Thursday, 28 July 2016

THIS LAND IS MY LAND: JCDC’s Stephen Davidson cherishes his front-row seat in the island culture he adores

BIG IDEAS: "I can identify with the mission of the JCDC, which is to unearth, develop and nurture talent," says the PR guru, pictured below out-and-about and on the job.

Inside Stephen Davidson’s office at the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission (JCDC) premises on Phoenix Avenue in Kingston, you find a plethora of striking visuals, including a well-positioned wall photo of sprint icon Veronica Campbell-Brown (his all-time favourite athlete), a few pieces of inspired artistic imagery and a fascinating pencil sketch of Stephen himself, done by a budding young artist, we presume.

Before long your eyes come to rest on the work desk. It’s a busy space, to say the least, piled high with paperwork and an assortment of paraphernalia concerning the much-anticipated events to mark the 54th anniversary of Jamaica’s Independence, which kicks off next week. It’s an epic understatement to say that the planning and promotion of these upcoming events commands the lion’s share of Stephen’s time. After all, he is the Director of Marketing and Public Relations at the JCDC, for the past three years.

His days are filled with meetings, think-tank sessions (he just got back to office from a JIS workshop) and finding new and creative ways of making the annual celebrations appealing to the masses. They say it’s team work that makes the dream work, but you have to give singular credit where it’s due. 

Stephen Davidson is a solid presence at the JCDC, an asset who seems to specialize in results and has been able to get his colleagues at the agency to embrace new ideas and a fresher approach to the business of preserving and promoting Jamaican culture. Thanks to the immense passion he brings to his work, the promotion and unfolding of JCDC events has been enveloped in more fervent buzz than in previous years.

“My job is to promote what we do and to get Jamaicans involved. Our greatest resource is the people, so we take pride in providing a platform for them to not only showcase their talents but become better citizens, as well,” he explains, brightening up the room in his vivid yellow dress shirt (bearing the agency logo) and his garrulous energy. “Our aim is to always impact national development. It’s about transforming people’s lives through arts and culture, but we also look for ways to develop other skills as well.”

It helps, too, that he has an enormous love for the Jamaican culture at large. “I have a great love for all things Jamaican. And doing marketing and PR is my passion. So coming to the JCDC was perfect,” he emphasizes. “I look for companies that have similar core values, and I can identify with the mission of the JCDC, which is to unearth, develop and nurture talent. After all the planning and hard work, I love to see the end product. I am personally amazed, always, at what comes out at the end.”

By all accounts, this is the kind of work Stephen Davidson was destined to do. Born and raised in Kingston, he got a solid education at St. George’s College, where he stood out among his peers, even serving as valedictorian for the graduating class of 2000. A scholarship took him to the prestigious Lemoyne College in New York (for a Marketing and Applied Management degree), where the spirit of excellence and active involvement continued. An MBA from the Mona School of Business and Management was up next, followed by a five-year stint with the Victoria Mutual family, working in Marketing and Corporate Affairs. He’s been with the JCDC since February of 2013.

Though admittedly proud of his city-boy roots, Stephen (now 34) is quick to admit this: “What has happened with this job is it has taken me all over the island. It has allowed me to explore the island, practically driving myself.” He lets out a hearty laugh. This coming from a guy who, Jesuit Catholic education aside, cites such indelible childhood references as a firm Christian foundation, a battery radio tuned only to RJR FM, mischief-making brothers and a miracle-working single mother.

Just outside the door of Stephen’s office, the place is abuzz with activity, alive with excited voices and intermittent peals of laughter. After all, the opening of the Independence Village at the Ranny Williams Entertainment Centre is mere days away. Stephen is just as thrilled as his coworkers about what’s to come over the course of the next week and a half, as the nation observes Jamaica 54, under the theme, “Let’s Get Together and Feel Alright.”

“Jamaica going into the Olympics heightens the enthusiasm,” he says. To wit, an exciting addition to the Emancipendence roster is the ‘Reggae to Rio’ concert (paying tribute to reggae greats and putting the focus on reggae as a product to the world), which will feature live streaming of the Opening Ceremony in Rio de Janeiro.

It goes without saying that the fervour accompanying this year’s festivities will pale in comparison to what the JCDC has in store for next year. “This year we are really setting the stage for Jamaica 55,” says Stephen, who can hardly contain the excitement bubbling up inside him. “That’s something to look forward to.”

“I have a great love for all things Jamaican. And doing marketing and PR is my passion.”

GETTING TO KNOW: Dancer Marlon Simms talks about the icons, pre-performance jitters, and his pop-culture faves

STRONG SUIT: "Going over the dance in my head is critical," says Simms, who counts Nettleford and Chevannes among his former mentors.

“I couldn’t have asked for better opportunities in my life. The work that I do comes with huge responsibilities, and it’s one that keeps me humbled to know that I was asked to do it,” reflects Marlon Simms, enjoying a much-needed break inside the NDTC rehearsal studios, after wrapping a high-energy class with a group of teen girls doing the Edna Manley College summer school programme.

