Thursday, 16 November 2017

ON HER MIND: Kaci Fennell reflects on her journey and sets her sights on more amazing triumphs

AT FIRST BITE: Kaci is happiest spending time in the kitchen and eating well.

I believe in divine order. It’s a key principle that guides my life and it has been steering me from one success to another – the latest being chosen to serve as foodie ambassador for Yello Media for this year’s Jamaica Food and Drink Festival.

It was an amazing experience to see how much the festival has grown over the years. It’s something for us to be proud of as Jamaicans. Yello and I had a remarkable partnership, which made the experience even better, and I’m not just saying that because I got to sample all the amazing food. The festival is something that the food industry needs, and I’m looking forward to its growth and supporting in any way I can.

I love food. I love to cook. I enjoy spending time in the kitchen. Cooking is one of my favourite hobbies, next to swimming and having a good workout. Nothing helps me to feel more relaxed. I need all the stress relief I can get because I’m about to make some significant steps towards achieving my career goals. I have a big announcement to make soon, and it’s about my “next job.” I can’t give too much away but it has to do with the media, and it’s a gig I’m very, very excited about.

For the most part, things have been going great since I won Miss Jamaica Universe and placed in the top five at the Miss Universe pageant. In addition to working with Yello, I’ve worked with KFC, Ting and Ocean Spray, and I’m hoping there’s lots more to come. After Miss Universe, I decided to take a year or two off to really centre myself and think about what I want to do next.

And a lot has happened since then. I got married and worked with a few charities, doing work that is important to me. I travelled a lot representing the brands and for personal enjoyment. When I was ambassador for Ting, I remember visiting London, Puerto Rico and New York, and it was just so interesting to see how people responded to Brand Jamaica. They can’t get enough. When you leave Jamaica, it really makes you miss home and appreciate your country that much more. I’m looking forward to representing the country more internationally and further broadening my horizons. 

There’s so much I want to accomplish in the next five to ten years. Hopefully, by that time I would have established and developed a successful food business. I’m also looking forward to working in the media as a hostess. I want to become a mom. 

I want so much out of life. I’m happy and I’m excited about what the future holds. But, like I said, I believe in divine order. Whatever happens for me, I want it to be in alignment with the Universe. – As told to TALLAWAH Magazine 

>> Kaci’s Beauty Pick! 

“I love a good perfume. I’m using this Arabian oil that I got from Dubai. It’s the best.”

NEWS & NOTES: Press freedom, traditional media top CBU’s agenda + Les Brown Youth Institute has big plans for Jamaica

> Les Brown plans youth training, prison ministry workshops for next visit 
For Les Brown, the man considered the world’s best motivational speaker, Marcus Garvey was the world’s first motivational speaker is truth be told – a fearless leader and Black consciousness advocate whose firm Jamaican roots made him a force to be reckoned with internationally. Garvey’s teachings empowered Brown as a young man, and now he wants to pay it forward by giving empowerment talks to Jamaicans trying to find their place in the world. 

“I want to come back to Jamaica with the Les Brown Youth Institute to do a youth training event. I want to give them hope and share methods to carve out a future for themselves and how to reinvent themselves in this new global economy that we are in,” Brown said, as he addressed the scores of Jamaicans who attended his inspiring talk at the Jamaica Conference Centre recently. “We have to teach our young people methods and techniques for survival and how to see opportunities beyond entertainment. Let them know they can become architects and engineers. It’s our responsibility to create a community that fosters greatness.” 

On his return, Brown is bringing some of his children with him, including Leslie Jr. and Serena. “I have five boys and five girls. When the Lord said, Be fruitful and multiply, I took him seriously,” he quipped. “So we’re gonna come back to Jamaica to do this important youth training work.” Brown says he also wants “to visit some of the prisons to speak to some of the men.”

CBU to put out annual press freedom reports – Gary Allen 
As new President of the Caribbean Broadcasting Union (CBU), Gary Allen’s role comes with a weighty mandate. Among the responsibilities he’s most eager to tackle include assessing how the union has been engaging its members and the wider public on critical policy issues like press freedom. “We have to ensure that the press freedom that we enjoy is not taken for granted. As a watchdog body, we will be putting out annual press freedom reports and keeping a close watch on the state of press freedom in the region, so that there’s no eroding,” Allen told TALLAWAH at the recent Devon House-hosted launch to kick off Restaurant Week 2017. The survival of traditional media has also zoomed into sharp focus. Says Allen, “AS we increasingly move forward with new technologies, we have to ensure that traditional media doesn’t get swamped by digital media.” 

Sound byte! 
“Jamaica has two main issues: a mindset and a skill-set problem, which of left unattended could signal the death of Jamaica’s development goal of being a strong logistics hub. That’s our problem. But its mainly the mindset that is troubling because this affects our leaders and, as the word says, a nation without vision perishes.” – Fritz Pinnock, President of the Caribbean Maritime University (CMU)

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

NEWS FEED: Sean Paul, Beres among Jamathon headliners + David McConnell appointed SVL Chairman + Robin Levy moves to Credit Union League

TAKING CHARGE: Supreme Ventures Limited has a new Chairman. Noted businessman W. David McConnell has been appointed to the post, replacing Paul Hoo, whose much-publicized resignation came after a $2.9 billion share transaction resulted in Mayberry Investments calling for a shake-up of the SVL board. McConnell, who is the co-Managing Director of Select Brands Limited, a leading local wine and spirits company, has been welcomed into the SVL family. “We are pleased to have David as Chairman of the SVL board. We are confident that under his experienced leadership, the company will continue to grow exponentially,” says Ian Levy, who was Interim Chairman prior to McConnell’s arrival. “The entire company stands ready to support him as we work together for SVL’s success.” 

