Thursday, 30 March 2017

ALBUM OF THE WEEK: Chris Martin’s melodic debut Big Deal showcases his growth and maturity

STRONG SUIT: Martin delivers his signature blend of soulful reggae, lovers’ rock and R&B influences.

IT’S been 12 years since he burst onto the music scene, in the wake of topping the Digicel Rising Stars competition, and Christopher Martin continues to stake his claim as one of the industry’s most eligible singer-songwriters vying for Beres Hammond’s crown. In the intervening years, he’s built a highly commendable body of work that has earned him the respect of his peers and industry insiders. Now, he’s released his major-label debut album, Big Deal (VP Records), to solidify his place in the upper echelons of contemporary reggae-soul.

Packed with 15 tracks (and a digital bonus addition), Big Deal celebrates the Chris Martin fans have come to know and love. The multi-faceted crooner with the sweet treble and clean-cut image who can bring the party anthems (the bouncy “Steppin’”, on which Busy Signal makes a memorable cameo), the relationship drama with a dose of sly humour (chart-topper “Cheater’s Prayer”) and universally resonant tunes that speak to humanity and social consciousness, such as “One Life” (featuring Tanto Blacks), on which he hastens to remind us that “life ah the greatest asset.” All steeped in a rich blend of soulful reggae, lovers’ rock and R&B.

But, as his track record has proven, Martin is at his absolute best while crooning about finding love, losing it and wanting it back. Witness the sultry between-the-sheets smash “Magic,” on which he promises her a night she’ll never forget; “Under the Influence,” a sexy bedroom knocker on which “the lovin’ tun up”, and the Destiny Moriah-assisted “Long Distance Lover,” where he interrogates the meaning of true love, among other things.

Other highlights include the Spanish-inflected “My Love,” on which he woos a gorgeous mamacita, “Pirate of the Caribbean” (another ladies-only anthem), the sympathy-laden “Blind Girl” and “Lady of the Night,” about those bad chicks who “belong to the city.” 

While selections like “Distance” and “Easy Like Sunday Morning” are not as stirring as the rest, you’ll find yourself pressing repeat for smooth numbers like “Hide Away” and “Better than the Stars,” an appealing lover’s rock entry. Meanwhile, the infectiously energetic title track gives the album a sturdy opening. 

Overall, Big Deal (a winning blend of moods, messages and melodic charms) finds Martin in great shape vocally and lyrically, backed by sterling production work. A Grammy nod in December would be the icing on this tuneful cake, which vibrantly showcases a talented 30-year-old (and KFC brand ambassador!) reveling in his artistic growth and giving us the songs to share in the experience. Tyrone’s Verdict: A- 

BEST TRACKS: “Magic”, “Better than the Stars,” “I’m a Big Deal” and “Steppin’”

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

AUTHOR SPOTLIGHT: With Kingston Buttercup, Ann-Margaret Lim reflects on family and legacy, history and memory

PAGE BY PAGE: Lim's new collection explores her roles as mother, daughter and observer of life and nature.

ANN-Margaret Lim’s seven-year-old daughter Kayla makes a cameo appearance in “Night Blooming Cereus,” one of the many highlights in her award-nominated new poetry collection, Kingston Buttercup. The well-behaved little girl made a real-life appearance at Sunday’s launch of the collection inside the Neville Hall Lecture Theatre, UWI Mona, where she was introduced by her proud mama to the early birds sitting up front. A telling moment that underscores Lim’s most cherished role to date: the doting mother.

It’s a theme that recurs in the collection, currently long-listed for the OCM Bocas Prize, as Lim skillfully weaves personal family narrative with ideas, heart-and-mind concerns that resonate universally. Poet Laureate Prof. Mervyn Morris, who taught Lim during her student years on campus, also remarked on this as he shared his thoughts on the work during his stint at the podium. “One of the most important details of personal history comes when she talks about her mother who left her father and went to Venezuela. The absence of her biological mother hangs heavy,” Morris noted, while highlighting such poems as “Venezuela Journal,” “Granmammy” and “Popo.”

Morris also drew attention to Lim’s marked emphasis on colonial history and the legacy of slavery. “In Ann-Margaret’s vision,” Morris told the audience, “history is always present but mostly threatening.” Witness such haunting selections as “On Reading Thistlewood’s Diary,” “Rebel” and “The Artist,” in which she salutes controversial sculptor Christopher Gonzales, with whom she was fortunate to spend some one-on-one time, as the poem testifies.

And that’s another thread that courses throughout this 59-piece collection: the mélange of testimony, memory and every poet’s burden of bearing witness. But it’s a responsibility that Lim takes on with the requisite heft, whether in the guise of parent, sister, daddy’s girl or keen observer of life and Mother Nature. 

When all the all-black-clad Lim finally graced the podium on Sunday morning for a lengthy but evocative reading, accompanied by acoustic musician Wayne Armond, her selections came laced with anger (“An’ at the wake mi aim de gun to the sky and fire” – “Marginal”), gripping and vivid imagery (“The venom of beauty lying under the skin” –“Night Blooming Cereus”) and music in poetry (“And I sing Syvah, syvah, syvah, and I think of you, Phibba, in miserable slavery” – “On Reading Thistlewood’s Diary”). 

But most memorably, we got profound recollections of her close family ties (Lim is part-Chinese) and the beauty of commitment that comes with it. “And I remember you, Daddy, telling me how your parents shipped you off at six to Canton, to know your culture,” she reflects in the Beijing-set “At the Karaoke Bar, 21st Century Hotel.” And then, as the best poets always do, she reminded us that in the midst of life we are in death, but like “the angel trumpets [and the] red ixorias,” hope springs eternal. “Yours the first loss, a stolen grandpa,” she said, reading from “The Score,” “My daughter the first victory – a seedling growing.”

