Thursday, 31 March 2016

ON HIS MIND: Chris Gayle on charity, his upcoming book Six Machine, and how to be successful like him

WHY IS THIS MAN SMILING? Gayle adorns the cover of his hotly anticipated memoir, which goes on sale in June.

Except for his continued headline-making batting prowess on the international stage with his Windies teammates, we haven’t heard much from superstar sportsman Chris Gayle since ‘Blushgate’ became the scandal that ate the world.

But we knew it was only a matter of time before Chris grabbed the mic again to give us some more memorable quotables. Sure enough, in a recent interview, carried by the CMC, Gayle fielded questions about his evolving career and philanthropic exploits, including his generous contribution of US$20,000 towards the medical bills of ailing Jamaican teenager Lee-Anna Walker.

By his own admission, Gayle’s charity work has been largely done outside the glare of the public spotlight. “I have never thought about it, but I’ve done a lot of charity stuff,” he says. “Most people haven’t really seen that side of me or highlight it as much, but one day I will share it, and you can read about it in my [autobiography] to get more insight.”

This “thrilling” autobiography, Six Machine: I Don't Like Cricket, I Love It, is due out in June via Viking Publishers. “You will love it,” he promises readers. “The world will love it.”

Meanwhile, when it comes to being the high achiever that he is on and off the field of play, Gayle makes it clear that mediocrity and complacency have no place in his orbit. “When you get an opportunity to be the best at something, you should try and do it for a long as possible. That’s how I go about my life,” the record-setting batsman confesses. “You don’t know what to expect, so you definitely got to do the right thing and have some good fun. Sometimes you tend to be uptight about life. It’s all about being free and expressing yourself.”

He adds, “You can’t live to please people. Regardless of what you do, you will never please everyone.”

CRITIC’S NOTEBOOK: Will Basil Dawkins’ Reggaemento ever make it to mainstage?

TWO OF A KIND: Dawkins (right) and Guilt Trip star Oliver Samuels at the Little Little Theatre.

Nothing is more frustrating to a playwright than having written a masterpiece but lacking the resources to get it off the ground. Basil Dawkins knows that feeling. A few years ago he was commissioned to pen a song-and-dance production to coincide with the government’s development of Falmouth as a tourist hub.

Responding to the exciting challenge, Dawkins wrote Reggaemento, the book of a musical that chronicles a young Jamaican man’s social awakening. But some five years on, the play is yet to grace centrestage. “It’s a large-scale musical like a Broadway production. It’s written and put down because I am unable to produce it. It wants a cast of about 70-odd actors, singers and dancers,” the playwright tells TALLAWAH one evening at the Little Little Theatre, where his latest domestic drama, Guilt Trip, is playing to sold-out audiences.

The idea, Dawkins explains, is for Reggaemento to encompass all genres of Jamaican music from the days of Columbus to now. “As the title suggests, it’s a Jamaican musical, so the idea was not to create any new music but to use existing and appropriate Jamaican songs and rhythms and dances from over the years to now,” he says.

Meanwhile, the absence of a theatre space that can house a production of such an enormous scale, the playwright explains, is yet another obstacle. “I don’t have a venue that can run a musical like that for an extended period. It’s really written for a theatre that has the facilities to mount a world-class production. And if I don’t get it at that level, it doesn’t make sense,” he says. “So anybody who wants it, I’d be open to having a discussion with them.”

You heard the man. Basil Dawkins can be reached via email at

> THAT’S THE SPIRIT: Two big thumbs up to Sandals Ocho Rios on the success of their razzle-dazzle feast “Celebrating Broadway,” which we hear is a bring-the-house-down crowd-pleaser fusing selections from Chicago, Moulin Rouge and Burlesque, and performed by a cast of 20. The hotel’s guests can’t get enough. “The response has really been awesome,” reports Entertainment Division Manager, Garrett Bailey. “They are even talking about it on Trip Advisor.”

GOSPEL SPOTLIGHT: Spring Praise puts a fresh twist on the traditional gospel fest

GOLDEN NOTES: Downswell and his singers are expected to thrill concertgoers at the fest this weekend. Below, fellow headliner Papa San.

From Fun in the Son to GoSplash to First Fest and Freedom Fest (and the list goes on), the local music scene has no shortage of joyful noise-themed festivals that meld a breezy praise-party vibe with live performances by some of gospel’s best. Enter the Spring Praise festival, which promises to put a new spin on the traditional formula by offering more, way more.

Bringing the spirit-lifting energy to Folly in Portland this weekend (April 1-3), the inaugural event will spread over three days – opening with a praise party on Friday, a megaconcert on Saturday and a family fun day to bring the curtains down on Sunday. According to Cheryl Crooks, event manager and PR woman extraordinaire, “alternative” is the buzzword when it comes to the Spring Praise Fest and its diverse offerings.

“We want to do it annually around spring break because our aim is to make it an alternative to the regular parties and other events that take place in Negril and Montego Bay,” Crooks tells TALLAWAH, calling via telephone. “We are also hoping to get persons from overseas to come down for [the festival], in addition to the locals who will be making the trip to Portland.”

As it turns out, the three-day festival offers the perfect opportunity to tap into the parish’s historical and tourist-y appeal. “We want to incorporate tours, rafting. People who want to visit the historic sites can do so,” Crooks says. “We really want to boost the economy of [the parish]. Craft vendors can come and sell their items as well. We’ll be having lots of booth displays.”