PREMIERE ‘LEAGUE’: Effective November 6, Robin Levy is the new Group CEO of the Jamaica Cooperative Credit Union League (JCCUL). He succeeds Glenworth Francis, who retired from the post after 28 years. Levy comes to the JCCUL from the Jamaica Stock Exchange, where he was deputy General Manager and General Manager of the Jamaica Central Securities Depository (JCSD) and the JCSD Trustee Services Ltd. A certified fraud examiner, risk manager and financial specialist, Levy holds a Bachelor’s from UWI Mona and an MBA in Finance from the Marist School of Business, based in New York. 

MUSIC FOR LIFE: Jamaican entertainers can always be counted on support a worthy cause. A massive star-studded lineup has been confirmed for the Jamathon hurricane relief and recovery fundraising concert, being produced by the Joe Bogdanovich-led DownSound Entertainment and Caribbean Love Now. Beres Hammond, Etana, Sean Paul, Jah Cure, Romain Virgo, Kevin Downswell, Assassin, Beenie Man, Christopher Martin and a host of others will grace the stage in support of the charitable cause. The concert is scheduled for next Wednesday, November 22, at the National Indoor Sports Centre in Kingston.

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

SHANTOL’S WORLD: Our November cover girl dishes on classic movies, musical artistry and her favourite things

QUIET FORCE: Movies like The Help (starring Viola Davis) rank among Jackson's top picks.

Soulful reggae, powerful motivational books, mouthwatering codfish – Shantol Jackson is a young woman of eclectic tastes. In Part II of our exclusive interview with the 24-year-old actress and college student, we get a peek inside her private world. 

What’s the last good book you read? 
SJ: Actually, I’m reading a book called The Power of Now. It’s really about being in the moment and separating yourself from your mind to make smarter decisions. It teaches you about taking responsibility and being one with the Universe. 

You give us a certain vibe that says you can throw down in the kitchen. What home-cooked meals do you enjoy preparing? 
SJ: I’m not a big cook. I love fried plantains, saltfish and yam. Crackers and butter is my favourite snack. (Laughs). 

As a single girl in the city, what’s your philosophy on dating and relationships? 
SJ: I don’t get to go out as much because I’m usually working, but I think you should make time to socialize. 

Let’s talk music. Who are the artistes you’re really into? 
SJ: My friend GiRL. I listen to Dexta Daps. I love Keznamdi. All of these artistes have artistry, and I appreciate artistry. 

You must admire a lot of Hollywood leading ladies and iconic Jamaican actresses. Who do you look up to? 
SJ: Viola Davis, Dahlia Harris, Meryl Streep and, of course, Cicely Tyson. I really want to work with her one day. 

When it comes to great movies, what are some of your top picks? 
SJ: I recently saw The Wolf of Wall Street. That was amazing. I love The Help, The Pursuit of Happyness and The Godfather. Idris [Elba] told us to watch it as part of the research for Yardie.

Finally, what are three things you cannot leave home without? 
SJ: My phone, deodorant and my debit card. I keep them in my bag at all times. 

> Jackson opens up about her evolution and filming Idris Elba’s directorial debut, Yardie

DEATH RIDES THE RAILS: Branagh’s ‘Orient Express’ is a stylish, haunting update of Christie’s classic whodunit

HEAD STRONG: Branagh is lost in wonder as the famed detective about to crack the case.

NO detail escapes his notice and he can read people like a book. He believes in perfect symmetry; everything in its rightful place. It’s useful in the detection of crime, he says. Of course, I’m talking about Hercule Poirot, the famed Belgian sleuth who doesn’t mind tooting his own horn. “I am probably the greatest detective in the world,” he declares.

Perhaps he talks in such bold strokes because he can back it up. Yes, he’s a man of order, a perfectionist who measures his breakfast eggs and can’t bear to see an unstraightened tie. But there’s method to his madness. He specializes in results and his reputation precedes him.

Poirot is brought to full-bodied life by Kenneth Branagh in his just-released big-screen version of the Agatha Christie classic Murder on the Orient Express, a stylish, haunting and well-made movie. Branagh, long considered the Laurence Olivier of his generation, is perfectly suited to the role of Poirot, donning the signature thick mustache and equally thick accent to play the former policeman who, like Murder She Wrote’s Jessica Fletcher, finds a new murder mystery to solve at every turn.

In the director’s chair, Branagh (My Week with Marilyn) weaves together stunning art direction and cinematography, a gorgeous musical score by Patrick Doyle and an A-list cast to give Christie’s story compelling cinematic juice.

