Wednesday, 30 November 2016

AUTHOR SPOTLIGHT: Monica Minott talks about her new anthology Kumina Queen, family and finding her voice

WELL VERSED: “I believe that you must love your art,” shares the poetess.

Hailed by Jamaica’s Poet Laureate Mervyn Morris as “a significant Jamaican poet,” Winsome ‘Monica’ Minott stakes her claim as a breath of fresh air to the local literary landscape, crafting poetry that mines the riches of our island culture while exploring universal themes that run the gamut from friendship and family to death and longing. With Kumina Queen (Peepal Tree Press), her first full-length collection (launched on Monday at UWI Mona, drawing a fair-sized turnout of well-wishers and members of the local literati), Minott is offering readers a solid introduction to a distinctively Jamaican voice with something meaningful to say.

TALLAWAH: Your poem “Easter Sunday Morning” is a moving tribute to the late Rex Nettleford. What was your connection to him?
Monica Minott: As a dancer, I grew up at the School of Dance. I was there for 10 years, so I studied with him, and he inspired me a lot. Rex is very special to me, and as you can see, members of the [dance school] came out to support [this launch] as well. They are a part of my family, and my daughter dances with the [NDTC] company now.

TALLAWAH: So you do have an inner kumina queen!
Monica Minott: (Laughs). Put it this way, I’ve always danced, but after I had my child I could not do all the things I wanted to do, like do my business and put in the hours for dance. So I really started to write about it instead. 

TALLAWAH: So this is your debut collection. 
Monica Minott: This is my first full-length collection, but I have other things that are out there.

TALLAWAH: “Good Hair” captures some nostalgic family moments. Writing it evidently took you down memory lane.
Monica Minott: Oh definitely! My sister [who combed my hair] would mash mi up every week, you understand? (Laughs). So I definitely went back into my childhood for that one.

TALLAWAH: Tell us about one of the best books you ever read.
Monica Minott: I’d have to go back to Atlas Shrugged [by Ayn Rand]. I read it so long ago, but it’s very memorable to me. It’s a hard business book. It’s about a guy who was striving to become the best architect, and the business forces were against him. They wanted him to conform. But I believe that we should not necessarily conform to everything that is given to us, but we should embrace change. That is the only way you grow.

TALLAWAH: You’ve said that Prof. Eddie Baugh incited in you “a wanting to write.” How so? 
Monica Minott: About 15 years ago, a pastor came into my office and asked me what my talent was. I decided that because I love writing I was going to see if this was my true talent. Then I started to have concerts and I would invite poets, and then I realized that this was what I really liked. A few years after that, Prof. Edward Baugh took me under his wing, and then I was also in touch with Prof. [Mervyn] Morris. And between the two of them, they adopted me. They made me feel special. And, in fact, people thought I was a member of the Department of Literatures in English, but I was at that time a Business and Management Studies graduate. But they treated me as one of their own. 

TALLAWAH: What’s your advice for Jamaica’s aspiring poets and storytellers?
Monica Minott: I believe that you must love your art. To do so, do not be afraid of exploring; do not be afraid of failing. I like to say, ‘You fail forward.’ Do not become static. Learn from your failures and keep on moving forward.

NEW ARTIST SPOTLIGHT: Songstress and free spirit Jazmyn blends soulful grooves and positive energy

FLYING SOLO: The songbird, 23, giving a stellar performance at the National Gallery on Sunday.

Without missing a beat, Jazmyn Taylor calls out Tessanne Chin, Alicia Keys, Erykah Badu and Beyoncé among the long list of women who’ve been inspiring her artistically over the years. “These are Black women who are doing it and nobody can stop them. They’re just my heroines, pretty much, in music,” she tells TALLAWAH with wide-eyed conviction. By all appearances, the 23-year-old songbird (who goes by Jazmyn for stage performances) has what it takes to one day ascend to their ranks.

Those of us who caught her funky solo show at the National Gallery of Jamaica on Sunday afternoon, left the venue convinced that we’d just seen a future star in action. Soulful, bouncy and energetic with awesome stage presence, Jazmyn pulls you into her act, and before you know it you’re singing along to her infectiously groovy original numbers “Tomorrow Will Come”, “Close to You” and “Here to Stay” and some of her favourite covers like Queen B’s “Déjà Vu”, Miss Badu’s “Tyrone”, Tessanne’s version of “Underneath It All” and A-Keys’ “In Common.”

“It’s a fusion. So it’s pop, reggae, soul, funk,” Jazmyn tells us after the performance, describing her sound. As she explains, she’s been singing all her life. “From I could talk I was singing, but it was just a few months ago that I decided to take that leap of faith, step out and go solo.”

In a nutshell, Jazmyn Taylor embodies that enticing, enviable combination of budding star power and academic brain power. A daughter of the Harbour View section of Kingston, the singer (who hails from a big, music-loving family) not only holds an undergrad degree in Psychology from UWI Mona but has already completed her Masters in Clinical Psychology.

“Like most persons, you follow the path set before you. You do the education and schooling. And for me music and performing and dance was always a hobby, so I never thought that I could pursue this and put my all and my energy into it,” explains the Ardenne High alumna who, after giving an impromptu performance at a Marley concert about a year ago, decided to chase the dream.

Since then, she’s been writing and recording singles alongside her academic pursuits. Lucky for her, she has a solid support team in her corner. “I have a family that’s been supporting me with psychology and is now supporting me through music,” she says. “I can’t complain. I’ve been blessed.”