Monday, 27 March 2017

NEWS FEED: Jacqueline Cummings elected JBA head + Digicel launches ‘Face of Change’ initiative + Ready TV picks Portmore

RIGHT PLACE, RIGHT TIME: Chris Dehring has found the ideal home base for his new cable company, Ready TV (which is set to begin operations shortly): Portmore, St. Catherine. According to the renowned businessman and former LIME/Flow CEO, the St. Catherine municipality has a supersized workforce, it’s a major constituency for cable customers and it’s already home to 80 percent of the company’s staff. “It’s a large market, and it makes sense to set up ourselves here first,” he told the congregation of the Portmore Gospel Assembly, where the Ready TV team worshipped recently. “We have made Portmore our home, and you have welcomed us, and I am extremely grateful to the Portmore community for allowing us to come into your homes. This company is going to be an engine of growth and industry in this country, and we appreciate you wanting to be a part of what we plan to do.”

WOMAN IN CHARGE: Jacqueline Cummings is the new President of the Jamaica Bar Association (JBA). Cummings, who has been a practising attorney for more than two decades, was elected to replace Sherry-Ann McGregor at the JBA’s recent Annual General Meeting in Kingston. Stuart Simpson was elected to serve as Vice Presitdent. As her résumé attests, Cummings has done extensive work in civil and criminal law, as well as personal injury cases, estate and tax matters, immigration and family law. A well-rounded Jamaican, she has played and performed administrative duties for several sports locally and is a past member of the disciplinary commitee of the Jamaica Football Federation (JFF) and the Jamaica Table Tennis association (JTTA).

POSITIVE SPIN: “The Face of Change initiative will motivate and inspire those community groups that have been actively delivering critical service to the needy and most vulnerable across the island,” explains Digicel Foundation chair Jean Lowrie-Chin, referring to their latest community empowerment and outreach initiative that has been endorsed by Governor General Sir Patrick Allen’s I Believe programme. “Face of Change will encourage and reward the spirit of voluntarism and human compassion. For the majority of these organizations, funding is not easily available, yet they remain resilient in their efforts and steadfast in their determination to make a difference in their communities.” To learn more about Face of Change and to get involved with the cause, visit

SHE’S GOT GAME: Quizmistress Marline Stephenson-Dalley savours the thrills of the annual SCQ experience

ONE & ONLY: “I remember telling a friend, ‘I’m gonna have Dennis Hall’s job one day’,” Stephenson-Dalley remembers fondly.

On the eve of the grand finale of Schools’ Challenge Quiz’s 2017 season, long-reigning quizmistress Marline Stephenson-Dalley talks to TALLAWAH about that incredible “adrenaline rush”, getting her start in broadcasting, her mentor Dennis Hall, and the legacy of the groundbreaking quiz competition.

IMPECCABLY turned out in light shades of blue and a flawless bespectacled face, Marline Stephenson-Dalley is among the movers and shakers attending today’s tourism events seminar, put on by the Jamaica Tourist Board, inside the Montego Bay of the Jamaica Pegasus Hotel. But, of course, there’s another reason why she’s turning heads, as she makes her way across the foyer and past the registration desk laden with goodie baskets. 

Everyone recognizes Marline as the long-serving quizmistress of Schools’ Challenge Quiz, whose grand finale is scheduled for this Tuesday night, live at 8:30pm on TVJ – Munro College versus Titchfield High, the defending champions. “I’m looking forward to an exciting final,” she tells TALLAWAH, without missing a beat. 

As the curtains come down on the 2017 season, Stephenson-Dalley is also quick to admit that it’s been quite a run. “I think the season went really well this year. We saw some matches gong down to the wire, and we saw some traditional teams that were expected to go far in the competition drop out early,” she reflects. “But what I liked most is that a lot of the matches were keenly contested, and I’m expecting the final to be the same.” 

In case you didn’t know, this season marks 21 years that Stephenson-Dalley (currently in her 50s) has been serving as quizmistress, bringing that gorgeous smile, crisp diction and remarkable poise to our living rooms week after week. But what’s been the best part of the whole SCQ experience for her? “I still get that adrenaline rush in keeping up with the students, especially during the keenly contested matches,” she tells us. “It keeps me sharp; it keeps me on my toes. I love the interactions with the youngsters and seeing them wanting to excel.” 

Though the Facebook generation has come to know Marline, a proud daughter of St. James, as the face of SCQ, the older folks will remember her junior years in broadcasting, when she began hosting Marline in the Morning, on JBC Radio1, back in the 1980s. The airwaves had opened up to welcome a bright and promising new star. “I started out in radio in 1986, and Dennis Hall was my newscaster back then,” she says, taking us down memory lane. “And I remember telling a friend, ‘I’m gonna have Dennis Hall’s job one day’.” Prophecy fulfilled.

The Dennis Hall in question is, naturally, the late formidable quizmaster and true original, whose commanding presence and quick wit were legendary and made the nightly quiz matches not-to-be-missed experiences. 

But to Stephenson-Dalley, a Justice of the Peace (right) and internationally certified public speaking coach, he was so much more. “Dennis Hall was a mentor for me in many ways,” she recalls. “I was very fortunate to be working in broadcasting when he was here. He was somebody you learned a lot from.” 

When it comes to the legacy of Schools’ Challenge Quiz, a groundbreaking television show on the cusp of its 50th anniversary, Stephenson-Dalley points to its long-held reputation as a beacon of excellence and the pursuit of knowledge, discipline and sportsmanship. 

