Saturday, 29 April 2017

50-SECOND MOVIE REVIEW: Unforgettable is a flawed but frequently jolting domestic thriller

THE WOMEN: Dawson and Heigl square off in this scene from the new thriller-drama.

FOR any Hollywood actress worth her salt, there comes a time when you have to shed that America’s Sweetheart image and show some toughness and brawn, real depth and range. Julia Roberts, Reese Witherspoon, Anne Hathaway – they’ve all been there. 

In this month’s Unforgettable, Katherine Heigl (known for such laugh-out-loud romps as 27 Dresses and Knocked Up) steps up to the plate, taking a dramatic departure from her signature roles to turn up the heat as Tessa Connover, an unhinged divorcée going to extremes to ruin the life of her ex-husband’s new flame, Julia Banks (played with enormous warmth and vulnerability by Rosario Dawson), an editor who leaves the big city for a fresh start in a small town with a gorgeous man (George Stults as David Connover) and his young daughter, Lily. 

Directed by Denise di Novi, working with a script by Christina Hudson, Unforgettable is no Fatal Attraction, but it is frequently jolting and utterly realistic, compellingly recalling such predecessors as Obsessed (Beyoncé Knowles and Ali Larter squaring off over Idris Elba) and the more recent When the Bough Breaks, where Regina Hall and newcomer Jaz Sinclair had their knock-down drag-out brawl over Morris Chestnut. 

Exploring regret, heartbreak and the pain of moving on, it’s about a woman with an abusive past desperate to put that past behind her, but it’s also a reminder that hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. Even so, it’s Heigl’s startling transformation into the ice-queen Barbie with a perfectionist streak that proves most unforgettable. Tyrone’s Verdict: B






Wednesday, 26 April 2017

TALK OF THE TOWN: Suzie Q’s gospel chapter; Francois & Paula; Jamaica’s Oldest Woman, and more

EVERY week viewers would tune in by the thousands for a quick rundown of the hottest music videos in the land and catch up with their favourite entertainers, thanks to Reggae Trail TV, hosted by Suzie Q. Nowadays, the affable hostess is taking the show in a brand-new direction. Introducing the Suzie Q Gospel Trail, which is being launched this Friday, April 28, at The Hive (formerly the Famous Night Club) in Portmore, St. Catherine. As we hear, the launch is being put on by On Point Entertainment, and will take the form of a grand gospel showcase and premiere party, with performances by Lt. Stitchie, Carlene Davis, rising sensation Alicia Taylor and the Katalys Crew, among several others. If you want more info, check out suzieqgospeltrail.com.
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People are saying RJR’s new pairing of Francois St. Juste and Paula-Ann Porter-Jones is the new Allan & Dorraine. Airwaves veterans Porter-Jones and St. Juste have teamed up to host Sunny Side Up, weekday mornings from 5:00am - 8:30am, a move that could boost the morning listenership for the long-running station.
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Things seem to be progressing smoothly towards the much-anticipated staging of this summer’s Reggae Sumfest concert series, now in its 25th year! Newly christened “Our Music, Our Festival”, the fest takes place July 16-22 at Catherine Hall, Montego Bay. According to a release, Times Square in NYC recently got a taste of what’s to come in July, as DownSound Entertainment hosted a special New York launch at The Sky Room.
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So in addition to being home to the World’s Fastest Man and Woman, Jamaica now has the distinction of being home to the World’s Oldest Woman! At 117, Violet Mosse Brown, a native of Trelawney, also happens to be the World’s Oldest Living Person, period, according to checks by the US-based Gerontology Research Group. So what’s Mama Violet’s big living-it-up secret? “Really and truly, when people ask me what me at to live so long,” she recently told an interviewer, “I say to them than I eat everything except pork and chicken, and I don’t drink rum.” Kiddies, take note.
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R.I.P Germaine Mason. #HigherHeights

> QUESTIONS OF THE WEEK 

What’s the latest on the Buju Banton saga? Are his lawyers still working on that appeal? Is he in good health? 

Is Cindy Breakspeare still planning to publish that tell-all book, revealing her side of the-Bob-Marley-I-knew story? God knows the world is waiting on it. Surely it will be one of those juicy unputdownable reads.

What has become of the Jamaica International Invitational track meet? The silence is deafening…






MADE IN JAMAICA: These fine home-made products sample the best of our island flavours

SO FRESH, SO CLEAN: Is there a more sensational feeling than being refreshed by a Blue Mountain stream? Perhaps the next best thing is being caressed by products from Blue Mountain Aromatics, a beauty line that somehow managed to slip under the radar but has been, thankfully, discovered, in time for Mother’s Day. Distributed by Parang Industries Limited, the wholesome skin-care line (smelling like tropical fruity goodness) carries the ortanique soap, the cocoa butter soap, the lavender and vanilla soap and the rosemary and mint soap. Among the key ingredients? Heavenly notes of palm oil, castor oil, coconut oil and peppermint. Why not try them all? Even better, these products are all hand-made in Jamaica. Contact the makers at bluemountainaromatics@cwjamaica.com or call 906-0347. 

SOME LIKE IT HOT: All Jamaicans know there’s no finer way to jazz up a home-cooked meal than with a great condiment. Sammi’s Gourmet Treats has some terrific options with your name written all over them. For starters, savour the delectable delight of the from-scratch Escoveitch Pickle Sauce (a palate cleanser best served with fried fish and chicken) or the Spicy Tamarind Jam (full of spicy, tangy sweet fruits). Then sample the lunch table-ready Pineapple Jam, Pomegranate Java Plum Jam or the Orange Coconut Jam, made from heart-healthy oranges combined with refreshing island coconuts. Find Sammi’s Gourmet Treats on Facebook and Instagram or visit their home page at sammistreats.com. 