So what’s next for the five-foot-six “free spirit filled with positive energy?” “I just want to make good music,” she shares, sporting a cute irie T-shirt, black jeans and curly, sideswept diva hair. “I know it’s a hard hustle, so right now I’m focused on writing and recording songs that will stand the test of time. I just want to continue doing it and touching lives.”

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

CHAT ’BOUT: A Rhodes Scholar’s dream + Making Kingston ‘smarter’ + The real Usain Bolt stands up

“Trump supporters (mostly less educated white men and women) voted for him not because he gave them T-shirts, caps, armbands, curry goat and money, but because they bought into his vision of a USA better for them. I want to know what Jamaican voters vote for when they go to the polls. A growing number stays away, largely because of the disaffection with both political tribes… As we go to the polls, neither of the major parties offers us a national vision. Neither has published a manifesto, so we have nothing by which to judge their success (or failure).” – Gleaner columnist Peter Espeut assessing Jamaica’s political landscape and voter behaviour on the occasion of the 2016 Local Government Elections

“What it is all about is that it affords us greater security – greater efficiency. It will put us on par with the rest of the world. In fact, I am pretty sure that we will become the first smart city in the region. We will ensure that from a safety perspective, you will be covered. To park on the road, you can use your phone to pay for a ticket. Internet Wi-Fi connectivity will be available so that you are always connected, meaning you can do your business while at a lunch meeting. You can therefore manage your affairs in the office and at home just because of the level of connectivity.” – Science and Technology minister, Dr. Andrew Wheatley, waxing optimistic about Kingston becoming a ‘smart city’ by the year 2020

“Given the wealth of history that comes with the Rhodes Scholarship and given the magnitude of positive impacts that Rhodes Scholars before have had, this means that there is a great responsibility on my shoulders to ensure that I live up to that tradition, to make sure that I make as much a mark as others have before me. It means I have to do something worthwhile; it means that for all the investments that have been made in me, the fruits have started to show, and I’m grateful.” – New Rhodes Scholar Shakeba Foster expressing determination to meet and surpass the expectations that come with the prestigious and highly coveted scholarship

“Given the realities and impact of international financial regulations, Jamaica must undertake the huge task of bringing the informal economy to book. Failing to do so will significantly hamper planning and development activities and affect Jamaica’s standing with international financial institutions.” – Jamaica Association for Micro Financing Chairman, Dr. Blossom O’Meally-Nelson on the urgent need for Jamaica’s regulatory framework and financial practices to comply with international standards

“I live a simple life, you know what I mean? One of the things that made me really want to do this was people always saying: ‘Aw, this is not who he really is. He’s not always laughing. It’s not always fun for him.’ This is who I am. I really wanted to show people this is who I am. I like to have fun. I like to chill. I like to go out. That’s just a part of me. The part that people don’t see; that’s the part I want to show people behind the scenes, the hard work.” – Track-and-screen star Usain Bolt explaining why he agreed to let the cameras follow him around for his new documentary I Am Bolt, in theatres now

CREATURE COMFORT: Rowling’s Fantastic Beasts has the dazzle and imaginative verve of Harry Potter

IMAGINE THAT: Redmayne's Newt Scamander finds adventure in New York.

Visually sharp and strongly acted, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is J.K. Rowling’s long-awaited follow-up to the Harry Potter tales that made her an international storytelling sensation. Directed by David Yates, the two-hour-long 3D film, which could spawn a few sequels, provides audiences with a deep re-immersion into that fascinating wizarding world, with a charismatic young ‘sorcerer’ as the central figure.

This time around that honour falls to Eddie Redmayne, the talented Brit who won last year’s Best Actor Oscar for playing Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything. A terrific transformer, he disappears into the role of Englishman Newt Scamander, a shy loner who, having just been expelled from Hogwarts, lands in New York for a new adventure, with a trunkload of magical creatures along for the ride.

He doesn’t have to wait long for trouble to find him. When the creatures escape from his keep and start wreaking havoc across the Big Apple, Newt becomes enemy number one of the local secret police tasked with keeping things under wraps in the magic community, for fear of exposure. This New York is split into two factions – the magic folks and the non-magics who are kept in the dark. 

Scamander puts all that at risk, especially when he encounters Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler), an overweight baker seeking money to open his bakery. Jacob agrees to help Newt find and re-cage his creatures, but that’s easier said than done. He gets help, too, from Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston), who works with the secret police. Her mind-reading sister Queenie (Alison Sudol), who falls head over heels for Jacob, tags along.

Meanwhile, Colin Farrell appears as Percival Graves, an intimidating and powerful presence in the top ranks of the magics, who acts as a sort of right-hand man for their powerful queen, played with steely authority by Carmen Ejogo. Rounding out the solid supporting cast: Jon Voight is a big-wig whose officious son is gunning for a senate seat, while Samantha Morton turns in commanding work as a strict foster mother who has her hands full keeping her wards in line, particularly the troubled Credence (Ezra Miller).

While not as intense or plot-heavy as the blockbuster Potter films, Fantastic Beasts delivers that same otherworldly appeal that reels you in. Under Yates’ sure-footed direction, it’s well-paced, as Rowling’s fascinating vision come to life. Best of all, it’s buoyed by the kind of sublime art direction that traditionally wins Oscar nominations.

Still, it’s the intriguing story (full of wit and humour and dramatic antics) and the engaging work of the actors that give the movie its juice. With such iconic roles as Marius (in Les Miserables) and Hawking already under his belt, Redmayne manages to turn Newt Scamander into a likeable chap – a reluctant hero that makes a worthy addition to his growing body of work. 