On a train ride through 1930s Europe, some 13 well-dressed strangers can’t wait to get to their respective destinations. Sometime between midnight and two am, one of the passengers – the wealthy art dealer/businessman/gangster Edward Ratchett (Johnny Depp) is savagely killed. He knew someone was out to get him, he told Poirot earlier. Seems he was right. So whodunit? The frustrated secretary (Josh Gad), the doctor (Leslie Odom Jr.), the governess (Daisy Ridley) of the princess (Dame Judi Dench).

What about the husband huntress (Michelle Pfeiffer), the Austrian professor (Willem Dafoe), the missionary (Penelope Cruz) or the desperate train manager (Derek Jacobi)? And the list goes on. Everyone is a suspect.

Reluctant to take on the case at first, Poirot soon find himself knee-deep in puzzle pieces, new and old, as he tries to outfox a killer before he or she strikes again.

It’s an engrossing affair that keeps you on the edge of your seat, as the bumpy train ride of a story barrels its way to a shattering conclusion you’ll never see coming. Michael Greene’s script cuts like a sharp knife and keeps you guessing till the very end. Tyrone’s Verdict: B+

Saturday, 11 November 2017

ROYAL TREATMENT: Father HoLung’s regular collaborators bring fresh inspiration to Queen Esther

PERIOD PIECE: The play's era appealed to the instincts of the show's creative team.

THE majesty, visual power and musical magic of productions like King David, Moses and Jesus 2000 came as a result of a committed and lavishly talented creative team working in sync to bring Father HoLung’s vision to life. Putting together these productions year after year consistently challenges the behind-the-scenes team in new and exciting ways. Queen Esther, this season’s avidly anticipated offering, is no exception.

“It’s always challenging because over the years what we try to do is not bring back the same way of doing things. And just looking at the set for this production, the look of the show is very different from anything we’ve ever done before,” explains Greg Thames, the veteran director calling the shots for the umpteenth time.

Thames has been getting great support from creative consultant Alwyn Bully and this season’s Assistant Director Hugh Douse, who is not cast in an on-stage role of the first time in years. He likes the ‘freshness’ of the storyline. “First of all, this is the first heroine that we’ve presented as a title. There is no parting of the Red Sea in this production, but there are miracles of the human heart. It’s a show exploring beauty and virtue in a woman of God and how God can save a nation from corruption,” Douse tells TALLAWAH as rehearsals kick into high gear inside the National Arena, on this Wednesday night.

“It’s a strong storyline for many different reasons, and it’s been a wonderful journey so far,” Douse adds. “I’m excited about the cast, especially the juniors who stepped up to their roles admirably.” 

Thames agrees, betting on this little-celebrated Old Testament plot centred on politics and Persians, family honour and betrayal, cousins Mordecai and Esther, to attract the massive audiences that pack the venue for every HoLung show. “The story of Esther isn’t as well-known as that of Christ or Moses, but it’s one of those stories with a strong female lead when compared to other Biblical stories. And that is something Father wanted to bring to the stage,” the director notes.

Meanwhile, all the creative team members feel the combination of stirring music, choreography, imagery and gorgeous lighting will serve the production well. “The story is very heartfelt, so we’re trying to keep the lighting in a way that reflects that, but it’s a HoLung production so there will be some spectacle and some surprises,” says Nadia Roxburgh, who is filling big shoes in the absence of Robin Baston. “[Queen Esther] is certainly much bigger than anything I’ve ever done, but we have lots of volunteers and excellent support from Main Event, so it’s coming together quicker than we thought.”

Paula Shaw reprises her signature role as the one supplying the movement. “We tried to multilayer the movement. There are no solo pieces in this show, so we have some large group performances to work on,” says the choreographer, who got to work with performers from the Immaculate Dance Troupe, Fellowship Tabernacle, Laud Dance Ministry and the NDTC’s Kevin Moore. “We’re using a lot of the Jamaican folk vernacular and some modern dancehall influences. I like to get into the context of the songs. That’s what guides me.”

Set designer PJ Stewart has worked on at least 20 HoLung productions. The Esther era has been the most inspiring. “I love the period and the setting – Persia. Very elegant, very beautiful,” says the Montego Bay-based Stewart, who got to play around with oriental touches and vibrant colours, while collaborating with the Missionaries of the Poor brothers, who constructed the set pieces under her direction. 

“I did a lot of research on that period, and as you can see I wanted to create a hanging garden, for which we used bamboo, straws and empty bottles that really cost us nothing in terms of material,” she explains. Resourceful as always. “I’m looking forward to seeing the show acted out on my set,” she adds, beaming. “And I hope I the audience finds it fresh and beautiful.”

Friday, 10 November 2017

‘I EXPECT TO WIN’: Les Brown’s life story and powerful words of wisdom inspire massive J’can audience

MAN OF THE HOUR: "Life is a question; how you live your life is the answer," says Brown, who shared his own journey of rags-to-riches and finding his power.

FROM seven doctors, he heard three words no one wants to hear: You have cancer. And before they knew it, the cancer had metastasized to seven different parts of his body. Les Brown decided that seven was his lucky number. But on the flip side, he knew that being diagnosed with prostate cancer was no laughing matter. “Things are gonna happen to you that you never see coming, but you’re more than a conqueror. So that cancer was gonna get the heck beat out of it,” Brown said, as he addressed the scores of Jamaicans who flocked to the Jamaica Conference Centre on Saturday to hear him speak.