“It not only builds camaraderie between and within teams; it has established fraternity and tradition because you see where a lot of the past players come back for the Masters match, they coach teams and they support the teams,” she notes. “The students who participate develop certain skills, they learn time management and sportsmanship, and it builds character for them to go on and make their contributions to the wider society.”

Saturday, 25 March 2017

CULTURE VULTURE: Queen Ifrica’s Billboard triumph + Get ready for Jazz + Goodison is the people’s choice

> Goodison succeeds Morris as Poet Laureate 
Lorna Goodison is the new Poet Laureate of Jamaica. The celebrated poetess and university professor, whose numerous accolades include the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize and the Gold Musgrave Medal from the Institute of Jamaica, will hold the post for the next three years. She succeeds Prof. Mervyn Morris, who was appointed in 2014. The ceremony to officially install Goodison is set for May 17 at King’s House. In October of last year, Goodison (the author such books as the memoir From Harvey River and poetry anthologies I Am Becoming My Mother and Tamarind Season) was conferred with an honorary doctorate from the University of the West Indies, Mona. 

> Queen Ifrica ‘climbs’ to top of Billboard chart 
By all appearances, Queen Ifrica’s new album, Climb, is living up to its title. The 17-track effort, released earlier this month by VP Records, has debuted in the #1 spot on the Billboard Reggae Chart. According to the record label, the album (led by the Damian Marley-assisted first single “Trueversation”), got a major boost from sales during a recent in-store acoustic performance given by Queen Ifrica at their Florida office, coupled with strong digital album downloads. Climb is the provocative singer-songwriter’s follow-up to Fyah Mumma and Montego Bay. Naturally, Queen Ifrica is grateful for the fan support. “I just want to thank everyone who supported me from day one,” she says. “You are always in my heart. Please continue to support good music. You are my inspiration.”  

> Hit UK comedy opening in Kingston in June 
“Thought-provoking”, “humorous”, “uplifting”. Critics and theatergoers have drawn on these and numerous superlatives to describe Love, Sax and All That Jazz, the hit gospel comedy that’s coming to Jamaica, straight from the UK in June, thanks to a collaboration between the English-based Focus Arts Promotions and New Kingston’s Phoenix Theatre. Penned by poet and playwright Alan Charles, Love, Sax and All That Jazz shares the experiences of five female friends grappling with issues surrounding marriage, infidelity, abuse and other relationship drama. Set for only four performances, the production opens on Saturday, June 10 (7pm) and plays through Monday, June 12, at the Phoenix Theatre, 8 Haining Road.

Thursday, 23 March 2017

WORKING GIRLS: Performance showcases, insightful discussions take centrestage at Women In Theatre Fest

TALK THAT TALK: Yvonne Brewster (right), with Carol Lawes and Jean Small, during the Directors Showcase.

ALL of last week, as the Jamaica Women In Theatre Festival kicked into high gear, you kept hearing one constant refrain: kudos to Dahlia Harris and co-organizer Nicole Brown for the visionary leadership that led to the genesis of such a fantastic showcase of the skills, intellect, creativity and opinions of the female practitioners currently working in the theatrical arts, safeguarding the legacy of the legends who paved the way and ushering in a bold and exciting new era in Jamaican theatre. 

The 7-day festival, the first of its kind in Jamaica (and the English-speaking Caribbean, for that matter), had a super-successful inaugural staging at New Kingston’s Phoenix Theatre, bringing together the industry’s best and brightest, established and emerging, writers, directors, technical experts, stage managers and actresses for a series of panel discussions and performance showcases, which proved, above all, that the women have not only been making serious strides, they have lots more to offer.

Deborah Hickling, moderated the opening session (on the business of theatre) drawing eye-opening contributions from such panelists as financial whiz and avid theatergoer Yaneek Page and attorney/actress/singer Coleen Lewis and male colleagues Lenford Salmon of Jambiz and Harold Davis of the Jamaica Business Development Corporation (JBDC).

The following evening, a discussion on stagecraft took centrestage, with the likes of ace set designer PJ Stewart, light-and-sound engineer Aisha Robinson, costume mistress Carolyn Chin-Yee, budding stage manager Mijanne Webster and Philip Sherlock Centre technical manager Nadia Roxburgh – all weighing in on the joys and challenges of their life-in-the-theatre experiences. Up next was a segment on directing featuring the likes of Dr. Jean Small, Carol Lawes and British-based living legend Yvonne Brewster.

Then came three nights of performance showcases. While the Actors Showcase served up memorable excerpts from productions like The Trial of Governor Eyre (National Reparations Commission), Not My Child (Probemaster Entertainment) and Demons In Me (Jamaica Youth Theatre), the Writers Showcase delivered crowd-pleasing pieces from Harris’ God Go Wid Yuh, Suzanne Beadle’s 70x7: The Real Truth and Tanya Batson-Savage’s Woman Tongue

As for the Directors Showcase, Fae Ellington and actress Makeda Solomon revived the award-winning Who Will Sing for Lena?, Small offered humour and food for thought with Balance, while Nadean Rawlins brought from MoBay her maiden theatrical revue #Hashtag, which smartly explores how social media has captured the public imagination. 

The festival wouldn’t have been complete without some icons being honoured. For the closing session, Sylvia Winter, Una Marson and Louise Bennett-Coverley were posthumously recognized with special tributes and staged readings of their classic theatrical works. 

Poised to be an annual event, the Jamaica Women in Theatre Festival intends to create opportunities for women in the theatrical arts and develop skills necessary for successful stage productions, while honoring women’s contributions to storytelling, innovation and artistic advancement.