Overall, the Harry Potter franchise may be in a league by itself, but as a subsequent Rowling creation, Fantastic Beasts feels like its earnest kid brother intent on making a name for himself, a promising young wizard in training. Tyrone’s Verdict: B

Friday, 25 November 2016

GOSPEL SPOTLIGHT: Singer-actress Marsha Jarrett talks image and message, Lady Saw, and impacting lives

EYES ON THE PRIZE: “I want to inspire others and I know the power of song,” reflects the 32-year-old star.

Marsha Jarrett is a go-getter. Though she prides herself on being a Christian artiste whose roots are anchored in the church, this St. Ann native, whose hit single “Send Up the Praise” won this year’s National Gospel Song Competition, is fully focused on spreading her wings and solidifying her place among the new wave of home-bred Jamaican entertainers with a global outlook.

Diversity is the buzzword for this 32-year-old former banker and NCU grad, hence her landing a role in Father HoLung & Friends’ mega-musical Moses (returning to the National Arena this weekend), dabbling in plus-size fashion (she’s repping for the fluffy girls) and gearing up for next year’s staging of the World Championships of the Performing Arts in the US. Best of all, she’s not shy about speaking her mind.

Earlier this week, TALLAWAH chatted with the powerhouse singer about everything from conservative Christians to Lady Saw’s metamorphosis to being true to herself.

TALLAWAH: Would you say winning the National Gospel Song title has been the highlight of your career so far?
Marsha Jarrett: Definitely. It’s been opening a lot of doors for me. I got the opportunity to work with the Father HoLung family in Moses. I play Zipporah, Moses’ wife, and we got to perform it in North Carolina recently, and hopefully we’ll go to Atlanta next year. Also, a lot of people who have wanted to enter the competition now feel empowered to enter. They call me their inspiration. I’ve had persons inbox me on Facebook to tell me how much the song has changed their lives. One lady said it is her fighting song.

TALLAWAH: That triumphant moment was back in the summer. What else has been happening in your world since then?
Marsha Jarrett: I sing at weddings and I still perform in and around St. Ann, which is where I’m from. And recently I decided to enter the World Championships of the Performing Arts. I auditioned in Montego Bay on the second leg of the auditions, in the categories of gospel and R&B. And I will be going up against 40 other countries at the championships in June next year. As a plus-size artiste I’m now involved in promoting plus-size casual wear, so I’m hoping that that will lead to working with some corporate companies representing plus-size fashion.

TALLAWAH: That’s terrific news! How do you define yourself as an artiste?
Marsha Jarrett: I live to inspire people because I understand what it’s like to be depressed. I understand what it’s like to be the underdog. So, with my music and ministry, I want to continue impacting lives.

TALLAWAH: Today’s gospel artistes who embrace secular styles get a lot of flak from conservative Christians in the church. As a relatively new artiste with youthful appeal, what has been your experience where this is concerned?
Marsha Jarrett: Most persons who know me, know me as a praise-and-worship leader, so they have embraced my music and my style; the message of it. But some people are not so sure; you can tell that they are not pleased with certain things, like the vibe of the songs. On the night of the [National Gospel] finals, the outfit that I wore was not the original choice but that’s what I ended up performing in. And when I got back to St. Ann, I heard that some people didn’t like it, and were even talking about it at the hair salon. So image is very important to me, but you can’t please everybody. 

TALLAWAH: Indeed. We still see veteran entertainers (Lady Saw and Mr. Vegas most recently) ‘crossing over’ into Christian music and ministry. For you, what does this reawakened trend mean? 
Marsha Jarrett: I see it as the GAP – God Answering Prayers, and I am extremely happy that they have made the decision to surrender to the Lord. And we welcome them, just as how we welcomed Junior Tucker and Papa San. What I love most about Lady Saw’s transition is that she’s running with the passion. She even got to perform at the White House this year. How many of us as Christian artistes can say that?

TALLAWAH: When all is said and done, what do you ultimately hope to bring to the Jamaican industry?
Marsha Jarrett: More than just singing. Seasons are very important to us as Christians; the spiritual clock is ticking loudly. We are here to do God’s work, so let’s use the talents that we’ve been given to spread the message.

TALLAWAH: Complete this line, “I sing because…
Marsha Jarrett: I want to inspire others and I know the power of song. I understand my assignment, and I hope to continue growing as an artiste. I want to impact the now generation.

CRITIC’S NOTEBOOK: Basil Dawkins says Four Can’t Play + Moses returns to the Arena + Pantomime set to introduce The Upses and the Downses

WHEEL AN’ COME AGAIN: Continuing the rich tradition of spinning amusing and wholesome family entertainment from modern-day happenings and everyday Jamaican scenarios, the LTM National Pantomime company is preparing to take audiences on a laugh-out-loud rollercoaster with The Upses and the Downses, their 2016/17 musical production, opening (as is customary) on Boxing Day, December 26, at the Little Theatre in Kingston. The long-running creative team remains the same: writer/lyricist Barbara Gloudon director Robert ‘Bobby’ Clarke, costume mistress Anya Gloudon and musical maestro Grub Cooper. With the actors now well into rehearsals, the team is in the throes of putting together an entertaining package that will give viewers a show to remember. 

TOGETHER AGAIN: The idea of partnering with long-time collaborators also remains prominent in the Basil Dawkins camp. The prolific playwright is preparing for the December 27 premiere of Four Can’t Play, his brand-new dramedy that will be directed by Douglas Prout. On the heels of praise locally and internationally for last season’s Guilt Trip, Oliver Samuels will lead a cast that also includes Ruth HoShing, Dennis Titus and Maylynne Lowe, who last worked with Dawkins and the crew on 2014’s Divorce Papers and was just seen in a remount of Dahlia Harris’ Same Difference at the Phoenix Theatre.