And then there’s the entertainment package. It doesn’t get any better than consummate headliners Papa San and Kevin Downswell lighting up the main stage, with the likes of Lubert Levy and Katalys, among others. Throw into the mix domino tournaments, six-a-side football, fun rides for the kids, world-famous jerked chicken, and giveaways galore, and you have the makings of a dreamy, postcard-perfect getaway to groovy Portie – soul-stirring music and great sightseeing opportunities included.

Wednesday, 30 March 2016

TALLAWAH BOOK CLUB: Spotlight on Ziggy’s upcoming cookbook, a Rihanna salute, and a Baldwin classic

Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin

His popular works Go Tell It on the Mountain, Blues for Mister Charlie and If Beale Street Could Talk are critically acclaimed masterpieces. But none of Baldwin’s novels has divided critics and readers like this bruising and unflinching look at a tragic bisexual love triangle, set in moody, sepia-toned Paris. David is in the City of Lights waiting for his lady love Hella to come and join him. That’s how he meets Giovanni, a charming, down-on-his-luck waiter, with whom he has a fling that heats up – with damning consequences. It’s a compulsively readable pageturner buoyed by Baldwin’s elegant prose and keen observations about the frailty of human nature and the constant struggle to be true to the man in the mirror. Highly recommended.

Rihanna: Barbados World-Gurl in Global Popular Culture

See, even the scholars love RiRi. Hailing her as the most commercially successful Caribbean-bred recording artist in history, the editors behind this buzzworthy volume (Hilary Beckles and Heather Russell) bring together like-minded thinkers from across the region and the US mainland to discuss issues and ideas pertaining to class, gender, sexuality, race etc. (from different disciplinary and at times radically divergent perspectives) against the backdrop of Miss Fenty’s remarkable rise from singing sensation to international pop phenom. At almost 230 pages, the text (which landed on bookshelves last year) is one of the most refreshing titles to emerge from the UWI Press in recent years.

Ziggy Marley and Family Cookbook: Whole Organic Ingredients and Delicious Meals from the Marley Kitchen

From recording and producing Grammy-winning albums to penning children’s books to suiting up for a major fashion label to playing sold-out concerts, is there anything Ziggy Marley cannot do? Turns out the ace musician and doting father of four can throw down in the kitchen, too. And he’s not a selfish cook; he wants to let you in on some of his culinary secrets. So be sure to pick up a copy of this highly anticipated cookbook (due out from Akashic in October), in which Ziggy shares 50 of his favourite recipes (traditional and ital), including a few that long received the stamp of approval from legendary pops and mom Bob and Rita. “I first started dabbling in the kitchen as a teenager; I enjoyed making cornmeal porridge,” the multifaceted artiste reveals. “And [those experiences] helped me begin appreciating the idea of nourishment, the idea that food can make your body feel better.”

THE TALLAWAH INTERVIEW: Shaggy riffs on his evolving philanthropic efforts and new career goals

CASH TO CARE: Shaggy and team with a cheque from WATA/Wisynco at last Tuesday's presentation.

Driven by that relentless philanthropic spirit, Shaggy and his eponymous foundation remain a shining beacon of hope for the patients and staff of the Bustamante Hospital for Children, a charitable cause to which he’s completely devoted. Last Tuesday afternoon, joined by a handful of sponsoring partners from corporate Jamaica, the 47-year-old music icon, who has a few children of his own, brought some cheer to the hospital, when he presented to the directors a cheque of $55 million, representing the proceeds from January’s renewal of his popular fundraising concert. No stranger to TALLAWAH, the megastar spoke with us afterwards about how star power can make a world of difference to a life-saving cause.

TALLAWAH: We were intrigued when you hinted earlier that the Shaggy & Friends concert could become an annual event. Is that really possible?
Shaggy: It could be, but not at the stage that we are having it. You have to understand that whenever we have it [on the lawns of Jamaica House], we have to build a venue from scratch. That means we don’t have running water, we have to build pipes, put in fencing and bathrooms, everything. And all of those things carry costs. If we have a situation where we can somehow make that cost lower and make the whole process easier, then it could work. We don’t have a large team. Shaggy & Friends is basically my wife and myself. We don’t have a massive office that employs like ten people. It’s all volunteer work.

TALLAWAH: We saw iHeart Media coming on board for this year’ staging. How has it been getting international partners to share in the vision?
Shaggy: A lot of them don’t understand because they’re not Jamaican, but we still try. I use my celebrity as much as I can to bring as many artistes as I can. But sometimes it gets difficult. 

TALLAWAH: I can imagine. Tell us about the foundation’s partnership with WATA and the fruit it has borne so far.
Shaggy: I’m loving it. In one month, we raised over five million dollars, so you can imagine if it was for a longer time. But it’s an awesome campaign and we have more of them to do.

TALLAWAH: After raising money for the hospital’s CAT Lab and for a cardiac unit, is the ICU Unit next on your target list?
Shaggy: That’s something we are focused on. It would be nice if we could get it after the next [Shaggy & Friends] event. So we are thinking of other ways to expand the concert, but we have to find a way to make it less costly to put on. In the current ICU Unit, there are only five beds. So it’s like 70,000 [children] to five beds. We have to do something about that.

TALLAWAH: We haven’t forgotten that you’re a chart-topping recording artist. What’s next for you career-wise?
Shaggy: As you know, we just signed a new deal, and we’re coming out, hopefully, by April, with new singles, to be followed, hopefully, by an album.