At 39, Simms is a man who wears many hats in the local dance world. In addition to being a faculty member at the School of Dance for the past 10 years, he’s an acclaimed performer and choreographer, admired for his poise and intellect and, since 2013, the Associate Director of the National Dance Theatre Company of Jamaica. As the internationally renowned company embarks on his 2016 season, Simms invites us into his world, dishing on the principles and people that guide his life – and the culture picks he can’t get enough of.

My favourite books and most memorable reads: “I have been a literature lover all my life, but I have a particular weakness for Caribbean novels. I enjoyed Earl Lovelace’s The Wine of Astonishment and The Schoolmaster. I also like Chinua Achebe’s books. And one of the most beautiful novels I’ve ever read is The Stones Cried Out, a modern-day story, by Japanese author Hikaru Okuizumi. Highly recommended.”

The best films I ever saw: “The first instalment of The Matrix really opened by eyes, and the cinematography was amazing. The Sixth Sense was also appealing to me. I like when books become films, so The Devil Wears Prada is a favourite of mine. I think Meryl Streep played that character perfectly.”
The icons and mentors who changed my life: “Dance has four – Bert Rose, Barry Moncrieffe, Clive Thompson and, of course, Rex Nettleford. And I worked closely with all of them, which was a huge honour. Before he died, Professor Barry Chevannes was one of the persons I spoke with about where I wanted to go academically. He was very helpful.”

The musicians I’m always impressed by: “I do love Beres [Hammond] and those classic sounds of people like Dennis Brown. I like Raging Fyah as one of those emerging bands. I knew some of the members when they were at Edna [Manley College]. My stepfather used to listen to Percy Sledge and Gregory Isaacs all the time, so I grew up listening to them. And you can’t leave out Bob Marley.” 

Before I go on stage: “I pace a lot. I get very nervous before a performance. I tend to call people for support (Laughs). I warm up and try to sweat it out. Going over the dance in my head is also critical. And I also love to do ab work before I go on stage.”

Favourite Jamaican foods: “Grilled chicken, and stuff on the Island Grill menu. I’m there all the time. But I have a weakness for oxtail and curried goat. Any day.”

How I spend my alone time: “I love Netflix. I have it on my phone. It’s the only way I can escape. (Laughs).

> The NDTC's 2016 season is on at the Little Theatre in Kingston on weekends through August.

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

LIGHTS, CAMERA, PULPIT: Summer cinema and Biblical teaching make a cool combo at Transformed Life Church

KEEPING IT 'REEL': Pastor Fletcher's congregation has embraced the film series that recently featured the animated hit, Finding Dory (below).

How do you like your Sunday morning sermon? With popcorn and a Diet Coke? There is no concession stand at the Transformed Life Church (TLC) on Hope Road in St. Andrew, but throughout this month (and last month, for that matter), you can catch a series of homilies, delivered by dynamic preacher Dwight Fletcher, inspired by some of the biggest, action-packed movies making a splash at the cineplex this summer.

Yes, Pastor Fletcher and his flock are exploring “the Biblical truths behind this summer’s biggest movies,” in a bid to gain insight for living better lives, having better relationships and knowing God in a deeper way, through the widely appealing medium of film. By all appearances, we are living in the age of the summer blockbuster as Biblical teaching tool.

Seven films make up the curriculum: Captain America – Civil War; Me Before You; Independence Day: Resurgence; Finding Dory; The Legend of Tarzan; Jason Bourne and Star Trek Beyond. The films are not shown in their entirety during the services, and according to Pastor Fletcher the use of the film as a teaching tool is not an endorsement of the film by Transformed Life Church. It’s simply about drawing parallels between art and life and where God can be found in the mix.

“The truth is that a lot of movies that we watch are a reflection of life. When you watch the movies you can see that, especially in certain scenes, the movies are trying to teach you something or trying to get your opinion on something or move you in a certain direction,” Fletcher explains. “And if you’re not discerning, you might accept that. Sometimes with movies you absorb so much that you tend to respond to life in that way.”

As Christians, Pastor Fletcher hastens to add, it’s all about being vigilant. “So because the movies show this and that, it forces us now to reflect and ask ourselves, ‘Is that what God would have us do?’” he notes. “So here at TLC, we find the Biblical references and position them to what we are learning.”

When TALLAWAH attended a recent 7am service, the spotlight was on Finding Dory, the animated sequel that’s a hit with both kids and adults. Interestingly, Pastor Fletcher was able to draw parallels between Dory’s determination to find her way home regardless of the dangers and Jacob’s struggles on his journey and relationship with his Maker in Genesis 35. In the end, buoyed by the pastor’s keen observations, you begin to see the cinematic story and the Old Testament saga in a whole new light. 
Unsurprisingly, the “God on Film” series has struck a chord with the congregation, comprised mainly of young and young-at-heart upper St. Andrew professionals, blended families and middle-age couples. “We started it last year, but this year the response has been tremendous,” Fletcher tells TALLAWAH, beaming for a moment before regaining seriousness. “It is a teaching tool, so we’re not saying that the movie is correct, and obviously we can’t show every kind of movie. If it is R-rated we can’t show it because we’re not into those kinds of movies. The movie becomes a teaching opportunity because everything we see on film is an attempt to teach us something in life.”