PLAY IT AGAIN: Fresh from a successful showing in Charlotte, North Carolina, the Moses crew is back on local soil and is all set to bring the stage magic to the National Arena once more – to give those patrons who didn’t see it because of Hurricane Matthew their opportunity, before they turn their turn their attention to MOP’s Christmas and 2017 initiatives. According to Father HoLung, the North Carolina gig was a huge success. “We were warmly welcomed by churches and many other locals who attended our previous productions Praise Him, Isaiah, and The Messiah,” he says. “With [the funds raised] we will build a ministry for the lepers in East Timor, one of the poorest countries in the world.”

IN FULL BLOOM: Judy-Ann McMillan’s new solo exhibition highlights 50 years of artistic excellence

MAGIC TOUCH: McMillan's new show reveals her penchant for strong imagery.

There are three self-portraits in Judy-Ann McMillan’s wonderfully curated new exhibition, “Still Painting…After All These Years,” currently on view at the French Embassy in St. Andrew. The first shows a youthful Judy in 1968 (at age 23); the second is from 1985 and captures her classic beauty at age 40; the third, a 2016 stunner (pictured below), depicts the now-71-year-old artist standing by her easel wearing a simple white cotton blouse and a crown of thorns atop her head.

It’s a provocative visual statement from an evolver, who will be the first to tell you that art is a possessive tyrant and taskmaster that has held her captive since the age of four and is still the boss of her. “Art chose me. I never stopped painting, from childhood to the present day,” she tells us in her warm and gentle tone.

How fortunate for the Jamaican art world, including the dozens of collectors based at home and abroad who look forward to her new creations every year. “Still Painting” is a retrospective that spans the last 50 years of Judy’s marvelous career. 

At its best, the show yields a triumphant snapshot of a world-class artist at the height of her creative powers. From landscapes to still lifes to portraits, the work speaks volumes of her exquisite eye, hyperchromatic palette and a sensitive touch to create pieces that dually hold your gaze and excite your mind.

“Caymanas with Country Girl” (from 1978), one of several oils on canvas on view, features a barefooted young girl walking by a lush green field. It’s such a captivating work, you have to pull yourself away. 2016’s “View of Kingston from Jack’s Hill” has a similar effect, but it’s as expansive as it is evocative. There are interpretations of the Port Maria coastline, Mammee Bay, Sugar Pot Beach (above), and her far-from-the-madding-crowd retreat house, Rockfield.

But, places aside, it’s vividly clear that McMillan loves people and a breathtaking view. Witness her Haitian woman, Rastafarians, Jamaican ladies young and old in reflective mode, relatives and strangers caught in everyday situations. She gives us cotton trees, fruits and veggies (right), the lay of the land, and lots of big sky.

Simplistic splendour is McMillan’s signature. Staring back at you from their elegant frames inside the embassy’s chic drawing room and walkways, the exhibition’s winning pieces make for pleasurable, memorable viewing.

> “Still Painting…After All These Years” is on view at the French Embassy, 13 Hillcrest Avenue (St. Andrew), through November 25.

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

POP ART: Company Dance Theatre’s 28th season pulses with grit, grace and rhythmic energy

FULL SPECTRUM: The young dancers delivered lush works full of life and powerful emotion.

Eight new works populated the 2016 season of the Company Dance Theatre of Jamaica, that consistently outstanding troupe full of impressive young talents who bring the poise, passion and maturity of artists twice their age. Under the direction of the tireless Tony Wilson, the company celebrated its 28th anniversary at the Little Theatre on the weekend, presenting pieces – including two new works – that were alternately electric and exuberant, inspiring and introspective. What they all had in common, however, was bold, vivid imagery that provides a feast for the senses.

“Colours,” a signature work choreographed by Wilson, gave the show a lush, memorable opening, with its five movements anchored by rousing energy and elastic motion. As the title suggests, the visual power of the work is a large part of its appeal – that, coupled with the laudable efforts of the soloists, as the piece crescendoes to its big finish.

And speaking of soloists, star boy Steven Cornwall made light, effortless work of Pedro Bosch’s “Nature Boy,” a physically demanding work steeped in rigorous choreography. But Cornwall proved he’s more than up to the challenge, using his taut physique to sterling effect, while working with a sizeable bench as his lone stage companion. For the talented young dancer, it’s a splendid solo adventure (exploring identity and solitude), which reminds you of such NDTC classics as “Sweet in the Morning” (performed by Marlon Simms) and “Don’t Leave Me,” Mark Phinn’s magnum opus. 

The solo spotlight also shone brightly on Courtney Payne, who tackled Renee McDonald’s latest offering “One80,” one of the two new pieces, with gusto. Driven by supersonic Kanye West beats, it’s about liberation, pain and self-worth, and found Payne seemingly restricted to a tiny space (the ‘torture’ is palpable) until she finally decides to free herself. To say the least, it’s a compelling work, but we expect nothing less from McDonald, who also choreographed “Spectrum,” a 2012 offering that pulses with a rhythmic ferocity and comes laced with acrobatic movements.

Similar qualities could be cited to describe Terry Hall’s pas de deux “Presence of the Enemy,” performed by Nicole Hall and Leanne Hall, moving to a menacing score by Cirque du Soleil. Dressed up as warrior princesses, the duo moved in sync and apart, never letting us forget the work’s big themes of danger and survival – with the constant reminder that it’s a jungle out there.

