition and hard work as keys to success in the real world. A model go-getter himself, Konshens sealed the moment with “Ah Suh Mi Tan” before doing a neat sprint to exit centrestage.

By the time emcee Pretty Boy Floyd summoned Busy Signal, the place had the electric atmosphere of half-time at the Super Bowl. As expected, Busy fared just as well before the packed house, balancing swell stagecraft and sizzling showmanship with admirable ease, as he and his fans reminisced over tunes like “Step Out”, “One More Night”, “Night Shift”, “Jail” and “Missing You,” to cite just a few of the selections.

Busy’s expert blend of uptempo dancehall jams and slow reggae-soul grooves seemed to strike the perfect pitch. And there’s something to be said for the dazzling lighting design that gave his set a rather kaleidoscopic look to go with the fun, high-energy vibe.

By the time the deejay, dressed in a black Brooklyn 76 shirt and sporting a baseball cap, launched into the chart-topping “Watch out Fi Dis (Boomaye)”, the crowd and, indeed, the moment were completely his.

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THE HEADLINER: Lorna Goodison delights and instructs at Talking Trees in Treasure Beach

LADY G: Goodison gave a reading equal parts lively and inspiring; (below) enjoying the festivities with dear friend Cecile.

Lorna Goodison may be a poet of extraordinary lyrical skill and hypervivid imagination, but at her very core she’s a natural-born raconteur, extravagantly witty and armed with a knack for finding the humour, not to mention the lesson, in any given Jamaican-set scenario.

That’s precisely how you felt after witnessing her nearly 30-minute festival-closing presentation at the Talking Trees bash in Treasure Beach on Saturday. Goodison, whose latest collection of poems, Oracabessa, is still a hot commodity on Amazon these days, filled her presentation with amusing anecdotes and interesting backstories that shed light on her creative process as a scribe for all seasons.

Particularly memorable were the reflections on her award-winning memoir From Harvey River, from which she read two passages – the first from the opening chapter (about her mother Doris’ name change) and the latter about her mother’s sister Ann, a free spirit who always went her own way.

Many of us can’t shake the beautiful simplicity and haunting allure of Goodison’s poem “I Am Becoming My Mother” (now prominently displayed in the London Underground), which she also recited on Saturday. From Harvey River is like a novel-length version of that stunning poem, in which Goodison thoroughly and passionately pays homage to the woman who birthed her, the Harvey River community, and a heritage that this proud daughter has made entirely her own.

Meanwhile, classic poems like “I Shall Light a Candle” and “Guinea Woman” took on new significance; the touching story of her Grandma Leanna (“who wrote her lyrical ballads on air”) buoyed up “To William Wordsworth, Collector of Stamps for Westmoreland”; and “The Mango of Poetry” did a fine job of proving its status as her “ars poetica.”

The poet’s late father, Marcus, hailed from Malvern, not too far from where she stood at the podium, so “This Is My Father’s Country” made its own special connection. “The Living Converter Woman of Green Island” was dedicated to the memory of Prof. Barry Chevannes, who considered it his favourite poem of hers.

Breezily attired in peachy and very regal-looking blouse and a sensible skirt, Goodison’s sojourn down memory lane commanded all ears, but especially when she paid tribute to the abducted schoolgirls of Nigeria with “We” and riffed on the cautionary tale at the heart of the film Morocco that inspired her talking-back-to-the-big-screen piece “Advice for Amy Jolly.”

But the audience could hardly be contained when she harked back to her halcyon days at St. Hugh’s High and the girls’ “disappointment” over the shocking survival of “Jamaica’s first Christian martyr”, who happened to be a relative of her then history teacher. Like I said, Goodison is the consummate, tell-it-like-it-is storyteller, and the “martyr” bit is one you simply must hear for yourself.

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Thursday, 21 May 2015

ALBUM OF THE WEEK: Mario Evon fights for love on compelling debut, Reggae-Soul Volume 1

EASY LISTENING: The soulful crooner's long-anticipated debut was worth the wait.

Nearly five years have elapsed since young medic and former UWI Singers tenor Mario Evon Guthrie decided to pick up the mic in pursuit of a bonafide recording career. In no time he shot to solo stardom on the indie scene, blending the earthy sensibilities of versatile balladeers like Maxwell and Jimmy Cozier with his own easy-listening reggae-soul stylings, as he fashioned a career that’s now positioned him among the contemporary Jamaican crooners who matter.

A satisfying 11-track sample of Evon’s artistic journey so far, Reggae-Soul Volume 1 M.E on Love, his just-released debut disc, yields a radio-ready mix of evocative songwriting and melody-making. Surprisingly, it features production work by only a handful of collaborators and a lone guest appearance, courtesy of Shaq the MC.

If there’s a single conclusion to be drawn, it’s that Mario Evon has become, by all accounts, a soldier of love. On the creamy highlight “Never Let You Know”, for instance, he makes like a student from the D’Angelo and Maxi Priest school. His earnest delivery buoys up “Love In Di Mawnin” and his soulfulness peaks at all the right moments on cuts like the breezy “Whip Appeal” and the straight-from-the-heart testimony “Puppet on a String.”

Like so many before him, Mario faced countless challenges when he was just starting out as a solo act in the biz, but in interviews with TALLAWAH he always expressed a determination to release a solid first album that would, by and large, officially introduce his sound and identity to the world. I’d say mission accomplished.