GOSPEL SPOTLIGHT: Univ. of Arkansas Inspirational Chorale raise the roof with captivating harmonies

VOICES IN PRAISE: The visiting UoA Chorale during the NCU leg of their concert tour.

WHO knew “And He Shall Purify” from Handel’s Messiah could work with a jazzy, gospel-infused treatment? The University of Arkansas Inspirational Chorale, currently on a week-long concert tour of Jamaica, proved that with a little innovation and clever arrangement, even the most celebrated classical work can be given a rousing contemporary spin.

That said, what the choir served up was a winningly melodious take, dubbed a soulful celebration of Handel’s magnum opus, one of the many highlights during their kick-off concert, which drew a standing ovation at the University Chapel, Mona Campus, on Sunday evening.

Under the direction of Dr. Jeffrey Murdock, the 75-voice choir (30 students made the trip) is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year and decided to make their Jamaica and Caribbean debut with this much-welcomed concert tour, scheduled to make stops at NCU, The St. Andrew Parish Church and the Hope Zoo, under the auspices of the UWI Alumni Association.

In a nutshell, the choir (a diverse mix of Black, Asian and White choristers), specializing in “Black sacred music,” puts on quite a show, offering tunes (gospel anthems, spiritual gems) laced with tight harmonies and all-around flavourful singing. It’s the kind of choir you want to lead your Sunday morning worship and give a mini concert every week.

After opening the show with a hand-clapping, toe-tapping version of “Pass Me Not, O Gentle Saviour,” the black-and-white clad troupe slowed down the tempo with beautifully rendered acapella treatments of “Blessed Assurance”, “Take It To The Lord in Prayer “and the Noel Dexter-arranged “O’er Blue Mountain”, with commanding solo work by Canadian tenor and teacher Dr. Christopher McRae.

“I hope we Americans do it justice,” Murdock quipped ahead of their rendition of Dexter’s popular “Psalm 150”, a highly commendable effort, performed just before “And He Shall Purify”, a great showcase for the soprano line, brought the curtains down on Part One.

Mona’s University Chorale, sporting light green and black ensembles, was the evening’s supporting act, opening Part Two with a quartet of sublime spirituals (Dexter’s “Psalm 24” and “The Magnificat”, “They Crucified My Lord” and “Beulah Lan’”), which fit perfectly into the two-hour programme and was met with resounding applause. 

Taking the floor again, for the second half, the Arkansas Chorale wasted little time, reconnecting with their beautifully resonant song selections. While the soothing strains of “My Soul’s Been Anchored”, “Under His Wings” and “I Can Tell the World” echoed at all the right moments, with “Even Me Lord” they delivered captivating, altar-call stuff. 

“Joyful Joyful”, meanwhile, was a jubilant explosion of energy and harmony, but they saved the absolute best for last with a powerful, soul-stirring rendition of the Richard Smallwood/Brooklyn Tabernacle classic “Total Praise”, which sent the audience home on a magical high.

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

NEWS & NOTES: A new Bob Marley musical + Arkansas chorale in concert + ISSA’s firm stance

> RESPECT DUE: ISSA fires warning shots ahead of Champs 2017 
When it comes to protecting the rights of privileges of its committed sponsors and partners, the Inter-Secondary Schools’ Sports Association (ISSA) is taking a zero-tolerance approach in dealing with those entities that refuse to respect and abide by the rules governing the affairs of the annual Boys & Girls Champs. “We ask companies and individuals to respect the intellectual property rights of the ISSA/GraceKennedy Boys’ and Girls’ Championships and not engage in any negativity that might create a commercial association with ISSA, the championships or any participating athletes before, during or after the period of the championships,” the association emphasized in a full-page advisory that ran in the local papers last week. “Any entity or individual which engages in ambush marketing either before, during or after the [Champs] or any unauthorized filming of the event by any means will be pursued to the full extent of the law.” Official sponsors of Champs 2017 include GraceKennedy, Puma, Western Union, First Global Bank, Lucozade and Flow. 

> ‘MARLEY’ MAGIC: One Love musical premieres in England 
Another year, another Bob Marley-based stage production. One Love: The Bob Marley Musical opened last Friday in Birmingham, England, with an exuberant cast and crew led by writer/director Kwame Kwei Armah, who decided to zone in on the 1976-8 period of Bob’s life, highlighted by his sojourn in England in the wake of that assassination attempt (Dec. 3, 1976) on his life. The musical also captured the events that led to the birth of Exodus, Marley’s classic album that was Time’s pick for Album of the Millennium in 1991. For the record, the Marley family has endorsed Armah’s musical. “I turn down requests to use Daddy’s name and work every day, but I gave the musical my blessing because it is beautiful and the message is powerful,” Cedella Marley, CEO of the Bob Marley Group of Companies, told the Birmingham Mail. “Birmingham is the ideal place for the musical. Daddy loved performing there and had a great affection for Britain. We try to preserve his words and share them, [and] the musical is one of the ways we do that and hope to reach new audiences.”

> CONCERT TOUR: Univ. of Arkansas choir touches down in JA 
Jamaica has played host to large number of internationally acclaimed choral groups over the years, including the renowned Howard University Chorale and Oxford’s Christ Church Cathedral Chorus, ranked among the best all-boy choirs in the world. This month brings the dynamic University of Arkansas Inspirational Chorale to our shores for a series of performances. On Sunday, March 19, the choir tested the acoustics of Mona’s University Chapel at a 5 o’clock concert (look out for our review!). On Monday, March 20, they journeyed to Mandeville’s Northern Caribbean University for a 7o’clock show. On Tuesday, March 21, they graced the Half Way Tree-based St. Andrew Parish Church for a 7pm concert, and on Wednesday, March 22, they’ll bring a joyful noise to the Hope Zoo for a performance commencing at 8pm. See the press for details.