TALLAWAH: Earlier when you were at the podium talking about your career, you said, “There’s nothing else I can do with fame.” Give us some clarity on that statement.
Shaggy: I’m in a different place in my life and my career right now. I’ve made my fame out of the music of Jamaica, the culture of Jamaica. The culture of Jamaica is what has equipped me with the ability to achieve what I have achieved. And I’ve grown a lot, artistically, over the years. 

TALLAWAH: Apart from releasing new music, what’s the rest of 2016 going to be like for you? Any plans for touring?
Shaggy: Mainly promotion. It’s all about getting a big hit and seeing what comes after that.

TO YOUR HEALTH: Sara Lawrence teams up with medical experts for TV-J’s Doctor’s Appointment

AT YOUR SERVICE: “My mandate each week will be to explore specific health topics in the most relatable way possible,” says Lawence, pictured below with guest Heneka Watkis-Porter. 

And they say gorgeous docs don’t make house calls. TALLAWAH takes immense pleasure in reporting that Dr. Sara Lawrence will be coming to your living rooms, starting this April, as the face of Doctor’s Appointment, a half-hour healthy-living series (airing on TV-J) that is set to spark lively discourse among Jamaicans about the myriad benefits of giving greater consideration to one’s overall health and well-being.

For Lawrence, a medical practitioner and former Miss Jamaica World, Doctor’s Appointment which beings its run on Sunday, April 3, provides the perfect opportunity to be a part of an initiative aimed at making a meaningful contribution to the local health sector at a time when resources are scarce and we are faced with one crisis after another.

“As a medical practitioner, I find that programmes like these are still relevant to patients, not only making them more knowledgeable but generally less apprehensive about health issues and ultimately addressing these issues through proper channels. This is why I had to be involved in this project,” Lawrence says of the programme, which will address matters ranging from heart disease and cancer to mental illness and other psychological ills.

“My mandate each week will be to explore specific health topics in the most relatable way possible so the average viewer can be more equipped and empowered about specific topics concerning their health,” adds Lawrence, a L’Oreal model and spokeswoman.
Empowering Jamaicans is what conceptualizer Melody Cammock-Gayle had in mind when she sat down to flesh out her ideas. For her, its timeliness is an added bonus. “We decided that this programme was more than necessary in the Jamaican landscape as nothing like this exists, especially since we have an admittedly flawed health system,” explains Cammock-Gayle, director of marketing and communications at MC & Associates. “We wanted to give Jamaicans access to industry professionals, which many could not afford to visit.”

National Commercial Banks’s ProCare arm is among the sponsors who were sold on the vision. “Jamaicans have been known to delay health care, sometimes out of sheer fear or in favour of home remedies and even self-diagnosis,” notes NCB’s Antonette Cowan Palmer. “We want to nip it in the bud, encouraging persons to get help by seeking medical attention, giving the people confidence to know that illness is nothing to be ashamed of, but a condition that is oftentimes treatable and preventable.”

> Catch episodes of Doctor's Appointment, Sundays at 5:30 pm on TV-J, starting April 3.

Tuesday, 29 March 2016

FLICK OF THE WEEK: Faith and family are put to the test in Miracles from Heaven

MOTHER COURAGE: Garner (Christy) and Rogers (Anna) sharing a scene from the film.

It’s every mother’s worst nightmare: your healthy, fun-loving kid suddenly becomes gravely ill, writhing in pain night after night, and the expensive doctors you visit haven’t got a clue what the real problem is. They tell you your kid is lactose intolerant, that she has acid reflux. But you know better. 

You refuse to give up, and your relentless finally yields a breakthrough in the form of a medical veteran, who delivers the shattering news that your Anabelle is suffering from a rare and incurable disease called pseudo motility disorder, a stomach condition which prevents her body from processing hard food. Her swollen tummy has become a permanent part of her appearance. Until, that is, something truly miraculous happens.

That’s what happened to Christy Beam, the devoted matriarch of a close-knit, well-to-do Texas family whose memoir gets the cinematic treatment in Miracles from Heaven, directed by Patricia Riggen. It’s a deeply affecting Christian drama about the power of faith and the elasticity of the human spirit in the face of the unimaginable.

Cast in the role of the devastated Christy, Jennifer Garner faced the tough challenge of articulating incredible agony. To a lesser skilled actress it would have proved daunting, but Garner responds like a trooper to the demands of the part and deeply impresses, zoning in on the emotional heft that the performance calls for.

As the afflicted Anabelle, a warm and intelligent 10-year-old with a startlingly firm spiritual base, Kylie Rogers is a gem of a discovery whose heart-tugging performance is a portrait of hope and humility that becomes only more pronounced when the circumstances under which her healing occurs mystifies medical geniuses and the world at large.

Rounding out the strong supporting cast are Martin Henderson as Christy’s veterinarian husband Kevin and Queen Latifah as the quirky and full-of-life waitress Angela, who befriends Christy and Anabelle when they visit Boston to see a specialist. Unsurprisingly, Latifah’s Angela brings a spark to a movie that’s otherwise a real tear-jerker.

Working with screenwriter Randy Brown, Riggen gives the movie just the right blend of seriousness and weepiness, striking notes that never feel false or forced. That the film was inspired by real-life events makes the Beams’ story that much more compelling.

At the same time, this is not just a movie about “miracles”, it’s a lesson in facing your fears and finding the courage to overcome a serious test of faith. Tyrone’s Verdict: B+

THE AMEN CORNER: ‘Mama’ aims for a healing mix of religion and womanhood

SISTER TALK: Cunningham (right), with Brevett, in a scene from the stage play.