We were not disappointed. Les Brown is like a preacherman, only smoother, combining spiritual wisdom, powerful rhetoric, humorous anecdotes and true-to-life testimony to hold his audience riveted – and taking notes nonstop. The nearly two-hour long talk from this icon, considered “the world’s best motivational speaker,” was riddled with applause and drew a standing ovation at the end.

He’s seen it all and done the rest. Long before he beat cancer, Brown was born in an abandoned building in New York City, subsequently adopted and cared for by the world’s kindest mom and placed in a school where he was labelled a retard. But Brown had ambition and goals like one day buying his mom a house. “My first dream was to buy groceries for my family and buy clothes nobody had worn before,” he remembers.

For starters, he worked as a janitor and even as a garbage collector with the local sanitation department. His persistence got him through the door at a radio station, where he rose from coffee boy to disc jockey to production director and talk show host-in-training. “I was hungry to buy my mom a house,” he says. “Some of us do just enough to get by. Life today demands more, a hundred times more.”

Fast-forward several years later and he gets elected to the Ohio legislature. Today, at 72, he’s the father of close to a dozen children and an in-demand motivational speaker who’s graced some of the biggest stages in the world. “Those times I went through I’m glad I didn’t give up,” says Brown, who was scorned as a boy when he contracted diphtheria. 

“Massive success,” he says now, is the best revenge. “Life is a question. How you live your life is the answer. If you do what is easy, your life will be hard. If you do what is hard, your life will be made easier,” he says. 

Brown, who could pass for Gerald Levert’s twin brother, is all about having an action plan in the pursuit of one’s goals. “The day of being average, that time is gone. Give more service than you’re being paid for,” he asserts. In his book, habits create futures. “Hold yourself to the highest possible standard. Invest in yourself. Watch what rich people do and do what they do,” he says. “You are your most valuable commodity.” 

> SWEET SUCCESS: Les Brown breaks it down 

On rejection: “When you experience rejection, don’t give up. Know that you will fail your way to success.” 

On perseverance: “No matter how bad it is or how bad it gets, tell yourself you’re gonna make it. You can’t afford to stop. Keep moving. What will it take? The will to do it.” 

On handling detractors and naysayers: “What people think about you is none of your business. Focus on you and your goals and what moves you in the direction of your goals.”

TAKING CONTROL: More Jamaican women accessing financing for their small businesses

LEVEL PLAYING FIELD: Lyn (second right) sharing a post-panel moment with Ian Neita, Melarka Williams and the DBJ's Terry-Ann Segree at the Knutsford Court Hotel.

ACCORDING to Milverton Reynolds, Managing Director of the Development Bank of Jamaica, of the 330 small businesses currently enrolled in their access to financing programme (in collaboration with the World Bank), 60% are women-led and women-owned. The revelation came Tuesday morning as Reynolds addressed the 2017 DBJ SME Summit at the Knutsford Court Hotel in New Kingston.

Speaking with TALLAWAH during a coffee break, Reynolds said the figures simply mean that Jamaican women are taking control and leaning in more than ever. “It certainly means that the women are stepping up and working hard at the SME stage to take their businesses to the next level. Hopefully the men will be more energized now to step up,” Reynolds said, adding that this DBJ/World Bank programme is providing over $50 million in grant funding to small-biz owners.

At the same time, Reynolds alludes to the fact that female small-biz owners possibly have more compelling sources of motivation than their male counterparts. “The truth is that women generally play certain roles in the society – raising kids, managing families and taking care of the home space. And a lot of them are looking for opportunities to get ahead,” he offered.

Thalia Lyn, the celebrated Founder & CEO of Island Grill Jamaica, expresses similar sentiments. “I feel women are more willing to take the risk. It’s a man’s world and in the job market, the man often has the edge over the woman,” Lyn argues. “A man and a woman go for a job, the woman being just as qualified. But the employer starts to think about the maternity leave and the family issues the woman may bring to the job, and decides that it’s better for him to hire the man. So more and more women are thinking they should start their own businesses.”

Earlier, Lyn, the superwoman who gave Jamaicans a healthier alternative to fast food with the Island Grill chain, sat on the opening panel (alongside Yello Media’s Ian Neita and Ingenuity Technology’s Melarka Williams) that looked at “Creating a Buzz Around Successful and Innovative Jamaican Businesses.” Her advice for women – and men? Have passion, pitch and persevere. 

Featuring presenters and panelists that ran the gamut from Ready TV’s Chris Dehring and Boss Furniture’s Omar Azan to Phase 3 Productions’ Dr. Marcia Forbes and JMMB’s Donna Duncan-Scott, the SME Summit had no shortage of fail-proof advice for the scores of attendees. The summit was held under the theme “Empowering for Success: Talk, Connect, Grow.”