LARGER THAN LIFE: Inaugural Curvy C'bean Conference aims to empower and celebrate full-figured beauty

GIRL POWER: Jarrett (left), with designer Donaldene Berwick, striking a pose at the recent launch.

“I’VE never allowed me weight to stop me. When I was Minister of Tourism, there wasn’t anything I did not try. I was fearless. It didn’t matter what size I was. I don’t see it,” declared COK’s full-figured queenpin Aloun Assamba, as she addressed the sizeable gathering at the recent launch party for the inaugural Curvy Caribbean Conference, the region’s first conference in celebration and empowerment of the big girls.

The launch took place on the grounds of the House of Neahlis on Ardenne Road in St. Andrew. “I can laugh at myself. [Teasing] doesn’t bother me; it runs off my back. So I’m very glad for this conference. I think it will really open up the eyes of Jamaicans. We’re here, we’re healthy and we’re not going anywhere.”

The conference, slated for April 8 and 9 at The Worthington, Spanish Court Hotel, is the brainchild of entrepreneur and plus-size fashion designer Alisia Jarrett, who is the first to admit that she and other women like her have had to endure prejudice and humiliation over the years. “From fatty to fluffy and mampie, women my size have been subject to ridicule. I’ve felt pressured to lose weighty, but I woke up,” she noted. “This is not just my story. It’s the story of countless women who’ve been told repeatedly that they need to lose some weight, leading to lo self-esteem.”

Jarrett also cited a study conducted by Dove, which found that six out of 10 girls opt out of physical activity because they are afraid of being judged for the way they look. For others, it’s their work and academic performance that suffers. It’s against this backdrop that the idea for the CCC was born. “We want full-figured women to value themselves and realize their true potential. Curvy women are fabulous and deserve to always look their best,” said Jarrett, who runs the wellness company LivingWell NaturalCare.

“We also want the conference to talk about the challenges and pressures of society and how we can confidently embrace who we are, where we are right here and now and also to boost our egos with gorgeous hairstyles and fabulous clothes.”

The two-day event will feature informative discussions and workshops addressing everything from body image, health and fitness to dating, fashion and business. Five gorgeous ambassadors have been named for the inaugural conference: international plus-size models Tessenie Mowatt and Tricia Campbell, Atlanta-based blogger Nikki Freestyle and businesswomen Gianna Fakhourie, who will co-host the proceedings with TV and stage star Dahlia Harris.

Predictably, attendees are in for a run time, attending sessions led by the likes of Yendi Phillipps (reggae dance class), Neahlis (hair and makeup), Courtney Washington (The Curvy Designers Open Challenge) and Rodney Campbell (Curvy Life Challenges), among others. 

Professor Carolyn Cooper had nothing but high praises for the organizing committee and a firm message for the ladies who will be flocking to the conference next month. “This conference is about celebrating our diversity as women. Ladies, accept yourselves for who you are. Some men have unrealistic expectations. Don’t many any men make you feel insecure about how you look,” Cooper advised. “As Caribbean people we have different standards of beauty. In our culture, a lot of men love their women with meat on their bones. So we need to look at the whole psychology of female beauty and how the beauty industry conspires to make women feel small.” 

Sponsors for the inaugural Curvy Caribbean Conference are Kerry-Kay, Lifespan, On Point Makeup & Beauty, COK, and Stayfree.

Monday, 20 March 2017

THIS MAN’S WORK: Derek Walcott leaves behind a sterling legacy, magical poetry

WORDS TO LIVE BY: The Nobel Laureate addressing the crowd at the Calabash Literary Festival in Treasure Beach in 2008.

Among the elder statesmen of West Indian literature, Derek Walcott was the gold standard. A patriotic son of St. Lucia, he easily stood out among his peers (Naipaul, Selvon, Brathwaite and Lamming) in the pantheon reserved for the literary giants of the region. That’s why his death is so deeply felt. And not just among the literati. Poet, playwright, scholar, thinker, fine artist, Walcott inspired a whole generation of young and emerging talents regionally and globally. Like Rex Nettleford of Jamaica, his is a legacy that’s as larger-than-life as the reputation that preceded him. 

Born on January 32, 1930 in Castries, Walcott – the son of a schoolteacher mother and a writer/painter father – made his transition on Friday after a period of ill health. His longtime publishers Farrar Straus & Giroux made the announcement, sparking a wave of tributes and lengthy newspaper obituaries. He was 87 years old.

Though his oeuvre includes such classic plays as Dream on Monkey Mountain and Ti-Jean & His Brothers, Walcott’s name has become synonymous with evocative poetry that sings of Caribbean rivers, green nights the legacy of our colonial heritage and our unseverable ties to the Motherland (“How can I turn from Africa and live?”, A Far Cry from Africa). The Fortunate Traveller, Omeros, Another Life, and The Prodigal are just a few of the collections that leave readers in awe at home and abroad.

Jamaican admirers have been fortunate to have audience with the celebrated wordsmith at readings and book signings over the years, most memorably at the Calabash Literary Festival at Jake’s in Treasure Beach in 2008 and at a standing-room-only symposium at the Knutsford Court Hotel in New Kingston in 2012.

Walcott’s life was a fascinating study of contours and contrasts: the sublime poetry, plays and paintings; the Oxford scandal that sorely tested his mettle; his critics and biographers who’ve done their best to capture his truth (Jamaica’s Eddie Baugh among them); the artists who’ve immortalized him and, of course, the career-defining Nobel win in 1992, making him the first Caribbean native to be awarded the highly coveted Literature prize.