Joyce James feels like someone you know – the grandaunt who makes a finger-lickin’ meringue pie, the choirmistress at your local Baptist church. In Mama Please Take Me Back to Church, a stirring though uneven faith-based drama, she’s the titular matriarch, a staunchly devoted Christian, who holds her family together with that old-fashioned mix of scripture and selfless commitment. She is portrayed with steely resolve and compassion by ageless actress Dorothy Cunningham, who is unsurprisingly the best thing about the show. Her monologues as narrator, inviting us to accompany her on this reflective journey, are sharply observed and poignantly rendered.

Written and directed by Andrew Roache, who has a few minor hits under his belt, the stage drama explores themes of womanhood, redemption, family and failure, but it sometimes feels preachy. Still, Roach’s haunting and true-to-life depiction of the ties that bind and mother-daughter dynamics will resonate with you.

Cunningham’s Joyce, a Jamaican living in a New York suburb with her grouchy younger sis Debbie (Samantha Brevett), has two gorgeous but vastly dissimilar daughters who are her world. The career-driven Keturah (Sabrina Thomas) is committed to her job as a district attorney though she’s having “problems”, while Mary (Petrova Kenward) is the outgoing sibling still trying to find herself.

They are perfect foils of each other, but Mama Joyce loves them equally, even though she regularly butts heads with them over opposing views on Christianity in today’s world – a recurring subject throughout the play. To say the least, the daughters, no longer impressionable girls, have very strong opinions about religion and the role it plays in modern society.

The family is shaken to the core when an on-the-job attack lands Keturah in the hospital battling for life. It’s an episode that forces the young woman to look deep within for answers and consider what truly matters the most to her. Luckily, she has the ideal confidante in her God-fearing mama to turn to.

The up-close arrangement of the stage and audience seating inside the Hope Road-based YMCA gymnasium lends the show a very intimate vibe that ratchets up the rapport between actors and viewers. It’s a connection that lingers throughout, even during the moments that lull. As for the story itself, a few bases are left uncovered. The absent father figure, for instance, is put through the ringer by the daughters but we never learn the truth about why he’s not in the picture. To wit, what we do learn about these four women is very limited. 

Still, they do make quite an impression, and the actresses who portray them (all fresh faces except for Cunningham, of course) give performances that are alternately intense and heartfelt. You gets lots of tears, a whole lot of venting and ample reminder that prayer works and forgiveness heals. Tyrone’s Verdict: B-

Thursday, 24 March 2016

WOMEN ON THE MOVE: US professor Lara Putnam sheds light on women migration patterns for Elsa Goveia Lecture

WORKING GIRL: The building of the Panama Canal drew scores of women to provide services, Putnam (below) points out.

For her presentation of the 32nd Elsa Goveia Memorial Lecture at the Philip Sherlock Centre, UWI Mona, on Tuesday, distinguished University of Pittsburgh history professor Lara Putnam addressed the topic “Cities of Women: Gender Divides in Circum-Caribbean Migration 1880-1930”. What Putnam gave was an insightful, deeply stimulating presentation that showed depth of research and how an intellectual discourse can enlighten and entertain with its fascinating arguments and articulate use of language.

Analyzing the patterns of women making the move to places like New York City (before it became the Big Apple) and Panama (at the height of the Canal construction) during the period in question, Putnam noted, “These patterns were clearly good for families but bad for couples because families were able to take advantage of opportunities.”

Taking her observations one step further, the professor made it clear that the data uncovered is ideally suited to understanding women’s sense of their place in the world, the ageless fight for economic independence and the possibilities that existed for Caribbean women overseas back then: providing reproductive labour, building on the domestic skills that were handed down to them through generations (from culinary to dressmaking) and acquiring new skills along the way. “Maybe in looking back on this part of the Caribbean’s past we can better understand aspects of the modern world,” Putnam argued.

The lecturer, who holds degrees from Harvard and the University of Michigan and is an unabashed devotee of Caribbean and Latin American history, further anchored her presentation by making a direct and fascinating link between our literature and history. She drew on five novels with strong female protagonists and migration-themed narrative arcs to better illustrate her argument that for a lot of Caribbean women of that era who desired to make a life in greener pastures, their economic and kinship choices were interrelated.

Putnam chose two popular works by H.G. DeLisser (Jane’s Career and Susan Proudleigh), the contemporary stories of Paule Marshall’s Brown Girl, Brownstones and Audre Lorde’s Zami: A New Spelling of My Name, and the CLR James classic Minty Alley

She stressed that while such works as Claude McKay’s Banjo and Home to Harlem and Samuel Selvon’s The Lonely Londoners also make worthwhile contributions to the migration discourse, her five selections are singularly important in thinking of the Caribbean woman as migrant.

Putnam, who no longer feels like “an outsider” writing about Caribbean history (and has paid a few visits to UWI’s Cave Hill campus in Barbados), says she relishes opportunities to escape into the past and make startling discoveries. “I love finding stories that help me understand people of years gone by and their own complexities,” she tells TALLAWAH.

The author of three books (including the acclaimed debut The Company They Kept), Putnam says she is looking forward to focusing her next work on migration to Venezuela, a largely unexplored subject. “For me, it’s about looking at the past and trying to make sense of a world that was as complicated to them as it was to us,” she says. “I like stories that give you glimpses of life-changing experiences in history because those opportunities can be very rare.”