The congregation has embraced the series. “It’s a very practical teaching tool,” shares TLC member Marsha Davidson. “God shows himself everywhere – in film, in dance, in music, giving us more and more opportunities to connect with him.” Orthel Faulkner agrees. “It makes the sermons more energizing,” she tells TALLAWAH. “A lot of the movies are true-to-life and the sermons are supposed to reflect life and speak to you in a relatable way.” 

For his part, Pastor Fletcher is pleased that the sermon series continues to have an impact. “We teach for application not for knowledge,” he says. “You teach so that people will apply what you are teaching.”

WORKING GIRL: 40 and fearless, Maylynne Lowe reveals where she finds her greatest joy

FREE SPIRIT: There are more than seven shades to this multifaceted artist, who is having a carer high at age 40; (below) with costars Volier Johnson and Deon Silvera.

I am an actor who’s been doing theatre locally for years, and I’ve been very fortunate. I enjoy living and working in Jamaica. I don’t have ambitions to fly off and capture some kind of medal or something like that. I’m very happy doing what I’m doing right here at home.

At this stage of my life, more than ever, work defines me. I’m grateful for every script that I get and I like to work hard. I’m most happy when I’m working, so I always pray that I have work. Not all of it is going to be wonderful but just the consistency and continuity of it is what I appreciate most.

I’m a multi-disciplinary artist. I take a lot of photography. I do a lot of writing. I like to paint. I enjoy creating. So if I’m not on stage, other kinds of creative work consumes me. But the theatre is my passion. That’s where I do my best work. I love it, love it. You have to do what you love, and it’s nice to take on roles and invest in character and express emotion. I find it very cathartic.

Lucky for me, I’ve been able to, and continue to, collaborate with some of the greats in the industry. I’m up with Oliver [Samuels] again in December; it was nice to do that big run with him in 2015. I also enjoyed sharing the stage with [Keith] Shebada [Ramsey]; I’m going to be working with him again soon. But there are other actors I’ve never worked with who I admire, like Alwyn Scott. Hopefully one day I’ll get to share the stage with him.
Right now I’m starring in the all-female show Seven Shades of Woman. It’s not the typical play. It’s experimental work; a series of poems, monologues and scenes and taking on multiple roles, which I find daunting actually. It’s a lot of work to go out there and develop character and be alone a lot of the time, but it is a nice stretch and a nice change for me. And it’s my first time working with Julene [Robinson], who is a wonderful talent. And the show has also afforded me the opportunity to work with certain actresses I’ve worked with before like Shawna [Kae Burns] and Shantol Jackson.

So my theatre family has grown considerably. And so, too, has my real family. I’ve moved back home with my mom, and my sister has also moved back home. Both of us are unmarried, so we have great house with 13 dogs now! I only have sisters, and we are all very close. It’s nice that in our adult years we can all be so very close. At 40, I’m far apart in age from them but we are the greatest of friends.

Will I ever get married again? Maybe one day. Like the theatre, I love marriage and I love love, so we’ll see.

> REVIEW: TALLAWAH spotlights Seven Shades of Woman

THE TALLAWAH INTERVIEW: Theatre’s Michael Holgate on inspiration, Garvey’s global impact, plus new and upcoming projects

ON A ROLL: "He did so many great things. I hope I'm mature enough now to tell his story," Holgate says of his Marcus Garvey musical, premiering in October.

Michael Holgate, 41-year-old maverick, deep thinker and creative genius, keeps reminding us that he can do it all. Whether it’s writing books (Night of the Indigo, the upcoming Your Empowerment GPA), staging hit theatrical productions (Dead Lef, Jonkanoo Jamboree) or nurturing young Jamaican talents to take on the world (Ashé is currently in South Africa!), Holgate brings incredible creative energy, dedication and the requisite flair to each project. Shebada Goes to School, his most recent writing-directorial effort, is now playing to large audiences at the Phoenix Theatre in New Kingston, and October brings a vibrant musical loosely based on the life and work of Marcus Mosiah Garvey. TALLAWAH goes one-on-one with Jamaican theatre’s man of the moment.

TALLAWAH: This month marks the premiere of your latest theatrical effort, Shebada Goes to School. How did the collaboration with RBT Productions come about?
Michael Holgate: Ashé is right next door to Green Gables, so we talked about it a lot over the fence, and eventually we agreed to do something together. The discussion started a long time ago but nothing came of it. Then recently they said they wanted a summer production, so here it is. 

TALLAWAH: How does this new play stand apart from everything else you’ve ever written?
Michael Holgate: Most of my productions aim to carry a message, but the main intention with this one is to entertain. So I hope I did that.

TALLAWAH: When it comes to your writing life, where do you usually find ideas and inspiration? 
Michael Holgate: Real life. Things happen and I expound on them. An idea will come to me, and I write it down. If you look at my phone I have ideas that I’ve kept on writing till something comes to me. I also choreograph dance [see below], so I jot down those kinds of ideas as well.

TALLAWAH: We hear you’re working on a Marcus Garvey musical for October. What drew you to Garvey’s story?
Michael Holgate: He is one of the most powerful Black men that ever lived and he is Jamaican and he is downplayed in some quarters. I think that we don’t give him enough credit, and yet he did so many great things and became an inspiration to so many other Black leaders. So I hope I’m mature enough now to tell his story. His story is so big that I couldn’t just throw him into another play; it had to be done on its own. And it’s a musical, which is my favourite genre.