“The Nobel Prize brings a lot of responsibility. Your life becomes very active. There is so much demanded of you, and it’s almost like a torment,” he confessed to his Kingston audience in 2012. “It’s like saying ‘I won? Wow! And then saying ‘Oh Jesus. I won!’ I’ve never said that. But it can be very exhausting. In that way, I guess it does change your life because it make you be at the call of people who want you to read at events like these, and so on.”

Some of us were born to sing, some to till the soil, others to heal the sick. Walcott always knew he was here to write. “I knew from the time I was a child that that was what I wanted to be. I wanted to be a poet, and given that my mother was a teacher and my father was a writer and painter,” he said. “So I knew my vocation and I’ve always considered myself lucky because I knew exactly what I wanted to do from age six or seven.” 

Rest now, Sir. The work lives on. 

From the TALLAWAH Archives: 
>Walcott in Kingston: On the writing life and the Nobel Prize 
>‘I’m Disappointed’: Walcott responds to Oxford hoopla

Saturday, 18 March 2017

TALK OF THE TOWN: Debbie, Shelly have buns in the oven + WIE 2017 a super-success + Racers planning grand Bolt salute…

HE IS LEGEND: It comes as no surprise that given his impending retirement from competitive athletics this summer, Usain Bolt’s family at the Racers Track Club are planning to honour him in a major way, at the second annual Racers Grand Prix, set for June 10 at the National Stadium. Dubbed “Salute to a Legend,” the IAAF-certified meet has naturally attracted a wave of sponsors, elite participants (Mo Farah, Wayde Van Niekerk), and international media whose names were officially announced when organizers, led by club president and head coach Glen Mills, hosted the meet’s press launch in Kingston on Friday. But Bolt will undoubtedly be the star attraction at the event, which is a major warm-up exercise on the road to the IAAF World Championships taking place in London in August. 

BABY ON BOARD: What do Debbie Bissoon (above), Janella Precius, Emprezz Golding and Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce all have in common? Apart from being gorgeous, relentlessly achieving Jamaican women, they are all expectant moms! After we got the deets on Shelly’s pregnancy via news reports that went viral last week and saw Emprezz’s fabulous spread in Flair, we ‘bumped’ into a radiantly glowing and showing (at the Women in Energy conference at the Pegasus), who confirmed her impending motherhood and that of her TV-J sistah Janella. “It’s great that all of us are about to become mothers,” Debbie told us, taking a break from filming behind-the-scenes footage of the conference. “I’m really looking forward to the experience.” 

LADIES FIRST: Speaking of strong Jamaican women, what a glorious celebration of success, survival and sisterhood unfolded at Women In Energy 2017, which assembled a host of inspiring, powerful and game-changing women (and a few men!) at the Jamaica Pegasus Hotel for two days of motivational talk and life-affirming testimonies last week. The JPS team cannot be lauded enough for such a relevant and timely initiative, which we expect to be an even more joyous occasion next year and in the years to come. 

QUESTION OF THE WEEK: How come Khadine ‘Miss Kitty’ Hylton is not among the ambassadors or presenters for the inaugural Curvy Caribbean Conference, the region’s “first plus-size conference”, being staged by local organizers in Kingston next month? Launched last Tuesday, the CCC is set for April 8 and 9 at The Worthington, Spanish Court Hotel. We thought that Miss Kitty would be a natural for the planned seminars and discussions aimed at empowering the fluffy divas among us. Just sayin'.

ARTIST SPOTLIGHT: Actor Boy nominee Stephen-Rhae Johnson relishes the role of evolving thespian

FAMILY MAN: Johnson (as James) surrounded by his queens (played by Suzanne Beadle and Renae Williams) in 70X7: The Real Truth.

DON’T be fooled by Stephen-Rhae Johnson’s clean-cut image and cool-calm-collected demeanour. This 28-year-old is a competent and intuitive actor fast-tracking in his career, who brings grit and fierce intelligence, surprising depth and range to his portrayals. For proof look no further than his breakout turn (alternating with Wynton Williams) as the titular Old Testament hero in Father HoLung & Friends’ mega-musical Moses, for which the Actor Boy judges have nominated him for Best Actor for the upcoming awards, putting him in the company of such seasoned pros as Jean-Paul Menou and Glen Campbell.

He has one word to sum up the experience. “It’s surreal. I know that word is used a lot, but I can think of no better word to describe what I’m feeling,” confesses Johnson, a self-proclaimed church dude who got a kick out of breathing life into a Biblical patriarch for whom he’s always held deep admiration. “It was fun being Moses. It was truly a wild ride and a rollercoaster of emotions trying to bring what you read in the script to the performance and putting your own flavour to it.”

Johnson, who is of average built and stands at six-two, has worked with the Father HoLung crew before, co-starring in 2008’s Jam Reggae Opera after acing the auditions. He’s also done time with the Jamaica Musical Theatre Company (2009’s Beauty & the Beast) and gotten tips from David Tulloch (2016’s Block 24, At the Barricades). But being a part of the spectacle and majesty of Moses (thanks to a recommendation from lighting maestro Robin Baston) has been the chief highlight of his fledgling career so far. “Just to be called in to do a role like that,” he reflects, “was a feat in itself.” 

Johnson, who got bit by the performing-arts bug as a kid acting and singing in shows at the Trench Town New Testament Church, is intent on building a solid body of work populated by roles that show off his stage presence and versatility. That’s precisely why he accepted the part of James Morgan in this month’s 70X7: The Real Truth, playing a devoted father and husband grappling with a major family crisis.