Thursday, 9 November 2017

NEWS & NOTES: Floyd Morris gets his PhD + Adam Stewart joins the Wisynco family + Arnold Bertram knocks the JLP over alleged vote-buying

MAKING MOVES: The Adam Stewart story continues to take fascinating turns. The Sandals CEO has been appointed to the Board of Directors of the Wisynco Group. Stewart, who also serves as First Vice President of the Jamaica Hotel & Tourist Association (JHTA), chairs the Tourism Linkages Committee and sits on the boards of the Port Authority and the Economic Growth Council, joins John Lee (Chairman of 138 Student Living) and Lisa Soares-Lewis (Founder/CEO of Great People Solutions) as the new additions to the Wisynco board. Named Hotelier of the Year by the Caribbean Hotel & Tourist Association in 2015, Stewart received the Order of Distinction (Commander Class) in 2016. In May 2017, Starbucks Coffee Company announced that it has entered a licensing agreement with Caribbean Coffee Traders Ltd, a joint venture between Stewart and Ian Dear.

HIGHER LEARNING: It’s official! Senator Floyd Morris is now Dr. Floyd Morris. The visually impaired PNP stalwart who sits in the Upper House graduated from UWI Mona last Friday with a PhD in Government, with special focus on political communication. Former Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller was among the first of his colleagues to shower him with felicitations. Meanwhile, four outstanding Jamaicans were conferred with honorary doctorates at the two-day graduation ceremony this year. Professor Emeritus John Edward Greene, Wesly Hall and Anthony Keith Edmund Hart, the noted businessman, were given the Doctor of Laws, while Olive Senior, celebrated novelist and poet, was honoured with the Doctor of Letters. 

AT WHAT PRICE POLLING? To what extent did the illegal practice of vote-buying affect the margin of victory in the recent by-election in South-East St. Mary, where the JLP’s Dr. Norman Dunn defeated the PNP’s Dr. Shane Alexis by over 900 votes? For commentator and former parliamentarian Arnold Bertram, the continued practice of vote-buying is an ugly stain on the electoral process. “The important lesson to be learned is that an electorate comprised of the most dependent in the society will always be vulnerable to the kind of extensive vote-buying strategies deployed by the JLP in a single constituency,” Bertram noted in a Sunday Gleaner column. “The PNP, however, should not allow itself to be demoralized by this result, nor should it seek to compete with the JLP in corrupting the electoral process. Vote-buying on the scale evident in South East St. Mary can hardly be repeated in the majority of the 63 constituencies in a General Election.”

Wednesday, 8 November 2017

FOREVER YOUNG: A Letter from the Editor

SPREADING HER WINGS: Jackson, 24, has been working with directors like Patrick Brown, Dahlia Harris and Idris Elba (below).

AS is customary, November is observed islandwide as Youth Month, so TALLAWAH always shines the spotlight on young Jamaicans who are turning up the heat in their respective areas of endeavour. 

For this year’s Youthquake Issue, we had options aplenty for the coveted cover, but we opted to look to the performing arts, where Shantol Jackson is among the outstanding young leads who have already been anointed the future of Jamaican theatre.

She’s more than just a pretty face. Her versatility has been holding her in good stead, garnering her acclaim for film (Sugar) and TV (Real Friends) performances, in addition to her impressive work in the theatre. Country Wedding, Matey Chronicles, Same Difference and a Thespy-nominated turn in The Mountaintop (opposite Actor Boy winner Alwyn Scott) are only a few of her stage triumphs. 

Now, this 24-year-old star has two big films coming at audiences in the New Year and a couple more TV and stage projects on the horizon. As you will read in “The Princess Diaries,” working with internationally acclaimed artists like Idris Elba (for his directorial debut Yardie), while juggling school life and other pursuits, is where her career’s at right now – as it should be.
And speaking of young supernova talents, the recent Jamaica International Chess Festival provided us with the opportunity to interview teen sensation and international grandmaster Awonder Liang (“Whiz Kid”), whose on-the-board skills and maturity belie his mere 14 years. Something tells me he’ll be making waves and news headlines for years and years to come.

Elsewhere in this issue, we salute the work of non-profit entities like the Caribbean Vulnerable Communities Coalition (with headquarters on Braemar Avenue in St. Andrew) whose groundbreaking research on the performance and functioning of the local health-care system has made some alarming discoveries. But it’s the recommendations from this Carolyn Gomes-led group that will better serve the Jamaican people. 

Restaurant Week, the Flow Super Cup and the latest blockbuster musical from Father HoLung & Friends are upon us, and there will be masses of coverage for TALLAWAH readers to enjoy. 

So in the end, this month’s issue is for the youth – and the youthful in spirit.

THE PRINCESS DIARIES: Focus and ambition create a winning formula for fast-rising actress Shantol Jackson

JEWEL OF THE NILE: The 24-year-old star is balancing film and theatre with tertiary studies and other pursuits.

With a pair of hotly anticipated movies due in 2018 – Idris Elba’s Yardie and Storm Saulter’s Sprinter – Shantol Jackson’s career is just warming up. TALLAWAH sits down with Jamaica’s hottest young actress to talk about her artistic growth, her first sex scene, her academic pursuits and her bright future.

SHANTOL Jackson spent the first week of May to the final week of June in England. She was there to film scenes for her starring role in Yardie, a gritty Jamaican film by a Golden Globe winner and future James Bond making his directorial debut: Idris Elba. It was time well spent, memorable in countless ways. On the one hand, it offered a rising actress, a queen-in-training of the Jamaican stage, the opportunity to work with one of Hollywood’s most sought-after leading men-turned-filmmaker. On the other, the movie demanded something of her she’d never had to deliver before: shedding her inhibitions to perform a sex scene.