TALLAWAH: You’re building quite an impressive body of work. Are you satisfied yet?
Michael Holgate: I’m pleased with the direction I’m heading in. I have a mentor who told me that it’s the full body of work that makes people recognize that you’ve created something worthwhile for you and a following. So not satisfied yet, but I’m working on it.
TALLAWAH: What is the key to the future growth of theatre in Jamaica?
Michael Holgate: Collaborations are important, and I think there needs to be some government involvement as well. And I mean collaborations along various levels: academic, working with creative artists, working with technocrats in government, working with various people. It’s the building of an industry that’s important right now. It takes different players, different stakeholders from different areas to make it work.

TALLAWAH: Let’s switch gears. What do you do to release tension, keep stress at bay?
Michael Holgate: For the most part, I don’t take things on, so it’s not much to release. So even tonight [opening night] somebody asked, ‘Michael, yuh nervous?’ and I’m not. And it’s just because of the philosophy that I have that no one work is the make or break of your career. You always have the opportunity to do something else. So I’m not going to kill myself for any one play, any one thing. I do my best not to stress over any one thing. I just move on to the next thing.

TALLAWAH: What’s one thing people would be surprised to know about Michael Holgate?
Michael Holgate: That I’m a political animal. I’m deeply into politics.

TALLAWAH: Is becoming a father something you see in your future?
Michael Holgate: I’m already a father with many children (Laughs). And I have a younger brother who I raised from he was a teenager in high school. He’s now 28.

TALLAWAH: Would you rather win a Tony or get Iron Man-type superpowers?
Michael Holgate: I’d rather the Tony because I already have Iron Man superpowers. I’m just not using it in the right way. (Laughs). Winning a Tony Award – it would be like, ‘Yeah, I’ve accomplished something.’

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

BACK FOR MORE: Capleton’s popular ‘St. Mary’ stage show poised for triumphant return

ON MESSAGE: The iconic deejay addressing the audience at Tuesday's well-supported launch in Kingston; (below) with a pair of female fans.

There are certain events on the local entertainment calendar that, once they’ve made a dent in the pop culture psyche, people will not let them just disappear from the scene. Count Capleton’s signature event Ah St. Mary Mi Come From among them. The megaconcert and kiddies treat was not staged for the past three years, and fans has been clamouring for its return. Now it’s back, set for Saturday, August 5, at its new home of Gray’s Inn in Annotto Bay, with a supersized entertainment package that promises value for money.

According to Capleton (né Clifton Bailey), this 12th staging of the re-energized event feels like a fresh start. “It’s the reinvention of the show, so we’re looking forward to more support than before,” he tells TALLAWAH, looking regal in his ‘fiery’ garb at the official launch, held at 28 Courtney Walsh Drive in Kingston, on Tuesday night.

Bailey, who treated the sizeable audience to an impromptu performance, said the core objective of the show remains the same: putting on a stellar production and making charitable contributions to the people of his birth parish. What’s more, he emphasized that team effort is paramount. “Without unity it nah go happen as it supposed to. Unity is the ultimate power; that’s why Ah St. Mary Mi Come From is so successful.”

Leading the charge at Capleton Music Inc is the iconic deejay’s manager Claudette Kemp, who echoed his sentiments about joining forces. “We must give thanks to the sponsors,” she stressed. “This is our breakthrough year. The vision came to me separate the children’s treat from the concert to attract more sponsorship, and I think it worked.” Red Stripe, Catherine’s Peak, Tropical Foods, CVM TV and Cal’s are among the nearly one dozen sponsors.
Mayor of Port Maria, Levan Freeman, stressed the importance of Ah St. Mary Mi Come From for not just the economy of the parish but for boosting morale among residents young and old. “Sometimes I have to wonder if it’s for profit or for charity because of the large number of charities that continue to benefit from it,” he observed. “In St. Mary, we look forward to having it and supporting it. So we’re glad it’s back. There are challenges, but we’ll work together as always to make it a success.”

Keynote speaker Carolyn Cooper was quick to highlight the bigger picture, drawing attention to Capleton’s altruism and penchant for positivity. “[This show] makes a vital contribution to the parish and is an important fundraising vehicle,” she told the gathering. “What Capleton has done is turn this event into a statement on the power of dancehall and an example of what we can all do to contribute to something bigger. He remembers where he is coming from, consistently recognizing that we have to give back to society and carrying forward the message of positivity.”

The kiddies treat will take place on Wednesday, August 24, with proceeds from the concert, whose star-studded lineup boasts a mix of heavy-hitters (Capleton, Jah Cure, Beenie Man, Chronixx, Romain Virgo), elder statesmen (Ken Boothe, Josey Wales, Louie Culture), warrior women (Ikaya, Kelissa, Lady G), rising acts (Dann I, Don Andre, Loyal Flames) and disciples of conscious reggae like Iba Mahr, Jah Bouks and Warrior King.

LOVE, LOSS & WHAT SHE WROTE: Well-acted Seven Shades of Woman delights and provokes thought

TIME TO REFLECT: Robinson commands the stage in this scene from her monologue; (below) Jackson takes centrestage.