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

TALLAWAH MOMENT: Bustamante Hospital receives $55-million boost from Shaggy & Friends

LIFE SAVERS: Shaggy and his team and sponsoring partners sharing a moment with the big cheque on Tuesday.

Orville ‘Shaggy’ Burrell and his team may have been the toast of Tuesday’s handing-over of the proceeds from the 2016 Shaggy & Friends megaconcert at the Bustamante Hospital, but he had to share the praise and the spotlight with the hospital’s hardworking staff, who were repeatedly lauded during the ceremony for their tireless efforts at the facility, in spite of major resource constraints.

According to board chairman, Kenneth ‘Kenny’ Benjamin, Shaggy’s continued philanthropy goes a far way in motivating staffers to give of their best. “Shaggy has not only helped to improve the physical facilities at this hospital; he has raised morale among the staff,” Benjamin told the packed conference room. “When Shaggy walks around the property, everbody is smiling. They are so motivated to work. Everything is about dedication to this hospital. These kinds of donations give hope to staff and parents, as we dare to care for our children.”

Heartfelt messages also came from representatives of corporate sponsors Scotiabank (Vice President Yanique Forbes-Patrick), FLOW (Head of Marketing and Sponsorship Kim Lee) and Managing Director of Wata/Wisynco William Mahfood, who presented a cheque valued at $8.26 million to this hospital, the proceeds from a recently launched initiative where three dollars from every bottle of Wata sold is donated to the hospital.

Health minister Dr. Christopher Tufton also addressed the gathering, pledging the government’s commitment to finding solutions to “an under-resourced but critical area of our health-care system”: ensuring that all children have access to proper health care.

The main event arrived when the Shaggy Make a Difference Foundation formally presented their symbolic cheque (worth $55 million) to the hospital’s directors, including Senior Medical Officer Dr. Michelle Dawson and Head of Anaesthesia and Intensive Care, Dr. Lambert Innis.

In addition to leftover funds from previous donations and fundraisers, the money will go towards establishing a CAT Lab and getting work underway for a cardiac unit. For the future, Shaggy’s team has set their sights on constructing an ICU Unit at the hospital. “This hospital is a gem, and we need to take care of it,” Shaggy says. “The work nuh stop. We have things to do.”

TRUTH AND DARE: Cool creativity, intriguing concepts at UWI Dance Society’s terrific 45th season

STRENGTH OF CHARACTER: Performers take centrestage at Mona's Philip Sherlock Centre.

Amanyea Stines delivered the most captivating choreographed work at the University Dance Society’s 45th season (“Phoenix”) inside the Philip Sherlock Centre on the weekend. A gripping three-hander entitled “To Each Its Own,” the work looked at domestic abuse and women in crisis. It’s a spare, lacerating piece of dance theatre that you don’t just see; you feel it as it works its way under your skin, pulling you in with its tidal wave of emotion and unyielding earnestness.

Adele’s shattering vocals (“I Miss You”) provided a reservoir of feeling for committed dancers Robyn Lee, Savanna Lloyd and Zoe Heywood, who convincingly transformed the stage into an artistic canvas on which to project the passion and pain of their characters – three conflicted women clinging to hope against hope, women seemingly on the edge of a breakdown. To say the least, it’s a stunning work of art and an unforgettable creation from Stines.

Similar qualities could be cited to describe Chelsea Brown’s “D’M Powament,” which yielded a throbbing mix of trepidation, transformation and triumph, as it shared the story of a downtrodden and insecure girl (the mysterious blackbird) who, by the end of the piece, evolves into a confident young woman rising above her adversities. The strong supporting cast of male and female dancers used their agile and frequently acrobatic movements to good effect.

Meanwhile, we loved the poetry and subtle flair of Kyisha Patterson’s “Bare”; the dizzying energy and kaleidoscopic appeal of Kelly Barrett’s “Body Riddims” and the ambitious-meets-unpretentious scope of Maria Hitchins’ “Champions, Yaad and Abroad,” an experimental surfing of dancehall’s myriad styles.

But the season was at its most compelling, however, putting the spotlight on such ideas and concepts as self-actualization and liberation. Choreographer Kareen McLean did a terrific job with “Fear is Fear,” a sublime work featuring red costume-clad dancers, lots of angst and the ideal score in Philip Glass’ “The Hours” theme. The Pharell Williams hit “Freedom” helped turn Michael Holgate’s “Ubuntu” into an irresistible and triumphant meditation on togetherness and strength in numbers, with Afro-Caribbean sensibilities thrown into the mix.

Like Stines’ “To Each Its Own”, the very physical and technically rigorous “Trapped” (choreographed by the talented young men of D’Crew Jamaica) used a trio (Chester Jones, Mikail Samuels and Aaron Linton) to unleash a torrent of conflicting emotions and souls in torment who eventually find resolution, if only momentarily, in the aftermath.

In the end, UDS’ splendid 2016 season left us viewers with a whole lot to ponder, particularly the power of art that disturbs, art that compels and art that dares.

STAR QUALITY: Fantasia, Romain Virgo deliver stellar performances at Blues on the Green

CROWD PLEASERS: Fantasia getting up close and personal with her audience. Below, Virgo hanging with a fan.

“I came to give you everything I got; that’s the kind of performer I am,” declared Fantasia Barrino, as she launched into her fantastic hour-long set at Blues on the Green, inside the Emancipation Park last Friday night. The seasoned songbird and Grammy winner was true to her word, as she delivered a performance that not only lived up her reputable talent but packed enough showstopping thrills to remind us that there’s no substitute for stagecraft and star quality.