“I was freaking out,” Jackson remembers, her doe eyes widening. Lucky for her, she was working with a patient and supremely understanding director. “[Idris] was very helpful. He saved it for the last scene of the day. It was a closed set. Everyone had to leave, and he came in and sat on the floor and told me not to worry,” Jackson tells us. The scene wasn’t going to be one of those buckwild romps like Taraji P. Henson and Tyrese Gibson’s smackdown in Baby Boy. “He wanted something very sensual. He wanted it nice and sexy,” Jackson recalls.

Even so, the 24-year-old actress still needed some liquid courage to get her mind ready, to get her to that place. “I had wine and rum before we started,” she recalls, laughing, adding that her love interest, the lucky guy (played by Aml Ameen) was equally supportive. As for the level of nudity? Nothing to phone home about. Just a little side boob and the small of her back will be shown on screen. “There’s no nudity in the film, nothing raunchy,” the slender and tender-voiced Jackson assures us. “That scene is probably going to be about 10 seconds long, but shooting it felt like 10 years.”

Yardie, which was partly shot in Rose Town, Kingston, is about family and forgiveness and making wise decisions to secure one’s future. An adaptation of Victor Headley’s novel, it’s about a young man and future drug dealer (Ameen as Dennis) who, after witnessing the murder of his brother (Everaldo Creary) leaves Jamaica and goes to London, where he reunites with family, including a former girlfriend now the mother of his child. That’s Jackson’s character Yvonne. Without revealing too much, Jackson says Yardie offers a realistic plot anchoring a film that Jamaican audiences especially will enjoy. “It’s a very nice film,” she says. “It’s not the stereotypical story. The way it is written, the characters are humanized. And it’s a love story.”

In the same breath, she has nothing but high praises for Elba, who went beyond the call of duty to make the film authentic, true to the Jamaican experience – down to the use of the patois. “He didn’t want to underserve the dialect. He wanted the real thing and he wanted to work with real Jamaican actors,” she says. Rayon McLean, Carol Lawes, Christopher ‘Johnny’ Daley and Sheldon Shepherd (playing a don) all make appearances in the film.

Shantol is a huge fan of Elba’s directorial style. “Idris is an excellent director. He tells you what he wants but he also lets you do what you feel so that he has options when he’s editing,” she says. “And he’s ridiculously shy but a very down-to-earth and cool guy.”

In the end, working with Elba confirmed for Jackson just how important the actor-director trust is. “That was one of my most memorable directorial moments,” he says of the ‘love’ scene, “how he made me feel comfortable after seeing that it was something I wasn’t totally comfortable with.”

A Star Is Born

On a balmy Monday evening at the Centrestage Theatre in New Kingston, thousands of miles away from the UK, Jackson is not in costume; she’s dressed college-girl chic, rocking a simple white tee, shorts and a backpack. But this is the same young lady who stunned critics and audiences with the incredible conviction and emotional intelligence she brought to theatrical productions like last year’s winner Country Wedding, Bad Apple, Thicker Than Water, not to mention her butt-kicking portrayal of Camae, the feisty maid who encounters Dr. Martin Luther King (Alwyn Scott) in The Mountaintop.

Now she has two big feature films – Yardie and Storm Saulter’s latest feature Sprinter – in the works, both of which will premiere in 2018. The splendid little short film Sugar and the TV series Real Friends (which is about to begin filming its second season) also add weight to her growing résumé. 

Perhaps what sets Jackson on a rung above her peers – why every Jamaican director wants to work with her – is that certain oomph, coupled with her fantastic natural abilities. Still, she has a little confession to make. “I am a very confident actress but I’m not a very confident person. I believe in becoming the character to give a good performance. But Shantol is very shy, sometimes a bit awkward,” admits Jackson, a product of St. Andrew’s Ardenne High and the Suzanne Beadle-led Tableaux troupe. “As an actress, I don’t think I’m the greatest or the best. I’m not there yet, but I take what I do very seriously. When I’m auditioning and when I’m working with a director and my castmates I’m very professional, and I do my best to give a good performance.” 

Matey Chronicles costar Sharee Elise sees a bright future ahead for Jackson. “She’s making great strides right now,” Elise tells TALLAWAH over the phone, “and it was a real pleasure to work with her.” 

Girl’s Got ‘Class’ 

At present, Jackson is pursuing her first degree (in Business Administration) at the University College of the Caribbean (UCC). But due to performances and productions and travelling, she’s had to ask for leave of absence on quite a few occasions. To that end, there’s no telling when she’ll complete her tertiary studies. But having a college degree to her name is an absolute must. “Hopefully, I’ll be finished in two years,” she says. “If more opportunities come up I’ll consider them, but I definitely intend to complete it.” 

By opportunities she means the film scripts that will be coming her way and the phone calls to come read for stage roles that will challenge her in fresh and exciting ways. The night is young on her career. “I definitely want to do more film and TV. I cannot leave theatre. Ever,” says Jackson, who is also gearing up shoot Thicker Than Water 2 for a local TV run with Dahlia Harris and her former castmates. “Whatever opportunities I get to grow as a performer I’ll take them, as long as it’s decent work.” I

In the meantime, Idris Elba is not finished with Shantol just yet. She will be flying to Los Angeles to do some more voice work for Yardie. They’ll be working on several scenes. 