Meanwhile, the ubiquitous, inescapable twin themes of life and death informed Arsenio Andrade’s “Uncovered” (2008), performed by the women of the company clad in all-white costumes – and “Colony,” the season’s other new work, crafted by Wilson. While the flat finish that ended “Colony” was a mild disappointment (given the robust start), “Uncovered” roared to life via the confident delivery and attitude of the girls, who immersed themselves in the spiky musical accompaniment from Africa Chill Out.

The evening’s curtain-closer was “Calabash” which, like “Colours,” offered a burst of passion and visual power. It’s a celebratory tour-de-force whose five movements (not to mention the splendid costumes, lighting and eclectic musical score) each add something distinct and meaningful to move the piece forward.

What’s more, works like “Calabash” and “Colours” reflect the overall spirit and mission of the Company Dance Theatre, which continues to present dance as a captivating art form for audiences to taste and see and feel.

Monday, 21 November 2016

TALLAWAH BOOK CLUB: Spotlight on new African poetry, speculative C’bean fiction – and a hilarious story collection

> WHAT WE JUST READ: Magical Thinking (Picador) by Augusten Burroughs
No one spins a humorous, self-deprecating short story quite like Augusten Burroughs. The acclaimed author of such international bestsellers as Running with Scissors (made into a hit movie starring Annette Bening) has a knack for taking the most potentially embarrassing confessions and turning them into literary gold. This 2006 collection is replete with the kind of witty, keenly observed first-person narrative that will either have you laughing out loud or painfully embarrassed for the writer. Whether he’s recalling his fling with an undertaker in the same room where Rose Kennedy’s wake took place, drowning a rat/thing in the bathtub or getting cut from the Tang commercial he filmed as a child, Burroughs knows how to entertain his reader with the recollections of his warped and wonderful mind.

> WHAT WE’RE BUZZING ABOUT: New Worlds, Old Stories – Speculative Tales from the Caribbean (Peekash Press)
Editor Karen Lord must have had the time of her life working on the pieces that made it into this buzzworthy collection of stories, which take an unorthodox approach to fictional narrative. These are brand-new stories from such relative newcomers as Elizabeth J. Jones, Damion Wilson, Brad Franklin and H.K. Williams that, according to the publishers, speak to the modern-day challenges of Caribbean society but also its “beautiful resilience.” Due out this month from Peekash Press, the anthology also examines universal themes and ideas ranging from crime and corruption to family, love and hate, history and memory. But, as its title suggests, it makes a point of fusing the past and the present while acutely focused on the region’s fascinating people and places.

> WHAT’S ON THE HORIZON: New Generation African Poets (Akashic Books)
It’s always a welcome experience to see the literary spotlight turned on the Motherland. Thanks to an African Poetry Book Fund (APBF) project, this 11-piece limited-edition box set will highlight the work of 10 new African poets. Due out next April via Akashic, the project seeks to identify the best poetry written by African poets working today but is especially interested in featuring poets who haven’t yet produced their first full-length collection. Among the lyrical voices featured are Yasmin Belkhyr, Mary-Alice Daniel, Ejiofor Ugwu, Chimwemwe Undi, Ashley Makue and Victoria Adukwei Bulley. Editors Kwame Dawes and Chris Abani have come in for high praise from such tough critics/reviewers as The New York Times for their groundbreaking efforts. Says the Times, “Dawes and Abani have taken on a vital project of publishing work by contemporary poets from Africa, packaged together in beautiful box sets.”

SOCIETY, SOCIETY: MoDA brings out the stars and stylists and scene-stealers

TWO OF A KIND! Even now, well into their adult years, Tessanne Chin and Tami Chynn remain that super-cute sister act who never seem to get tired of each other’s company. On the weekend, the ‘gemini’ siblings were in the mix at the MoDA Market at the Worthington in New Kingston, browsing the displays and picking up items for their personal collections. Chatting with the girls for a brief sec, it became clear to TALLAWAH that regularly spending quality time together doesn’t get in the way of the individual projects they’re working on. While Tami is now fully focused on her businesswoman pursuits (to go along with the mommy and wifey duties), Tessanne says she’s doing a lot of songwriting these days, as she gears up for her next album, which sounds like another winner in the making. Can’t wait to hear it. After all, this super-songstress and The Voice alumna always delivers.

THE HEAD-TURNERS! Tessanne and Tami weren’t the only cool girls putting in appearances at MoDA, the premiere fashion-art-lifestyle must-do on the local style calendar. Over the two days, the event brought out a host of trailblazers, trendsetters and starlets, including some faces we hadn’t seen in forever. There was dancing queen Lindsey Lodenquai, who told us that though she’s sitting out this season of the Company Dance Theatre’s annual recital at the Little Theatre, she’s very much involved in the behind-the-scenes prep work. Rocking hot pastel shorts, a cute white top and a fresh, curly pompadour, perennial beauty Regina McCallum showed up on the arm of her hunky hubby Rasheed. Also looking stunning, Terri-Karelle Reid (above, centre), who popped in on Sunday afternoon. Petite powerhouse and Film Commissioner Renee Robinson, who we rarely see out and about, was a picture of ‘garden delight’ in her simply stylish floral dress. Denyque, meanwhile, channeled her inner soft-rock goddess in an edgy ensemble that screamed bright lights and centrestage. The most surprising guest? Artist Laura Facey’s gigantic new wooden creation, commanding attention and sparking conversation.