Maya Angelou’s magisterial voice-over recital of “Phenomenal Woman” serving as the anchor of Seven Shades of Woman is just one of the many appealing assets of this creatively conceived and commendably staged revue that’s filling seats at the Phoenix Theatre in New Kingston. On opening night last Friday, we were treated to an alternately serious and sobering, humorous and heartfelt, production that provides terrific work for its five talented actresses, led by Best Actress aspirant Julene Robinson.

Women continue to make remarkable strides in leadership and service roles from the church to the White House, the bedroom to the boardroom, prevailing against unimaginable odds more often than not, and it is this resilience, cunning and unrelenting force that the show celebrates through a series of sketches mired in trials, truth-telling and a sleek balance of comedy and drama.

Whether we are watching Robinson’s delightful matter-of-fact monologue about roots, identity and finding a decent man beyond the boundaries of race and class or Shawna-Kae Burns playing the mother of all church hypocrites gossiping throughout the pastor’s sermon, we are reminded that women (Jamaican and global) come in all shapes, sizes and shades. Seven Shades of Woman? More like a million.
In one scene, Maylynne Lowe gives a lip-smacking lesson in grit and steely determination as a wicked aunt who faces the Judgement to give an account for her sins. A riveting confession ensues. Shantol Jackson employs an African-American accent (thick with bitterness) to portray a young hooker who refuses to give up her seat on the bus. Shanique Brown and Robinson team up to portray a depressed Jamaica-based daughter and her frustrated UK-based mother attempting to bond, for the first time in ages, on Skype.

But the most entertaining scenes manifest when the ladies share the stage together. Case in point: Robinson (the posh preacher’s wife type), Brown (the deep-rural granny) and Jackson (the foxy social climber) sending up prayers laced with extraordinary demands. Then there’s Robinson as bright spark Ayanna, who has to be empowered by her protective mother (Burns) to stand up to a ‘peppery’ classmate (Brown), in a piece that looks at peer pressure and the psychological effects of bullying on young girls.

Best of all: Burns, Jackson, Robinson and Lowe appearing as four physically challenged old women heading out on a road trip and the high jinks that precede their departure. Phenomenally funny stuff. Tyrone’s Verdict: B+

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

WOMAN OF THE WORLD: Actress Bertina McCaulay talks women, power and the changing of the guard

CLASS ACTS: McCaulay bonding with her son Sekai; (below) the cast of Woman Tongue.

At age 52, and with over two decades’ worth of solid work under her belt, actress Bertina McCaulay has made a successful career out of tackling emotionally hefty roles that resonate deeply with her in more ways than one. But starring in the oestrogen-spiked stage hit Woman Tongue (remounted this past weekend at Mona’s Philip Sherlock Centre) just so happened to engage with ideas she’s been toying with in recent times – notably shifting power structures, complex human relationships, and women on top. Here, the veteran star of film (Cool Runnings), stage (Amen Corner; Love and Marriage and New York City) and TV (Royal Palm Estate) has a quick chat with TALLAWAH. 

TALLAWAH: Woman Tongue boasts a female writer and an accomplished all-female cast. How come we haven’t seen more female Jamaican writers coming to the fore?
Bertina McCaulay: It’s interesting because we do need more women writers to be telling our stories. It’s still a male-dominated field, so we need to see more of the women stepping up. Our local male playwrights are doing an excellent job, but the women can do it just as well.

TALLAWAH: On the performance side of things, an exciting new wave of young actresses has leaped to the fore (namely Shantol Jackson, Shanique Brown, Julene Robinson, et al) and are making their presence felt. What do you make of their emergence?
Bertina McCaulay: I love it, love it, because we have to be about renewal. You can’t keep the same set of people in the spotlight forever. We have to start playing the mothers and the grandmothers. Just like Leonie Forbes. She was young once; she used to play the daughter and then she started playing the mother and then the granny. Mi soon start play granny, too. I think. (Laughs).

TALLAWAH: On a more serious note, Portia Simpson-Miller has asserted that she will not be stepping down as PNP party leader any time soon, and aspiring challenger Peter Bunting has changed his tune. Is the immense pressure on Simpson-Miller justified?
Bertina McCaulay: The pressure that is on her has nothing to do with her being a woman. It has more to do with the changing of the guard. You’ve got to hand over power to the younger generation at some point, and welcome the younger ones who can lead. It’s about renewal. And this is not unique to the political arena; that’s what’s happening around the world.

TALLAWAH: So will Hilary Clinton make history?
Bertina McCaulay: My God, I hope she does! We need her to. And I don’t mean to sound harsh or anything, but if they allow [Donald Trump] to win, it can lead to a lot of serious damage for not just America, but the world.

TALLAWAH: What’s your advice for newly installed UK Prime Minister Theresa May?
Bertina McCaulay: Just lead. Don’t worry about people saying this is another woman in a man’s job. Just lead by example and be the best prime minister that you can be.

> REVIEW: Woman Tongue speaks some powerful truths

Saturday, 16 July 2016

MADE IN JAMAICA: Africa-inspired Zene products get to the root of the matter

ALL NATURAL: Brown's Zene line champions female empowerment and self-worth.

Every year, the final-year Visual Arts students at the Edna Manley College put on a blockbuster exhibition that draws people from all walks to view their imaginative creations in a range of mediums and disciplines spanning sculpture, paintings, prints, textiles and entrepreneurial initiatives.