Photography by Steven Roper.

Tuesday, 7 November 2017

WHIZ KID: Meet teen sensation and international chess grandmaster Awonder Liang

BRAINIAC RISING: Liang, the 2017 US junior champion, has played competitive chess on all major continents.

At 14, Wisconsin's Awonder Liang, recently in the island for the inaugural Jamaica International Chess Festival, is the world's youngest grandmaster and reigning junior North American champion. 

INSIDE the Worthington (Spanish Court Hotel) Awonder Liang and his opponent are locked in a keenly contested chess match. Perfect silence. But someone flies open the door to the adjoining room for a second and in wafts the loud chatter of patrons next door who are attending today’s curtain-closer of the inaugural Jamaica International Chess Festival. 

Immediately, Liang, with a stern worrisome look on his face, gets up from his seat to investigate the source of this disturbance. But one of the organizers quickly opts to go for him and re-closes the door. Crisis averted.

Liang is the very picture of razor-sharp focus when he’s at the chess table. It augments his concentration. Chess requires that, and Liang is ranked among the best players in the world. Earlier this year, at age 14, his skills and fierce winning streak earned him the rank of international grandmaster. In person though, he’s a chubby Asian kid from Madison, Wisconsin – utterly serious when he’s on his A-game but a witty delight when being interviewed.

“Jamaica is a great place to play chess. I like the atmosphere,” he tells us, moments after wrapping up his latest win. At age 5, he won his first chess medal and he’s been climbing his way to the top ever since. “I started winning a lot after that, and it felt really good. It gave me the extra confidence,” he says. Fast-forward more than a decade later, and he’s secured an international ranking that many of his peers have only dreamed about. “I’d say I’m a pretty decent player,” Liang quips, smiling. “I still think that, at 14, I have a long way to go.”
But he has been going the distance, especially in the wake of becoming a grandmaster. His chess ‘career’ has him criss-crossing the globe to compete in professional tournaments and participate in exhibition games. 

Before coming to Jamaica, as a guest of the organizers of this first-ever international festival, Liang and his handlers kept a jam-packed schedule. The whole world wants to see this star in action. “I travel a lot because of chess. I’ve been to all five continents already,” says the kid, whose most memorable outings include trips to El Salvador, China and South Africa. 

Naturally, that kind of travel schedule takes a toll on your schooling. Liang’s parents, who run their own Madison-based business, have him enrolled in online classes. Math and History at the moment. 

Career-wise, he has left his options open, but he feels chess will always be in the picture. “You have to be really good to earn a living playing chess professionally. I haven’t decided what I’m going to do yet,” he tells TALLAWAH. Totally understandable. For the time being, he’s clearly enjoying his youth, while getting better at playing the game that has changed his life – and racking up more wins. 

Later this year, back on the US soil, Liang will be playing in the Spice Cup tournament. And he’s beyond excited.

5 THINGS I’VE LEARNED IN LIFE: Flow’s Stephen Miller talks about personal growth and valuable lessons learned

MILLER TIME: The 36-year-old has a very "dynamic role" with the Flow team.

STEPHEN Miller strikes that perfect balance between playboy and professional with relative ease. A Campion College alum blessed with marketing skills, street smarts and big intellect, the 36-year-old is on the rise in the corporate world, currently serving as Sponsorship Manager at Flow, which is set to kick-off the well-anticipated fourth instalment of the schoolboy football fiesta – the Flow Super Cup – at Catherine Hall this weekend. Miller, who represented Campion College in junior-league soccer back in the day, talks to TALLAWAH about the art of living and learning. 

PLANNING AHEAD: “There are lots of things you’ll encounter in your working life and the only way to mitigate those negative scenarios is to plan as far ahead as possible. It gives you a sense of calm and a feeling of security when it comes to the test. You’ll be prepared.” 

MAKING A DIFFERENCE: “It’s a very dynamic job I have. We get to undertake a lot of initiatives like these [Flow Super Cup] that impact national development. It’s a great way for giving back. There are also many opportunities to work with international brands. It’s a great position to be in, especially when you think of how dynamic the role is – and it allows for rapid growth, which is key in this industry.” 

DREAMING BIG AND HAVING PASSION: “What’s funny is that coming out of high school I always thought engineering was the way to go. But I when I got back from college, I started dabbling in party promotion, and I found that it is a skill I had that could be developed further. I explored it and it worked. Years later, I caught the eye of a certain company, and before you knew it, I was considered for a certain post, and here I am today.” 

KEEPING THE FAITH: “You encounter so many obstacles that it is best to plan ahead and learn from past mistakes. I think that in the end, if you have that belief and put the plans in place, it might work out.” 

PUTTING ON A SHOW: “The [Super Cup] has certainly grown from strength to strength, but we said we’d try a different format this year. Instead of the usual 16 teams, we’d use the top eight – the top four schools from the urban area Manning Cup and the top four from the rural area DaCosta Cup. These are eight very strong teams. They come in from the semi-final stage of the Manning Cup, so the momentum is there. We’ve dubbed it the Champions League of schoolboy football, and the Flow team is excited as always. I’m definitely looking forward to this season. We love to see the level of excitement grow every year.”