And it’s that kind of unyielding optimism that distinguishes the most successful artists of the day from everybody else. That Mario has courageously opted to dedicate his entire record to exploring ideas of intimacy, relationship dynamics and being a warrior for love makes him, quite admirably, both a lover and a fighter. Tyrone’s Verdict: B+

> KEY TRACKS: “Never Let You Know,” “Soul Tek” and “This Day”

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ON HER MIND: Hurricane Honeymoon star Natalee Cole recounts the moments that led to her artistic breakthrough

STRENGTH OF CHARACTER: "I've benefitted from working with different kinds of talent," says Cole (centre), sharing a scene with costars in Glass Slippaz.

“My two main passions in life are acting and teaching, and if I can get to do both then my life would be complete,” shares actress Natalee Cole about pursuing the work that the universe has been offering to her.

For the past few years at least, Cole has been doing so with relish. In addition to steadily building a solid body of work in the theatre, she’s been changing lives in the classroom at Kingston College, where she teaches English Language, Literature and Communication Studies. At UWI Mona, where she majored in Linguistics, she’s served as a tutor and assistant lecturer since last September. “Ultimately I want to be a professor, but I don’t want to ever leave acting behind,” the thirty-something go-getter hastens to point out.

Solidifying her place among the exciting crop of Jamaican theatre's emerging leading ladies, Cole brings to the table that rare and inspiring blend of gravitas, conviction and supersized intelligence that made her a standout in hit shows like Amen Corner, Ras Genie, University of Delcita and the smash musical comedy Glass Slippaz in 2013.

But, for Cole, the breakthrough moment that started it all originated with a call from a certain prolific playwright in 2009. “The moment when things seriously changed for me was when I got a call from Patrick Brown about the opportunity to star in Puppy Love with Oliver Samuels,” recalls the actress, who was so over-the-moon happy she had to ring up her mom all the way in Colorado to share the good news.

For every aspiring Jamaican actor like Natalee, Oliver had always been the man. “Oliver is someone I’d been watching on TV from I was a little girl. So to co-star with him in my first major commercial production was like a dream come true.”

Fast-forward seven years, and Natalee continues to surprise herself – even making the leap at UWI from an MPhil programme to PhD studies in record time. Pleased as she is with her mile-a-minute success in both academics and the arts, Cole is only warming up. At the moment she’s in the thick of rehearsals for her tenth production, Hurricane Honeymoon, a remount of the fan-favourite comedy drama by Brown, who is now beginning to seem like a sort of fairy godfather.

Set in a honeymoon suite, it’s an explosive three-hander co-starring Glen Campbell and Akeem Mignott and opening this month-end at the Little Theatre. “This role is extremely different from the roles I’ve done in the past and who Natalee is,” Cole says of playing the long-suffering Hilda Charm. “She’s a very sheltered and na├»ve individual. Very fragile. I’m so not fragile. So it’s been a challenge. But I enjoy taking on new challenges like these, so I’m having a good time going at it.”

What’s more, the production marks her first time securing bonafide leading-lady credentials. And though it’s the most emotionally taxing journey she’s embarked on, she feels she’s been more than adequately prepared. “My overall experience has been amazing,” says the Manning’s High and Mico College alumna who plans to don her producer’s hat and take a swivel in the director’s chair someday. “I’ve really benefited from working with different kinds of talent over the years. I’ve grown. I’m more mature. And I feel there’s so much more left for me to attain.”

> Catch Cole and her costars heating up the stage in Hurricane Honeymoon, May 30-June 21, at the Little Theatre in Kingston.

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Wednesday, 20 May 2015

DANCING FEVER: Variety, versatility rule at high-energy Arts In The Park: Dance Edition

CAN'T STOP THE BEAT: L'Acadco Drummers whipping up African rhythms during the finale.

The Company Dance Theatre has become synonymous with vibrantly imaginative works that walk the fine line between high art and dazzling spectacle. So we knew what we were in for when the youthful troupe seized the spotlight at Hope Gardens on Sunday evening.

With the transporting, Tony Wilson-choreographed “Journey” the performers delivered one of the more memorable highlights of the evening at the inaugural dance edition of Arts in the Park, an increasingly popular cultural staple put on the Ministry of Tourism and Entertainment as part of a continued initiative to showcase the best of Jamaica’s creative industries. A brilliant idea.

Set to a pulsating instrumental score, “Journey” opened with a commanding solo turn by Steven Cornwall, after which the nearly two dozen or so supporting dancers appeared centrestage, displaying graceful and agile movements with the kind of minimalist costuming that always puts the limbs to effective use.

As far as local terpsichorean feasts go (think Jamaica Dance Umbrella and the Edna Manley College’s Danceworks), Arts In The Park’s dance edition catered to all kinds of tastes, drawing a mammoth crowd that departed Hope Gardens more than satisfied.

From the rapturous euphoria of “Lifted” performed by the blue-and-white clad One Body One God ensemble to the hyperkinetic and modern dancehall stylings of the Orville Hall-led Dance Expressionz (“Evolution”) to L’Acadco’s fascination with Afrocentric rhythms, motifs and movements, the versatility and variety was unbearable.

Add to that the few surprising moments thrown into the mix, chief among them a seven-minute stint by Raddy Rich, whose superstylish street-meets-avant-garde footwork captivated the crowd. The equally creative Equinoxx Shankers later rocked the stage with the very witty “Master at Work” while the crazy kids of Shady Squad managed to cleverly fuse comedy with their own edgy dance interpretations of the latest local hit songs to score a resounding mix of laughs and cheers.

And what better way to bring the curtains down on a fierce talent show than with a jaw-dropping combination of a solo spotlight (Shem Heliodore), thunderous drumming straight out of the Motherland (L’Acadco Drummers) and a fire-breathing spectacle to ratchet up the visual interest. Ah, to ever expect the unexpected.

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