Danielle Brown, a graphics art major, decided to tackle ‘the root of the matter’ by launching Zene, a line of local-made, all-natural hair and skin-care products that dually celebrate our African heritage and modern Jamaican womanhood. “I decided to do the products because of my love for my African ancestry,” she tells TALLAWAH, calling by telephone. “It’s mostly an expression of young modern Black womanhood. And it’s a female brand, a female line that caters to natural hair ladies, so we are encouraging you to empower yourself and embrace your identity.”

The Zene line (from a Swahili word meaning ‘beautiful’) includes curling pudding, daily moisturizing cream, shampoo and conditioner, and the all-important edge tamer, presented in bottles adorned with eye-popping African patterns given a modern hyperchromatic update. More good news: no additives, no preservatives.

“There is a major trend nowadays with natural hairstyles, so we are right in line with that,” explains Brown, 21, who admittedly struggled with identity and self-acceptance issues in her younger days. “Growing up, it was hard to identify with other women and some of the products that were available to me. So I decided to create something other than what is available.”

What started out as a final-year college project is now a promising business adventure that Danielle Brown is determined to explore to the fullest. “Everybody is asking for it to be in the stores,” she says of the response to the year-old line of products. “It’s gonna be available in the stores, but for now we’re keeping it exclusive and done to order. People also want their own customized products.”

For Brown, based in the Long Mountain section of St. Andrew, where family members help with the creative process, customer feedback has been invaluable. She’s not giving up the dream of doing graphic design as the career of choice, but creating the Zene line has made her an accidental businesswoman with an additional source of income, and she is keenly interested in the future possibilities. “The long-term plan is to get the products in the stores and to get natural-hair salons to use it in people’s hair. We are about embracing your African roots and promoting natural beauty and healthier lifestyles.”

> Follow Brown on Instagram @zenelifestyle or email for more information.

RUN FOR COVER: Bolt talks racing form, Rio 2016 and retirement with Sports Illustrated

TOP SHAPE: "These are the Olympics that separate me from the pack," the world record-holder says.

For the third time in his illustrious track-and-field career, Usain Bolt is gracing the cover of Sports Illustrated. In the interview, which touches on everything from injuries and gold medals to Rio 2016 and retirement, the 29-year-old Jamaican speedster and World’s Fastest Man reunites with prolific scribe Tim Layden, who has interviewed Bolt five times since they first met in 2008. This time around, they had a lot to catch up on. Here are some of TALLAWAH’s favourite quotes from the piece:

On whether his mind ‘strays’ during training: “All the time. I think about victories. I think about world records. The other day I was running 110s, and then I was warming down all by myself. In Rio, should I run the 100 metres just to win, and save my energy for the 200 metres? I really want to break that world record again. If I shut it down in the 100, will people be happy? I don’t know. But that’s the kind of thing I think about all the time.”

On his staying power: “Sometimes I question myself: Why am I still doing this? I’ve accomplished so much in the sport. You know what I mean? I still want to accomplish more, but it gets harder over time. I talked to Michael Johnson once about this, how you shouldn’t stick around for too long. The more you race, the more you tear your body down. I’ve been telling people for years that I’m a lazy person, and I don’t think they believe me. But I really am. I don’t like training.”

On the challenges of the 2015 season: “It was just really stressful, man. In June, I wasn’t running the way I’m supposed to be running, and Gatlin was in the form of his life….. But once I do a couple of 180-150-100 step-downs at proper speed, I know I’m in shape.”

On what makes the Rio Games special: “These are the Olympics that separate me from the pack. I’m older now, and it’s harder for me. But anytime I start feeling down, I remind myself, ‘You have got to get this done this year.’”

On retiring from athletics: “What do I think about for my retirement? I just think about not doing track anymore. You know what I mean? I want to live comfortably when I retire.” 

> To check out the full interview, go to the Sports Illustrated webpage.

Thursday, 14 July 2016

COUNTRY STRONG: Upcoming Jamaica 54 events promise festive energy, patriotic spirit

TRUE COLOURS: Jamaicans are expected to turn out in their numbers for the annual Emancipendence celebrations.

The Jamaica 54 Emancipendence celebrations, under the theme “Let’s Get Together and Feel Alright”, promise a raft of activities, steeped in tradition, innovation and festive energy, that guarantee merriment, lots of nostalgia and pure excitement.

Sunday, July 31, brings the National Thanksgiving Service, to be held at Windward Road’s Pentecostal Gospel Assembly, commencing at 11am. The Jamaica Gospel Song grand finale concert is also scheduled for that Sunday, starting at 7pm, at the Ranny Williams Entertainment Centre. And speaking of the Hope Road-based Centre, for the third year in a row, the venue will play host to the Independence Village, a sprawling day-to-night cultural hub (think food court, ground produce, live music), which will draw mammoth crowds daily.

Monday, August 1 (Emancipation Day), is scheduled for the grand opening of the Augus’ Mawnin’ Market (6am) and the Miss Jamaica Festival Queen coronation, which gets going at 8pm. On August 2, the Aunty Roachy Festival kicks off at noon, ahead of the usually action-packed Fashion Greets Music showcase, set for 8pm. The kaleidoscopic performing-arts extravaganza Mello Go Roun’ will be the highlight on August 3, starting at 8pm. The World Reggae Dance Championships, also starting at 8pm, is set for August 4.