“James is a man trying to keep his family together, and I admire that. He’s trying so hard not to lose his cool and keep his secret that the pressure starts to get to him,” Johnson shares, sitting across from me inside the Phoenix Theatre, moments after wrapping another sold-out performance. “He’s a complex character. There’s a lot going on inside that he feels he cannot share, and I can relate to that; that need for self-preservation.” 

But the theatre door is where the drama ends for this Spanish Town-by-way-of-Portmore native, who has been happily married to his longtime sweetheart Davi since August 2016. “I’m proud of him. This is his passion. He’s very alive when he’s on stage. That’s how I met him,” she tells TALLAWAH.

When he’s not inhabiting strong masculine characters or playing Mr. Romantic at home, Stephen-Rhae Johnson (a Wolmer’s Boys alum who holds Computer Science degree from UWI Mona) works as a network administrator (“a very challenging job”) in a field he’s passionate about. But the stage will always be his first love. 

“I love the idea of evolving as an actor. I’m a student of the theatre and acting as a craft,” shares Johnson, whose idols include Johnny Depp, Steve Carell and Denzel Washington. “I’m looking forward to evolving some more. And I think it’s rewarding to help others develop their talent as well. Talent is just one side of the coin; you have to work hard at it.”

>> REVIEW: The verdict on 70X7: The Real Truth

ALL IN THE FAMILY: Beadle’s 70X7 paints a realistic but uneven portrait

STAND BY YOUR MAN: Johnson (left) and Beadle sharing a scene from the production.

70X7: The Real Truth (SoulArt by Suzanne Productions)
Director: Michael Daley
Cast: Suzanne Beadle, Kaleb D’Aguilar, Renae Williams and Stephen-Rhae Johnson
Venue: Phoenix Theatre, New Kingston

HOW does a family come to terms with a ruthless betrayal by the last person they expected to stab them in the back? The Morgans, a God-fearing, middle-class St. Andrew family, headed by matriarch Grace (Suzanne Beadle) and her workaholic husband James (Stephen-Rhae Johnson), understandably find it difficult to forgive and move on with their lives when the unthinkable happens.

That’s the basic gist of the plot that anchors 70X7: The Real Truth, a starkly realistic and well-acted faith-based dramedy that is weighed down by an uneven and overlong script but drives home a powerful and essential message that revolves around trust, the ties that bind and healing.

Grace (the calm but increasingly frustrated stay-at-home wife) and James (the fleet-footed hubby seemingly devoted to his pastor) have their hands full with a business start-up and actively supporting their church. Consequently, this obviously committed couple runs the risk of neglecting the flame of their marriage. What’s also clear is that though they don’t always see eye to eye, they love their two college-age kids who still have rooms at the house: music lover Justin (Kaleb D’Aguilar) and foxy UWI girl Jada (Renae Williams), whose flirtatious streak may have led to the harassing phone calls she’s been receiving lately.

Acting on a request from Pastor Sinclair (Clayton McEwan), James and Grace take in Shawn (Brian Maloney), an ‘unassuming’ chap with a knack for numbers who is finishing up his studies at UWI. That’s when things take a complicated turn in the Morgan household. Before long, there’s an emotional storm brewing. It soon crescendos into a maelstrom where tempers flare, certain things are said and clutch-those-pearls secrets come tumbling out of the closet with life-altering consequences. 

Beadle, making her commercial theatre debut with this domestic potboiler, shows immense talent as a playwright, offering a story that commendably blends the comic and the dramatic, the lighthearted and the serious. Trouble is, the length of the piece feels excessive and the narrative shies away from the conclusion we were anticipating. As a result, we don’t get the emotional payoff we felt was coming.

But, as a whole, 70X7 works, perhaps chiefly due to Daley’s directing, which elicits convincing work from his actors, especially Beadle (consistent and emotionally precise) and Johnson (now an Actor Boy nominee for Moses), who taps into James’ desperate frustrations to be breadwinner, husband, superdad and reliable church brother, even as his family slips into crisis. 

Meanwhile, relative newcomers Williams, D’Aguilar, Maloney and McEwan turn in commendable work, holding their own and displaying a level of mastery of the material. And kudos are due to the creative/technical team for the reflective, Christian-themed soundtrack and a gorgeous lighting and set design that brings the Morgans’ home interior to vivid life. 

Though it could do with a bit of tightening, 70X7: The Real Truth is a worthwhile theatrical experience that examines familial bonds and human relationships – and what happens when faith and forgiveness are put to the test. Tyrone’s Verdict: B

>> INTERVIEW: Actor Stephen-Rhae Johnson gets candid

Monday, 13 March 2017

ARTISTIC LICENSE: Jasmine Thomas-Girvan lives to provoke thought, create change with her art

VISUAL FEAST:  “The work is a celebration of the absolute resilience of the Jamaican people,” the artist (inset) says of her prize-winning opus.

IF you ask Jasmine Thomas-Girvan why she decided to become a full-time fine artist, her answer will be very simple: she doesn’t have a choice. “I feel it is my duty to create art. I feel it’s something I was called to do. As an artist committed to the work, it’s not easy but it has to be done,” she admits, standing inside the National Gallery on the occasion of the grand opening of the 2017 Jamaica Biennial exhibition. “For me, art is a trigger. If somebody is moved by what you have created, you have achieved something.”

And her work is certainly very moving. In fact, the Biennial’s judges were so taken with her larger-than-life entry “Parallel Realities Dwelling in the Heartland of my People” that she was awarded the prestigious Aaron Matalon Award (for the second time in her career), besting a large crème-de-la-crème field that included such other stalwarts as Laura Facey, Petrona Morrison, Norma Harrack and David Boxer, to name only a few.