Working with a more than competent backing band and a reliable pair of female background singers, the former American Idol champ (who has performed live in Jamaica before) chose a grown-and-sexy motif for her set, using her inspired song selections to address everything from the ups and downs of intimate relationships to female empowerment. The supersized audience cheered her on as she gave them everything she’s got. It was a mutually beneficial connection forged through tuneful resonance and relatability.

Renditions of the bouncy “So Much to Prove” and the tell-it-like-it-is “Man of the House” made way for crowd-pleasers like “Without Me” and “Free Yourself,” arguably her most popular soul-R&B record to date. “When I See You,” another well-known lovers’ anthem fared just as well, inciting a vociferous sing-along.

Using her piercing vocals to commanding effect, Barrino then offered her rousing interpretation of the vintage classic “A Change Gonna Come,” setting the stage for an old-school segment, largely instrumental, in which the songstress let loose, showing off her funky-diva dance moves. Back on the mic, the radio smash “Lose to Win Again” and “Summertime” closed a performance that was never short on energy and showstopping pizzazz.

To open Blues on the Green earlier in the evening, emcee Paula-Ann Porter-Jones called on Jesse Royal, whose rootsy melodies (“Next to You”) and though-provoking messages (“Modern-Day Judas”, etc.) struck a chord. He was followed by Romain Virgo, whose lengthier set brought a retrospective of all the major hits that secured him international fame in the wake of appearing on Rising Stars, the Jamaican answer to American Idol, which launched Barrino into the stratosphere. 

He, too, warmed up the crowd with motivational pep talk and expressions of gratitude for the support that has kept his career afloat these past few years. Musically, all the Virgo magic was there. Takes on “Love Doctor”, “Rich in Love” and “Don’t You Remember?” made way for spirited interpretations of the standards ‘”Stay With Me”, “When A Woman Loves” and “When A Man Loves a Woman.” 

It was a performance that would have felt incomplete without “Fade Away,” one of the most powerful reggae anthems of the moment, mixed with the kind of showmanship that has made Virgo the Beres Hammond of his youthful generation.

Saturday, 19 March 2016

CHAT ’BOUT: Quotables from Kamina Johnson-Smith, Burchell Whiteman, PM Andrew Holness, and more

“There are many investors who are interested in coming to Jamaica and putting their money down in recycling the plastics and paper, but we have to have the laws in place to make it easy for them to recycle, and easy for them to do business in Jamaica….. We want the Caribbean to know, we want the world to know, that Jamaicans take care of their environment and take care of the God-given assets that we have.” – Prime Minister Andrew Holness making it clear that, contrary to recent flak, environmental issues to matter to his administration

“We are now almost 20 years on, coming to the view that the entire system is showing up deficits in critical thinking, analysis, synthesis and people being able to reason. So I am not about to bash the system before or since Common Entrance. But I believe that as a community, we have to look at how we can get the best out of what we have, so that students can begin to enjoy learning, which I think is fundamental.” – Former Education minister Burchell Whiteman reflecting on the GSAT exam and what it has achieved for the education system

“It doesn’t just impact women as individuals. It impacts their family, the children who are likely to become perpetrators or victims of violence when they become adults. It affects their productivity. It affects their self-esteem and it has such a knock-on effect on lives that I feel very deeply. It is something that affects us more than we realize, as a people trying to get to the heart of how violent our society is. I feel it is one of our root causes that needs to be fixed.” – Newly appointed foreign affairs minister Kamina Johnson-Smith adding her two cents to the raging debate on violence against women

“No one person in the PNP is responsible for the Election defeat. We all are. We entered together, campaigned together and got defeated together. It is not an issue of us versus them, as some would want to make it out to be. We all share collective responsibility. Of course, there is individual accountability. This is where the party needs to be responsible, level-headed and show maturity in its assessment of how to treat those persons.” – PNP spokesman Delano Franklyn weighing in on his party’s defeat at the Feb. 25 polls in a recent newspaper column

“I see a very powerful vision in Vision 2030 and building on that vision. What I try to do is to interpret that vision in the different sectors that we focus on, like for instance logistics, BPO and tourism, and to find new sectors where we feel Jamaica has a competitive advantage. We have some amazing logistics projects in the pipeline. What I’m looking forward to this year is improving the rate of implementation of projects and improvement in the business environment that we are working on.” – Jampro president Diane Edwards on efforts to advance the work to grow Jamaica’s creative industries

OUT & ABOUT: Scenes from Champs 2016, Jamaica House, the Kingston Book Fair, and more

IN THE OPEN: March 12, St. Andrew. Literary mavens Olive Senior and Velma Pollard make fascinating subjects for photographer Troy Johnson of the African-American Literature book club at Saturday’s Devon House-hosted book fair, which brought the curtains down on the 2016 Kingston Book Festival. Senior, a longlisted nominee for the OCM Bocas Prize, recently launched her new short-story collection, The Pain Tree (her 17th book), at UWI Mona.

IN GOOD COMPANY: March 14, Kingston. Celebrating Professor Marvin Reid (second left), who delivered this year’s Grace Kennedy Public Lecture, Professor Elsa Leo-Rhynie, Senator Don Wehby and Professor Gordon Shirley share a moment with Prof. Reid, who addressed the topic “Overfed and Undernourished: Dietary Choices in Modern Jamaica. The lecture was hosted by the Jamaica Pegasus Hotel.