Meanwhile, the avidly awaited ‘Reggae to Rio’ concert (a timely reminder that the summer belongs to Brazil) will be held on Friday, August 5. The spotlight then shifts to Independence Day, August 6, for the Independence Parade (King’s House, 9am) and the main event – the Grand Gala (inside the National Stadium, 6pm). For those who prefer the big-screen treatment, the Independence Village will host a viewing party, also starting at 6pm.

And there’s more to look forward to. On Sunday, August 14, the Louise Bennett Garden Theatre will host the Jamaica Poetry Festival, a feast of the written and spoken word, starting at 7pm. Marcus Garvey’s birthday, August 17, calls for a floral tribute at National Heroes Park at 8am. Lawrence Park, in his hometown of St. Ann’s Bay, will stage a civic ceremony, starting at 4pm.

Throughout the Emancipendence period, parish capitals will also put on a variety of activities and special events, ranging from parades and flag ceremonies to concerts and street dances.

ALL EYES ON RIO: Official Team Jamaica squad revealed + Will Zik-V spoil the show? + Nesta Carter receives SDF financial aid

MISSION, MEDALS: With just over three weeks to go before the eyes of the world turn to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, for this summer’s keenly anticipated Olympics, Jamaica’s 63-member delegation was announced at the Jamaica Pegasus Hotel in New Kingston on Monday. Of that number, 44 are athletes (led by defending champions Usain Bolt and Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce), who will vie for medals in athletics, swimming, field events and gymnastics. But what will become of Jason Morgan’s bid to represent the country at the Games? Will the shot-put champion’s shocking omission be overruled by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) ahead of their departure? We’ll just have to wait and see how this one plays out.

CARTER ON HOLD: Meanwhile, relay gold medallist Nesta Carter won’t be going to Rio this summer, as he will have to attend a hearing into his doping case in Lausanne, Switzerland. But there’s some good news for him. According to reports, the embattled sprinter is to receive some financial aid to help cover his legal fees. The Social Development Foundation (SDF) has signed off on £20,000 (J$3.3 million) to be dispatched to his attorneys to aid in the fight against the doping charges. Carter’s troubles, a positive test for a banned substance, stems from his participation in the Beijing Olympics in China in 2008.

THE SHOW MUST GO ON: Will the dreaded Zika Virus put a damper on the spectacle of the Rio Games? Not if local officials in Brazil have a say in the matter. “Over the past few weeks, rumours of the possibility of an outbreak of tropical disease during the Games has circulated. We can assure you, as has the World Health Organization, that the risk of Zik-V infection during the Games is practically non-existent. Historically, an extremely low incidence of disease transmitted by the aedes aegypti has been recorded during the winter season in the southern hemisphere,” says Brazil’s interim president Michel Temer. “Brazil is ready to receive all of the visitors who will be enjoying the pleasure of watching the world’s elite international sports athletes compete, and surely we will have a great deal to show the five billion viewers around the world who will be watching the Games as well. Brazil awaits you with open arms.”

LOCAL MADE, GLOBAL REACH: ‘Building Brand Jamaica must involve the youth’ – Kamina Johnson Smith

DUTY CALLS: The minister attending the 46th General Assembly of the OAS; with Caribbean Women of Florida reps at a recent Diaspora Summit.

The Diaspora continues to play a definitive role as Brand Jamaica further solidifies its place in the international sphere. Recognizing this, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade is fortifying its partnerships with local companies that reach a global audience, especially the youth.

“As part of our strategy to enhance and expand the relationship with our Diaspora, my ministry is placing emphasis on the younger generation. This is critical for the sustainability of the Diaspora movement,” said foreign affairs minister, Senator Kamina Johnson Smith, who was delivering the keynote address at Monday’s launch of the 2016 GraceKennedy Jamaican Birthright Programme at company headquarters in Downtown Kingston.

“We have begun the discourse with several young people in New York and Florida. I intend to continue this process whenever I travel to a Diaspora location. It is my firm belief that we can also learn from you, our private sector partners, as we develop strategies and programmes to reach young people in the Diaspora, with the aim of maintaining an affinity to our beloved nation.”

Protecting the national brand and preserving our legacy abroad is 24/7 work, Senator Johnson Smith makes clear, but she remains committed to her leadership role when it comes to this task. “The Jamaican brand is a powerful one and is easily recognized around the world. I am pleased to report that we are now making strides to protect our brand. In 2015, Jamaica became the first English-speaking country in the Caribbean to register a geographical indication through the registration of Jamaica Jerk with the Jamaica Intellectual Property Office,” the minister revealed. “This designation means that for any product to have the “Jamaica Jerk” label, all of its ingredients must originate in Jamaica.”

In the meantime, the minister also pledged the government’s support for the longevity of Grace’s birthright programme. “It is yet another initiative that demonstrates the company’s commitment to corporate social responsibility, not only in Jamaica but in the jurisdictions in which GraceKennedy is established,” she said. “We look forward to collaborating on more projects with GraceKennedy, and the private sector in general, as we seek to positively impact the lives of young Jamaicans.” 