THE BOYS’ CLUB! The gents also stepped out to support the Kerry-Ann Clarke-helmed event. Given the international appeal, we weren’t surprised to see stylist-to-the-stars Memsor Kamarake, who we spotted making the rounds in the company of the Observer’s queenpin NMW, breezing (was that a denim jacket, Memsor?) from one tent to the next. No doubt, they spent a few minutes by Harriette Cole’s booth, where the 108 Stitches line drew countless visitors all weekend long. Anthony Miller was in attendance both days, capturing footage for The Entertainment Report, while actor/hotelier Paul Issa, last seen in Catherine Mulgrave with the University Players at Mona, shopped and shopped and shopped. What’s next for him, theatre-wise? “I don’t know yet. Catherine Mulgrave was my first play in a very long time, but I’m hoping to do more,” he told us, adding that his leading role with the Couples Resorts and the Issa Trust Foundation, which is heavily involved in paediatric work in rural parishes, keeps him very busy nowadays.

‘MODA’ MAGIC: Fashion, art and lifestyle make an irresistible mix at the MoDA Market

SOMETHING FOR EVERYONE: Shoppers and exhibitors mixed and mingled inside the Worthington all weekend long.

Let’s just get this out of the way: the exquisite, exotic fare on offer at the MoDA Market is unbearable. Upon entering the gorgeously decked-out exhibition space inside the Spanish Court Hotel’s Worthington venue, your eyes come to rest on tables and booths showcasing items as luxuriant as they are visually arresting. Any first-time patron totally understands by the concepts of fashion, art and lifestyle have been aligned with the label from the get-go. What we witness is a perfect amalgamation of all three.

Here is Reve Jewelry wooing folks with their shiny wearable art, while a few feet away, Susanna Fredericks is curating a brilliant mini exhibit of paintings and sculptures. There is cool kid Ayanna Dixon seated at her booth, offering an appealing mix of items (cute neon dresses, notebooks, mugs, fashionable sketches) all bearing her ASD brand name.

Her neighbor Kaye Kerry, a sweet old lady evidently blessed with a green thumb, shows off her horticultural innovations. “I like to make old things new again. So I take things that have been discarded and repurpose them with my plants,” she tells TALLAWAH, beaming. A glimpse at her business card reveals her skill as “upcycling” – fusing old and discarded stuff with beautiful ideas, thereby “adding new life to the old and unwanted.” 

Elsewhere, you find design houses like Courtney Washington and Drenna Luna tending to customers; makeup artists at work; a beauty bar full of sweet-smelling Italian and local-made soaps; pottery and no shortage of craft items and wares that scream creativity. For the kids, Island Strokes has mounted a DIY painting area; for the serious art lover, Craig Phang Sang’s stunning black-and-white photographs are to die for. And the list goes on and on.

Whether in conversation with Michellae Walker, the proprietor behind the supercool Crochet Eye Candy line of sandals and accessories, or discerning buyers like Thalia Lyn, the consensus is overwhelming: MoDA is magical and MoDA matters. “It’s a great place to get your brand recognized. I like how it’s open and there’s a wide cross-section of items on sale,” Walker shares. “In Jamaica, you can’t get everything in one place, so it’s good to have events like these that bring buyers and sellers together.”

Both Dixon and Kelly couldn’t agree more. “I love the exposure that it affords me,” says Kelly, a first-time exhibitor. “I love to showcase my work and at an event like this you get to meet and interact with new people and other artists from different places. The networking and the energy is wonderful. It motivates me.”

And they all have one woman to thank. Five years later, MoDA founder and series director Kerry-Ann Clarke will be the first to tell you that the chance to do the event year after year with her hardworking team, and witness the evolution, is beyond thrilling. “To see the growth and development has been exciting. And to see the patrons and exhibitors coming together is exciting,” Clarke says. “We work so hard to make it a success, and we try to give everybody the same amount of space and guidance and encouragement.” 

If Clarke has her way, a few years from now, MoDA could expand beyond the shores of Jamaica. “The goal is to take it to a bigger platform,” she says, sharing the vision. “Not just for local patrons and exhibitors but for the whole CARICOM region.”

THE TALLAWAH INTERVIEW: Harriette Cole talks inspiration, self-worth, power and being a do-it-all diva

GOOD COMPANY: Cole shares a moment with Peter Mohan (Scotia) and Avril Leonce (SME Development) at the 2016 MoDA Market in Kingston.

What leaps readily to mind when one things of Harriette Cole is a multihyphenate, relentlessly achieving African-American maven who’s seen it all and done the rest. In her own words, she’s constantly in “reinvention mode.” And that’s no idle boast. Let’s check the résumé, shall we? In addition to her long and illustrious magazine journalism career at Essence and Ebony, a radio show, newspaper column and bestselling books (Jumping the Broom and How to Be, among them), Cole has lent her time and expertise to the careers of such musical greats as Alicia Keys, Mary J. Blige, Erykah Badu and Prince – while being a devoted wife, sister and girlfriend.

These days, well into her 50s, she’s focused on building a global brand via Harriette Cole Media, encompassing such inspirational initiatives as her latest passion project DreamLeapers – and even a fashion line called 108 Stitches. On the weekend, exhibitors and patrons at MoDA Market, inside New Kingston’s The Worthington, were lucky to have her grace the microphone to impart her signature mix of wit and wisdom. TALLAWAH spoke with her at the event.

TALLAWAH: Miss Harriette, by your own admission, you’ve already lived about 25 different lives. And we believe you. What’s your secret?
Harriette Cole: (Laughs). I’ve always strived to be a good human being on the planet. I’ve always followed my parents’ wisdom and that, along with my training – I’m trained as a writer and over the years as a visual producer – helped me to find the right kinds of opportunities.

TALLAWAH: You’re an internationally known African-American, but you have a bonafide Jamaican connection.
Harriette Cole: My husband is from Jamaica! We’ve been married almost 24 years now, so I’ve been here many times. And he’s from Kingston, but he hasn’t been here in a long time.