PRIDE OF PLACE: March 17, Kingston. Following a ribbon-cutting exercise, with sports minister Olivia ‘Babsy’ Grange, William ‘Billy’ Heaven, the health ministry’s Dr. Kevin Harvey and CEO of the National Health Fund, Everton Anderson, a new wellness centre was officially opened at Sabina Park, the result of a partnership between the NHF and the Jamaica Cricket Association (JCA). 

FEELING GOLDEN: March 17, Kingston. Calabar’s Chris Taylor wasn’t the only one setting new records at the ISSA Boys & Girls Championships at the National Stadium earlier this week. Excelsior High’s Shanice Love, seen her bonding with ‘Champsy,’ threw 52.73 metres to claim the gold medal in the Girls Class One Discus. The championships, the 106th staging, will culminate with a full slate of finals on Saturday.

FIRST IMPRESSIONS: March 17, St. Andrew. Looking to expand bilateral collaborations, Prime Minister Andrew Holness and British High Commissioner to Jamaica, David Fitton, had talks at Jamaica House this week, signaling an early move by Britain to get acquainted with the new JLP administration.

Friday, 18 March 2016

SHARP FOCUS: Film Commissioner Renee Robinson sets her sights on raising the profile of Jamaica’s movie-making industry

POWER PLAYER: “I am meant to be a game-changer, and I’m really hoping to be that game-changer for the industry and Jamaica’s film practitioners.”

For Renee Robinson, any list of the best Jamaican films ever made must include Better Mus’ Come, Storm Saulter’s riotous riff on political tribalism and harsh socio-economic realities. “I really value the work that Storm did on that film, and considering that he made it with next to nothing makes it even more remarkable,” says Robinson. “That’s a film Jamaicans should be prouder of. We are not as proud of Better Mus’ Come as we should be.”

In her role as Jamaica’s film commissioner, Robinson is in a position to help bring more of these ambitious projects to the big screen – with the overarching aim of raising the profile of Jamaica’s film industry in the international marketplace. But before we can reach that magical chapter, there are a few housekeeping matters that need urgent attention. And that’s where Robinson’s mandate comes in.

There are three major items she wants to tackle: the establishment of a film fund, the drafting of co-production treaties and the implementation of production incentives. “I want to be remembered as the film commissioner who finally brought production incentives to Jamaica. If I can do that, I will feel that I have succeeded in this role,” she says bluntly. “Most countries offer some form of a scheme to filmmakers. What we are proposing are fiscal and non-fiscal incentives, which will have more long-term benefits.”

As for the long-awaited film fund, it’s still at the pre-development stage, but Robinson waxes optimistic that it will finally emerge before year-end. “Jampro had submitted a proposal to the government years ago for the fund to be established, so now it is being re-presented to the new administration to create a source of financing for local practitioners,” she says. “The structure is still being negotiated, but I’m hoping it will be able to sustain and advance the work that we want to do.”

In a second-floor conference room at Jampro headquarters on a warm Tuesday afternoon, Robinson has this reporter in her thrall as she speaks with vigour and passion about her vision. Having been away from the island for almost a decade, it’s like she’s seeing everything through fresh eyes. “I like the fact that [this job] is an opportunity to represent the country internationally. This is my area of expertise, so I do want to make an impact,” she tells me. “I am meant to be a game-changer, and I’m really hoping to be that game-changer for the industry and Jamaica’s film practitioners….. I’m not daunted. This is my dream job. It’s a big undertaking, but this is my field, and I have my strategies worked out.”

Though a daughter of Stony Hill in St. Andrew, Robinson spent her early years in countries all over the world. Her well-known diplomat father Lincoln Robinson worked for the United Nations, and so they young Renee and her clan enjoyed life as an expatriate family, finding a new home in whatever country Dad was stationed. But she did get to experience our local education system, when she enrolled at Campion College before heading off to North America’s Williams College in 1998 to read for her Art History and Art Studio degree. 

A trained artist, Robinson took part in small school exhibitions and worked for an architecture firm ahead of landing a post at the New York-based Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). “I do miss art,” admits the film buff, who returned to Jamaica to work with the JCDC for a few years before Toronto (where she did her Master’s) beckoned.

Robinson’s biggest break in the film world to date came when she served as lead industry programmer for the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), which gave her access to executives at such big studios as Warner Bros. and Disney. A posting in Italy soon followed. To say the least, you can’t buy that kind of on-the-job experience. So you’re inclined to agree with her when, assessing the task at hand, she says, “I understand how it needs to go.”

At her core, Renee Robinson is a highly driven career woman with the impressive accomplishments to back up the supreme confidence she has in her abilities to turn things around. She looks the part, too. Today she is a headturner in a breezy black-and-white top, a pink blazer and dark pants, pearls and a pair of chic sunglasses nestled in her thick wavy hair.

She won’t reveal her age, but she beams like a schoolgirl when talking about her scuba-diving exploits in Belize, her devotion to yoga and being fluent in Italian and French. 

She wants to start a family of her own someday, but giving this new job her all is priority number one. “I’m hopeful. It’s nice to see that there are rising opportunities for Jamaica. I’ve been gone for eight years and a lot has changed. But I think people can be hopeful about the next chapter for Jamaica,” she insists. “I like the fact that there have been growth spurts her and there, so now the mission is to advance the work to transform Jamaica into an international film destination.” 

 “I want to be remembered as the film commissioner who finally brought production incentives to Jamaica.”