> TAKE ME HOME: Four college kids earn ‘birthright’ internships

CULTURE VULTURE: Jamaican lawyer outshines the world + Bertram chronicles Norman Manley + UWI launches McIntyre/Nettleford scholarship fund

BRAIN POWER: Jo-Anne Jackson Stephens recently added ‘world beater’ to her long list of accomplishments. A young Jamaican attorney who now lives and works in Cayman, Stephens has been honoured with the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners (STEP) Excellence Award for achieving the highest marks in the world in the Company Law and Practice Examination. “I was competing with very smart people from across the world, including the UK, Europe and the Caribbean,” says the Norman Manley Law School alum (Class of 2006) and Oxford University graduate (Class of 2012), who has been employed to the Cayman-based firm Higgs & Johnson since October 2015. “It demonstrates that hard work and dedication are truly keys to success.” 

FOUNDING FATHER: If there’s one thing you can say for Jamaica’s literary culture it’s that there’s no shortage of publications that celebrate the lives and legacies of our most distinguished nation-builders. Now comes N.W. Manley and the Making of Modern Jamaica (Arawak Publications), Arnold Bertram’s deeply researched homage to the National Hero and PNP patriarch, recently launched at the Knutsford Court Hotel in New Kingston. While PNP stalwart Dr. Peter Phillips hails the book as a much-welcomed salute to a man who was “born to create history”, former Jamaican Prime Minister P.J. Patterson, yet another PNP giant, says the informative book was long in the making but certainly worth the wait. Order your copy HERE.

HIGHER LEARNING: “The Fund recognizes the importance of making an educational experience accessible to our most promising young scholars. This scholarship also celebrates the history of connectedness between Oxford and UWI.” Those were sentiments expressed by UWI Vice Chancellor Sir Hilary Beckles in reference to the university’s newly established McIntyre/Nettleford Vice Chancellor’s Scholarship Fund. Named in honour of two Caribbean legends of academia (Rex Nettleford, above, and Sir Alister McIntyre), the scholarship will cover all costs for an undergrad degree at UWI, benefitting high-achieving youth from disenfranchised backgrounds.

FINDING HER VOICE: On-the-rise songstress Abby-Gaye Dallas talks purpose and solo stardom

MAKING AN ENTRANCE: The rising star strikes a pose at the CVM Studios in Kingston; (below) with her background vocalists.

28-YEAR-OLD Abby-Gaye Dallas’ stage presence may exude the grrl-powered edginess of Pink and Tessanne Chin, but vocally she’s a roots-reggae powerhouse fast-tracking in the footsteps of her idols Marcia Griffiths and Tanya Stephens, for whom she has done background vocals. This Portmore native and School of Music graduate banks screen time these days as a co-host on CVM’s Ladies Views but establishing her identity as a young, dynamic musical force to be reckoned with is top priority number one. She’s well on her way. Having won the Jamaica Festival Song Competition and released and EP, she’s now crafting a special treat for her growing fanbase – her debut album, 12 Months of Summer. At last Saturday’s Festival Song finale at the Ranny Williams Entertainment Centre, TALLAWAH spent time with the rising star talking about achievements, ambition and stylish attitude.

TALLAWAH: It’s been almost five years since you won the Jamaica Festival Song Competition, becoming the youngest contestant (and third female) to do so. What’s been happening in your life since then?
Abby-Gaye Dallas: The journey since then has been mostly me finding the courage to believe in myself and push on to take my music to the next level. I’ve released an EP (last September’s Abby-Gaye Destined) and a mixtape, and now I plan to just keep on pushing. It has been a great ride so far, but the work is just getting started.

TALLAWAH: You introduced a couple of your original songs during your performance on the show earlier. Where do you usually find good songwriting material?
AGD: My material is mostly from everyday life, the relatable stuff. Everyday situations, man-and-woman relationships. But I’m about empowering women to be independent. I like to write about love because love is real. Almost any relatable subject or experience you can think of, I can write or sing about it.

TALLAWAH: Which brings me to my next question: as a singer-songwriter, how did you discover your life’s purpose?
AGD: I’ve been entering JCDC competitions since high school. In 2005, I won a scholarship to go to Edna Manley College [School of Music], and two years after graduating in 2010, I won the Festival Song competition. So I realized that this is what I’m supposed to be doing with my life. Edna Manley really prepares you for a life in the music industry. You learn about the roots of reggae and many different genres, and I’m classically trained as well.
TALLAWAH: What major hurdles have you had to overcome? What valuable lessons have you learned along the way?
AGD: The most important thing is finding the right people to support you and believe in you and your talent, and I think I have found that. They help me face the challenges that come with the industry. 

TALLAWAH: I have to ask about this punk-rock haircut, which is quite the dramatic head-turner. 
AGD: I wanted a change, so I just cut it off, and people have been telling me that this is the look! Tonight I have it in the Jamaican colours, but you can expect to see a different colour next week. I’m loving it. Sometimes it’s red, blue, green. It depends on my mood.

TALLAWAH: Looking ahead, what do you see in your future personally, professionally and otherwise?
AGD: I definitely see myself becoming an international name, touring the world, doing movies, connecting with my fans, and just being the best that I can be.