Monday, 6 November 2017

GREAT TASTE: Restaurant Week attracts its largest ever complement with over 90 participating eateries

BITE SIZE: Sunday's Devon House-hosted launch was a flavourful mix of sellers and buyers, samples and giveaways.

Over the course of its 13 years, Restaurant Week has come to represent more than just dining out and discounts for the scores of Jamaicans who pencil it into their schedules year after year. For Christopher Barnes, Managing Director of the RJR/Gleaner Group, the media giants who helped to catapult the brand into the stratosphere, it’s a godsend for the local food industry.

“It’s an opportunity for commercial stimulation, economic stimulation and for Jamaicans and visitors to enjoy the culinary culture. It’s a chance for families to get together and celebrate. During Restaurant Week, it’s about getting people to go out and support the restaurants and provide a financial boost for the food industry,” Barnes says. “After 13 years, we’re a fixture on the social calendar, providing a little pre-Christmas jump for the restaurants. It’s like they’re having Christmas in November.”

With some 92 eateries across eight parishes participating this year (some offering up to 30% discount on meals), RW is enjoying its largest complement yet. But that’s not the only thing that’s new about the 2017 instalment. For the first time, a free-to-the-public launch kicked things off. “This is the new big thing. It’s like taking Restaurant Week to the streets,” dished founder Stephanie Scott, standing by her SSCO Events booth on Sunday at Devon House, where the launch took place.

Several food purveyors and other exhibitors gave patrons a sampling of what can be expected when they come out in their numbers starting this weekend. “We start the week on Friday, so this is a warm-up to get people psyched and ready to dig in,” Scott said. “We have new places like Old Harbour, Spanish Town and Portmore participating, in addition to the regular towns of Kingston, Ocho Rios and Montego Bay. And we have lots more options – Jamaican, Chinese, Asian, Indian, Mediterranean.” 

For a proprietor like Yvonne Anderson, nothing beats the blend of fresh faces and satisfied patrons. “We get a lot of new customers during Restaurant Week and they usually leave very happy,” says Anderson, owner of the Kingston-based Triple T’z, which won this year’s Jamaica Observer Food Awards prize for Best Lunch Spot. 

In addition to the commercial/economic stimulation and culinary delights, there is a philanthropic side to Restaurant Week. “For years now we’ve been partnering with Y.U.T.E and the HEART Trust to provide jobs for young people at some of the participating restaurants during the week,” Scott explained. “And what happens is that some of them get jobs for the rest of the year and some are taken on permanently. Redbones and Suzie’s, for example, still have a few of the Y.U.T.E trainees on their staff years later.”

AGENTS OF CHANGE: Two non-profit bodies step up the fight against human rights abuses

ALL LIVES MATTER: The work of groups like the CVCC is steeped in demanding respect for citizens' rights.

WITH the aim of strengthening the role played by civil society organizations in Jamaica to promote human rights and democratic governance, two not-for-profit organizations have joined forces.

The Caribbean Vulnerable Communities Coalition (CVCC) and the Jamaica Civil Society Coalition (JCSC) have partnered to implement a two-year human rights project, with funding support from the European Union, to make strides in building civil society capacity to monitor and advocate across a range of issues and to fortify response to violations of the rights of vulnerable populations, including the LGBT community, HIV patients, sex workers, addicts, ex-convicts and migrants.

At the same time, the project is expected to promote gender equality and increase participation in national policy dialogue and target policymakers and the general public. A significant part of the project involves research on human rights and policy issues. The CVCC/JCSC partnership is expected to produce three pieces of research on specific topics based on needs identified.

First up is a look at Jamaica’s health-care system, which has undergone several reforms since Independence. A recent public forum at the Jamaica Pegasus Hotel provided the setting for the team to present the findings of the health economics research, which assessed, specifically, the performance and functioning of the health-care system and its approach to human rights.

The research has brought to light some alarming facts. Chief among them: varying levels of implementation of standards and protocol by regional health authorities resulting in inequities in service provision across the island AND chronic shortage of drug and medical supplies, which has been impacting the health outcome of patients.

Among the recommendations: continued reorganization of the health ministry and strengthening the health planning, maintenance of standards and audit functions of the MOH. The coalition is also recommending:
a) The establishment of a comprehensive health information system to provide real-time information on patient history
b) The implementation of a reformation plan for the development of community mental health services
c) A review of the Health Facilities (Medical Laboratories) Act and Regulations to strengthen policy and legislative framework
d) Collaboration between the MOH, the National Public Health Lab (NPHL) and other agencies to improve the supply chain management system, equipment maintenance and the steady supply of commodities to increase efficiency. 

Established in 2004, the CVCC (led by Executive Director Dr. Carolyn Gomes) is the Caribbean’s largest indigenous regional coalition of civil society organizations and community leaders responding to human rights issues. The JCSC, whose leaders include Carol Narcisse, brings together civil society bodies and individuals interested in shaping policy. 

GET INVOLVED! To learn more about the work of the CVC Coalition and to pledge your support, visit them at Suite #1 1D-1E Braemar Avenue, Kingston 10. Email; Phone 631-7219 or log on to