THE YOUNG & THE RESTLESS: Choices and consequences collide in ghetto-fab musical Block 24

ON THEIR OWN: The young actors who populate the show's colourful cast.

When is a young man truly ready to take on the responsibilities of adult life? Prolific playwright David Tulloch firmly plants this question (among others) at the root of his latest theatrical offering, Block 24, a lightweight musical exploring young-adult angst and restlessness, dysfunctional family dynamics and the eternal intermingling of choices and one’s destiny. It’s a moderately entertaining show, yielding mixed results, but the messages are sobering and its heart is in the right place.

At the centre of all the mischief and musical madness is Ryan (Stephen-Rae Johnson), a 21-year-old striving to establish his independence and assert his manhood in the face of unyielding pressure from his disapproving father (Wayne Thorpe), who still treats him like a baby boy. Ryan is fed up with not being seen as a big man. He ditches dear ol’ dad and heads downtown to a zinc-fence tenement yard called Block 24, where he encounters some kindred spirits – young people fighting for their freedom and their identity/individuality.

It’s a motley crew: go-getter Jolene (Kelesha Dunkley) and her feckless boyfriend Kamal (Patrick Forrest), who wants to get into college; posh and ultrafemme Helen (Desiann McIntosh); hustler-par-excellence Kenesha (Francine White); loudmouth Tricia (Sheena Taylor) and Benjy (Diego Thomas), the landlord who gives them shelter and bullies them mercilessly.

Things take a stormy turn when Ryan and Jolene catch feelings, pushing Kamal to the brink. But that becomes the least of their worries when Hurricane Tiger puts Jamaica squarely in its path of travel. The choices that these kids make will determine if and how they emerge whole from the emotional (and physical) tempest that’s about to be unleashed. Casting a keen eye over all the happenings is Madame Fate (Monique Smith), a devilish presence who tries to ensnare them in her tangled web.

Though the musical numbers are devoid of showstopping allure, Kevin Moore’s choreography helps bring them to rousing life. Tulloch’s dialogue fares better – sharp and true to the Jamaican experience. And the actors, for the most part, muster the requisite conviction to sell these characters. Especially Johnson, whose leading-man potential can’t be denied. He transforms Ryan into a protagonist worth rooting for, with the charisma and the cojones to fight for what he believes in.

Thomas and Dunkley are the other standouts in a cast comprised mainly of inexperienced performers who make up the core of New Kingston’s Rotaract Club. Even so, the overall effort is laudable, thanks largely to Tulloch’s respectable directorial choices.

And it can’t be emphasized enough that that’s what the show is about: choices, choices, choices and how they make our lives better or ultimately fill us with regret – whether you’re an over-protective father desperate to ‘shield’ your family or a young man ready to emerge from his shadow and take on the brave new world. Tyrone’s Verdict: B

FLICK OF THE WEEK: Action-packed Allegiant explores honour and humanity with solid results

IN THIS TOGETHER: Woodley and James (forefront) take the lead on a quest for a survival.

The threat of having their memories erased won’t be the worst thing to happen to Tris (Shailene Woodley), Four (Theo James) and their allies in Allegiant, the latest feature in the Divergent series that’s just as edge-of-your-seat thrilling as the previous two films in the franchise. Putting their lives on the line for the greater good, they’ll be hunted down like fair game on a shoot-to-kill mission, after fleeing their war-torn base in Chicago.

Directed by Robert Schwentke, the futuristic film is an action-packed romp that comes at audiences with lots of talk about genetic modification, radioactive wastelands and factions at war. But deep down it’s big-budget, popcorn-popping entertainment and yet another strong vehicle to showcase the awesome talents of Miss Woodley, whose Tris remains a likeable heroine in whom there’s a near-seamless blend of the tough and the tender.

When Tris, Theo, Peter (Miles Teller), Christine (ZoĆ« Kravitz) and Tris’ ne’er-do-well brother Caleb (Ansel Elgort) are rescued by soldiers and whisked off to The Future, Tris is singled out and taken to meet David (Jeff Daniels), an intimidating big-wig nicknamed The Director, who runs the Bureau of Genetic Welfare. He seems obsessed with Tris’ genetic makeup – she’s “pure” while almost everyone is “damaged”.

David oversees a programme that rescues young and vulnerable children from The Fringe, but it’s not enough, he laments. He tries to interest Tris in becoming his guinea pig, using her “genetic miracle” to help save the rest of the world. Playing the protective boyfriend, Four has his doubts about David and the minions who work for him. But Tris wants to believe in David and the life-saving humanitarian work he seems so passionate about. But we all know she’s in for a rude awakening.

With a running time of almost 95 minutes, the movie boasts perfect pacing, high-octane action and sure-handed direction from Schwentke. There is never a dull moment. But Woodley is the best thing about the movie – a captivating presence whose emotional intelligence and deft grasp of her character’s complexities and inner struggle is something to behold. It becomes clear that her turns in such films as The Descendants and The Fault In Our Stars were groundwork from this transformation into a believable action hero. Give her a few more years, and she’ll be giving Charlize Theron a run for her money.

Meanwhile, there is strong supporting work from Naomi Watts (the ballsy Evelyn) and Octavia Spencer (fearless Joanna), two warrior queens – and fierce rivals – fronting male-dominated armies in battered and crime-ravaged Chicago.

The rivalry between these two leaders underscores one of the most inconvenient truths in the movie, and the entire series for that matter: change doesn’t come without sacrifice and there can be no peace without struggle. Tyrone’s Verdict: B+