TALLAWAH: What do you admire most about our little island in the sun?
Harriette Cole: I love that it’s a majority Black country, where people are very proud of who they are, regardless of how much money they have. They understand how to stand in their power, and so whenever I see Jamaicans anywhere in the world I see that sense of claiming the fullness of who they are. And that is inspiring to me. And it’s just a beautiful country. I love the beaches. Jamaica is gorgeous, so I love being here. But in terms of inspiration, it’s the strength and clarity of who you are that I appreciate in Jamaican people.

TALLAWAH: Recently you got to interview Marcus Garvey’s 83-year-old son Dr. Julius Garvey in New York. What was that like?
Harriette Cole: What an honour! He’s completely lucid, and he knows his father’s history inside and out. I was interviewing him for a project called The History Makers, which is usually three-to-six hours of interview about people’s lives, so we really went in-depth. And I learned so much about his father that I never knew. Some people don’t understand how powerful [Marcus Garvey] was, and so it inspired me to be more confident about my past.

TALLAWAH: Having already written and published seven books, do you have another one in the works?
Harriette Cole: I am working on something that will go along with my new project, DreamLeapers. There are multiple components to DreamLeapers, but one is telling the stories of people who have dreamed big and made those dreams manifest, and how they did it.

TALLAWAH: In a nutshell, what is DreamLeapers about?
Harriette Cole: It’s an educational initiative designed to help people access and activate their dreams. And the speech I gave earlier was a small piece of that, and I’m hoping to come back and bring a bigger piece.

TALLAWAH: As a life stylist, consultant and motivational speaker, you’ve worked with everyone from Mary J. Blige to Prince, but your own personal story is such a triumphant one.
Harriette Cole: For my work to be recognized, that’s amazing. I feel incredibly fortunate to be able to pursue my dreams, and I have a husband who supports me. Because, as an entrepreneur, I’m not always making a lot of money. So to have a partner who says ‘Okay, when it’s great, it’s great, and when the resources are less we are going to work it out,’ that’s a blessing. I’ve learned that the two wings of the bird are grace and self-effort. Grace is what comes from God, but your effort is so important. And if you don’t put forth that effort it’s not gonna happen. And I have learned, through experience, that if I’m not working on my passion every day, it doesn’t move forward. So I have to put in the work. When I put in the work, great things happen.

TALLAWAH: Tell us about your fabulous ready-to-wear line, 108 Stitches. Were you always planning to embark on a venture in fashion?
Harriette Cole: Well, I was always interested in fashion. I was a model as a teenager and in my 20s. And then I was a fashion editor at Essence for many years. I recently launched this line. I had been crocheting for a long time, until one day I decided to take it seriously.

TALLAWAH: I like what you said earlier about being quiet to access your passion.
Harriette Cole: You have to meditate. If you’re still, what’s going on inside of you will come forth. If you’re not still you can’t hear it. It’s still coming forth, but you just can’t hear it.

TALLAWAH: So what do you feel inspired to do next?
Harriette Cole: (Laughs) I’m really hoping to bring DreamLeapers to Jamaica. That’s next.

The two wings of the bird are grace and self-effort. Grace is what comes from God, but your effort is so important.

THERE’S AN ANGER THAT MOVES: Gritty and riveting, I Lawah provokes and captivates

REBEL SPIRIT: A strong cast of student actors bring Gibbons' powerful folk play to the stage.

Energetic, fast-paced and brimming with Afrocentric sensibilities, I Lawah easily ranks among the most compelling theatrical productions to grace the Jamaican stage this year. The latest offering from the Edna Manley College’s School of Drama, the show’s appeal rests not only in the captivating performances offered by the student actors (particularly the leads) but in its outside-the-box approach to stage work and the robust spirit of defiance and Creole heritage that it exudes.

Splendidly directed by Camille Quamina and based on Rawle Gibbons’ Trinidad-set folk play of the same name, the work eschews the traditional storytelling arc, opting instead to fuse revelry, minstrelsy, singing and dance in weaving an engrossing tale about the denizens of a struggling Caribbean community – chief among them the vexed batonye/warrior-king Lawah Bois (Romaine Pottinger), the peppery house maid Sophie Bella (a superb Teca Donaldson) and an underclass of stick-bearing folks (who go by the Jamettes) navigating multiple conflicts and socio-economic strife. 

There’s poverty all around, but there’s resilience, too, in almost equal measure. And just as well, that inescapable feeling of oppression. So you can hardly fault the people for rising up and adopting a rebellious streak that echoes the Nanny of the Maroons-type warrior spirit. Trouble is, their actions soon border on glorifying disorder and embracing anarchy. So when the unsuspecting policeman Captain Baker (Shemar Ricketts) shows up, talking tough, they practically beat him to a pulp. 

Given the harsh realities and slavery-infested history that have always defined the Caribbean space, it comes as no surprise that there is a lot of rage in the piece, and Quamina gets her young actors to make it extremely palpable. As the put-upon Sophie, Donaldson is a revelation, using her very dramatic facial features to sterling effect. Among the other standouts in the cast: Pottinger as the emphatically furious Lawah, and Rajeave Mattis as the chameleonic ring-leader Shantwelle Popo, who moves easily between the speaking and singing modes of expression. 

Though it’s originally set in Trinidad at the dawn of the 1908s, the play bears striking parallels to today’s Jamaican society, where the cost of living, the scourge of crime and the gigantic disparity between the haves and the have-nots sometimes make you want to scream. Tyrone’s Verdict: B+

Saturday, 19 November 2016

OUT OF THIS WORLD: Arrival brings a mix of sci-fi intrigue and mystery

GUESS WORK: Adams plays a linguist, opposite Renner, a physicist, embarking on a tough assignment.