By her own admission, Thomas-Girvan’s life-long devotion to the creative and visual arts runs deep. “I believe art is supposed to provoke you, move you, make people react. Some of us take that responsibility very seriously. Sometimes there are no accolades, no financial reward. But if what you do creates change, that’s the reward.”

Currently living and working in Maraval, Trinidad, Thomas-Girvan is a daughter of St. Andrew who, having been educated at the Parsons School of Design in New York (completing a BFA in Jewellery and Textile Design), has exhibited her mixed-media creations everywhere from the US mainland to Venezuela to the Caribbean. Her hyper-innovative art is described by the National Gallery’s curators as “work that evokes poetically the epic histories of the Caribbean.”

Thomas-Girvan, now 56, is quick to repay the compliment. “The National Gallery has to be commended for the extraordinary energy they bring to this space. It is important that the work we are creating as artists is given the recognition it deserves. The art community deserves to have an audience because without an audience we are really speaking to each other. So I have to big up the National Gallery and the Institute of Jamaica, as well,” says the artist, whose many awards include the Tiffany Award for Excellence at Parsons, the Commonwealth Foundation Arts Award in 1996 and a 2014 Silver Musgrave Medal from the IOJ. 

Comfortably dressed in a sleeveless little black dress and a head wrap reminiscent of Erykah Badu, Thomas-Girvan says her Jamaican roots are never far from her thoughts. To wit, it’s a never-failing source to draw from. “Parallel Realities”, she says, confirms this. “The work is a celebration of the absolute resilience of the Jamaican people,” she tells TALLAWAH. “There’s a counter-narrative to that, but I wanted to reflect a powerful aspect of my Jamaican heritage.” Mission accomplished.

For the record, the artist whose next show is the Casa de las Americas exhibition in July, has nothing but high praises for the home-based artists who continue to churn out quality work, in spite of very little resources. “From what I’ve seen, there’s a diverse representation of Jamaican art here. And the output seems to be of a very high standard,” she observes. “It shows that the art culture is growing and the community that supports art in Jamaica is growing. The key is to improve on what we have.”

>> Report: TALLAWAH takes a look at the 2017 Biennial exhibition 

Saturday, 11 March 2017

‘POWER’ PLAYERS: Women in Energy 2017 delivers ample inspiration, fun times and powerful life lessons

STAGE PRESENCE: Tomblin, Minna Israel, Pam Hill, Camille Facey, and Llewellyn posing for photographers with their specially-designed plaques.

An Oscar winner. A government minister. Five game-changing businessmen. Dozens of classy, high-powered leading ladies. A room full of smartly dressed, ambitious career women taking notes and bursting into intermittent peals of laughter and loud cheers. Such was the scene inside the Jamaica Pegasus Hotel ballroom, as the second annual Women In Energy conference kicked into high gear on Friday morning.

What a high-energy affair it turned out to be, more than living up to expectations with enough empowering and inspiring testimonies to launch a space-shuttle, ample humour, indelible examples of genuine sisterhood, and a surplus of evidence that Jamaican women keep it real when it comes to “doing power differently.”

JPS CEO Kelly Tomblin took us down memory lane with snapshots of her journey from being a precocious five-year-old “who knew how to pose” to morphing into a teenage whiz kid and a globe-trotting dynamo. Director of Public Prosecutions, Paula Llewellyn, gamely riffed on overcoming her fear of publicly ordering size-11 shoes and the courage and self-confidence it takes to excel at her job daily in the face of infernal heat and palpable pressure.

Flow’s Rochelle Cameron also expertly blended the serious and the funny as she challenged the women to find the courage to leave that stifling comfort zone and “get up, dress up and show up”, each and every day, regardless of how you feel. Vice President of Legal and Compliance Affairs at JPS, Katherine Francis, moderated a spirited discussion on rising through risk and resilience that touched on the importance of practising mindfulness, not to mention the psychology game that comes with life in the corporate world.
Global Directories’ Tshani Jaja (above) had the women in her thrall as she rivetingly combined scripture and hard-earned wisdom to address sisterhood, bullying and building your tribe in spite of the odds. “Each of us is here to leave a legacy for the next generation to follow,” she reminded us, “and give them a firm foundation to build on.” 

This was a point echoed by Lesley-Ann Goldwasser, a Zimbabwe-born philanthropist and filmmaker, whose 2010 documentary Music by Prudence (about talented disabled kids fulfilling their dream of visiting and performing in America) won an Academy Award – and the New York Times bestselling author of children’s books Laura Duksta (I Love You More), who talked about harnessing your power through compassion, imagination and love.

After a testosterone-fuelled panel discussion (featuring Keith Garvey, Wayne McKenzie, Dr. Wayne Henry, Christopher Barnes and the US-based Sam Abdallah) that intriguingly explored the male perspective on gender and leadership, the session on “finding, nurturing and presenting your whole self to the world” provided a fascinating contrast, with communications pro Winsome Callum, businesswoman Heneka Watkis-Porter, futurist Dr. Claire Nelson, strategist Stacey Hines and boss lady Chorvelle Johnson all making life-affirming contributions. 
Management consultant Nsombi Jaja, designer Ayanna Dixon and wellness coach Leslie Salmon Jones rounded off a solid programme that was also graced by the culture and gender affairs minister, Olivia ‘Babsy’ Grange (centre, with Cameron, right, and Novia McDonald-Whyte). “Have we done enough to embrace our power as women? There was a time when women could not vote. Now we’ve had a female prime minister, the Director of Public Prosecutions, the Attorney General, the Auditor General, the Solicitor General and the acting Commissioner of Police. All women,” she told the gathering to resounding applause. “Those are significant strides, but there’s more to do.”