“Why are they here?” “What do they want?” As the world breaks out into a state of panic (and the US President declares a state of emergency) over the appearance of 12 mysterious spacecrafts at random spots all over the globe, everyone is demanding answers to these questions and more.

It is up to a college professor and communictions pro named Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams), who is mourning the death of her young daughter, and a theoretical physicist named Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner), working with no-nonsense US Army colonel G.T. Weber (Forest Whittaker), to make a breakthrough in the mission to extract answers from these seemingly extraterrestrial invaders before global warfare breaks out.

That’s the basic premise of Arrival, a moody and moderately paced sci-fi drama/thriller that allows audiences to imagine what could play out if such events did come to pass. As far as alien invasion movies go, Arrival is not of the loud and bombastic variety (Alien, Alien Resurrection) nor the cluttered, jarring type (Dictrict 9). Instead, under the light, sure-handed direction of Denis Villeneuve, what we experience is largely interrogative and atmospheric – a story that grows suspenseful and intense as it heads to its pulse-pounding climax.

The sight of the alien vessel is truly something to behold – a massive oblong object that seems to touch the sky. Picture the World Trade Centre tower in the shape of a big black egg. In addition to Montana, where most of the action unfolds, the vessels have shown up in Venezuela, Australia, Greenland, Russia and China, which is itching to launch an attack.

Playing the overburdened Dr. Banks and Donnelly, Adams and Renner are in fine form and share an appealing rapport, which perhaps explains why they are able to gradually break down the barriers as they “communicate” with these foreigners – an undertaking that involves analyzing audio recordings and devising clever visual-aid techniques.

Though the movie earns some cool points for its unconventional approach to the ‘alien crisis’ genre of filmmaking, Arrival is not without its faults. We don’t get a strong sense of how the situation was being handled in the other locations, crucial to our overall understanding of the global crisis that ensues – and the movie’s eventual conclusion, stemming from the big-reveal-moment is a bit of a letdown.

Still, kudos are due to the writing/directorial duo of Villeneuve and Eric Heisserer (whose screenplay is based on a short story) for skilfully fusing fantasy and speculative storytelling to create a trippy but endlessly fascinating cinematic experience. Tyrone’s Verdict: B

Thursday, 17 November 2016

TAKING STOCK: Does Jamaica have a future in the Caribbean Community?

PROS & CONS: "We need a bigger pond to fish in," Golding told his audience. Below, King and Arthur greeting attendees.

When Jamaica, under PM Sir Alexander Bustamante, pulled out of the West Indies Federation in 1962, this move set in motion a chain of events that ultimately led to the demise of the federation. Some four decades later, there is growing concern that Jamaica could soon exit the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), as local stakeholders increasingly give consideration to the significant benefits of our continued membership in this 43-year-old body.

As news watchers will recall, former Prime Minister Bruce Golding has been tapped to chair the country’s CARICOM Review Commission, which will conduct ongoing research and later submit the findings.

On Wednesday, Golding was among a four-member panel, brought together by the UWI Mona Department of Economics, to discuss the topic “Jamaica’s Continuing Membership in CARICOM”, for the second leg of the department’s new policy discussion series. The insightful, well-attended session, hosted by the Faculty of Law, benefitted from sterling contributions by Larry Watson (Director, Jamaica Chamber of Commerce), Dr. Damien King (senior lecturer, economics, Mona) and Hon. Owen Arthur (former Prime Minister, Barbados), joining Golding on the panel.

Golding made his position clear, likening CARICOM to a small pond of fish – a pond that Jamaica still needs to be a part of on the road to future growth and development. “Jamaica is not in a position to generate and sustain its economic growth internally. Our market lacks the depth and diversity,” he said. “This neighbourhood is all we have. We can’t relocate to Singapore or join the United States as the 51st state. But we need a bigger pond in which to fish. Where will this pond come from? Logic implies that we look to the region. We have to look at the neighbourhood.”

But fundamental changes, serious changes, are needed going forward, Golding emphasized, especially when it comes to negotiating trade deals. “It’s not going to be an easy road, but it’s better than sowing seed on stony ground. The revised treaty (of Chaguaramas) could do with some improvements,” he said, reminding us that the treaty, which sets out the bloc’s objectives and methodologies, was revised over ten years ago. “2016 is largely different from 2001 when it was drafted. There are several fixes that we need. Nations have to co-exist. We have to find a way to make it work.”
While King put forward sobering arguments in his “economic case for regional integration”, Watson, “an unapologetic supporter of CARICOM, but not a blind supporter,” said whether or not CARICOM is still good for business for Jamaica, it’s “overly ambitious” goals can only be achieved by putting sustained action behind those goals and objectives.

Meanwhile, Arthur drew comparisons between his native Barbados and Jamaica, analyzing the terms of engagement, the strengths and weaknesses, of their respective trading history. Regardless of the faults and failings, he concluded, Jamaica has a critical role to play in CARICOM’s journey forward. 

“There should be no decision by Jamaica to end its membership in CARICOM. There is a very strong and compelling case for Jamaica to help strengthen the Single Market and Economy, as the best preferential market for trade, and give strong leadership,” said Arthur, who likens CARICOM, established in 1973, to “a dismal failure in need of rescuing.” “CARICOM will only succeed by [member states] implementing business strategies and trade agreements for growth with the rest of the world. The time is now to make that a reality.”