SPICE IT UP: Based in Yallahs, St. Thomas, A Taste of the Caribbean Limited (manufacturers of the Dunson’s line of products) stakes its claim as suppliers of the most tantalizing sauces this side of the region. They carry a hefty stock: in addition to their Jamaican Jerk Sauce and Jamaican Jerk Barbecue Sauce, they are known for their Scotch Bonnet Pepper Sauce and Spicy Tamarind Sauce, alongside the finger-lickin’ Jamaican Brown Stew Sauce. Check them out online at dunsonsjamaicafoods.com or contact them at dunsonsfood@gmail.com.






Tuesday, 25 April 2017

POWER & PRAISE: Electric performances thrill concertgoers at Unity in the City gospel bash

CROWD PLEASERS: Greene connected with a stirring blend of his popular and more recent tunes; (below) Downswell, Blakka & Bello wowing the packed arena.

Innovative stagecraft and forging a solid connection with your audience are key to delivering a great live show. The headline acts who took to the stage at Easter Monday’s Unity in the City grand gospel concert, inside the National Indoor Sports Centre in Kingston, seemed to have little difficulty winning over the supersized crowd (scores of patrons had to be turned back), as they delivered performances laced with vigour, sturdy vocals, and the occasional whiff of panache. 

To say the least, it was a thoroughly entertaining concert that, thankfully, lived up to our high expectations. In other words, the hundred who shelled out their big bucks to see Travis Greene light up the stage were not disappointed, as the Grammy-nominated US-based gospel star gave an electrifying set, armed with his trusty guitar and casual gear (a cool-kid cap included) that kept us in his thrall for well over an hour. 

“This is my first time in Kingston but it won’t be my last,” Greene told the enthusiastic concertgoers before launching into “We Are Here For You,” a burst of rhythmic energy that introduced us to his 5-piece backing band and three back-up vocalists. Up next were tunes like “See the Light,” during which a sea of dazzling cell-phone screens lit up the auditorium, and the prayerful “You Have Won the Victory.” A massive sing-along accompanied “Intentional” and his Grammy-nominated hit “Made a Way,” which closed his set on a golden high. 

Jermaine Edwards, a vision in dazzling white, brought his powerful brand of island worship with “Smile”, “There’s a Peace”, “I Feel Free” and the keyboard-assisted “Hallelujah to our King.” Kevin Downswell also gave the people what they came for, drawing on selections like “All the Way,” “If It’s Not You” and “Nobody Loves Me The Way You Do” ahead of renditions of “That’s Enough”, “One Day”, “Goodbye World” (alongside a couple of male dancers) and the jubilant finale that “Stronger” provided. 

Papa San, ever the reliable show-close, expertly brought up the rear with a bunch of his timeless hits, among them “Jesus My Saviour”, “Tell Devil Loose”, “Jesus Make Me Smile Again” and the sensational “Shake Your Tambourina.” 

Earlier in the night, we heard from the fiercely talented Rondell Positive who, alongside his I-Worshipp collaborators, proved he’s still more than a conqueror; R&B-gospel act Ray Soul, powerhouse songstress Ashayla Shenae, fast-emerging singer-songwriter Kevin Heath and the awesome Transformed Life Church Singers. 

We laughed out loud at the spot-on comedic stylings of industry veterans Blakka & Bello (still killing it after all these years) and Leighton Smith, who knows how to make the grumpy/grouchy downright hilarious. Nadine Blair and Ian ‘Ity’ Ellis were the night’s delightful emcees.






Monday, 24 April 2017

RISE & SHINE: Reflective, rousing dance theatre takes centrestage at NDTC’s Easter Sunday performance

FINE FORM: Dancers performing Troy Powell's "Unscathed" during last Sunday's well-attended performance.

THE single greatest pleasure of a performance put on by the National Dance Theatre Company of Jamaica (NDTC) is that near-seamless blend of exquisite choreography, lithe ands graceful movements and stirring musical accompaniment provided by the NDTC Singers and musicians, led by the innovative Ewan Simpson, their musical director.

The mammoth crowd that flocked to the Little Theatre in Kingston this past Easter Sunday for the 36th renewal of the company’s annual Morning of Movement and Music got a taste of quintessential NDTC, thanks to a performance both wonderfully entertaining and immensely satisfying – totally reflective of the holy season.

As expected, we were treated to a selection of new and revived works, none more rousing than the exuberant curtain-raiser, set to “The Hallelujah Chorus”, with choreography supplied by Kevin Moore, whose 2017 work “Mercy” (employing seven of the company’s finest dancers and the captivating strains of Jeff Majors performing “Psalm 23”) was a moving depiction of rhythm and technical rigour in sync.

Kerry-Ann Henry’s “Haven,” the other 2017 work, scored high marks for its glorious blend of uniformed movements (the competent trio of Gillian Steele, Rachel Walter ad Ashleigh Bromfield seizing the spotlight) and lush vocals from Kaydene Gordon and Conrod Hall performing “The Prayer.”

Mark Phinn and Michael Small deserved the resounding applause they drew for their touching pas de deux “Of Sympathy and Love,” a 2003 piece from Clive Thompson; NDTC rookie Javal Lewis proved his leading-man potential performing Chris Walker’s “Walk With Me”, while guest performer Fae Ellington brought a whiff of whimsy to the Easton Lee poem “Dance Me, Lord.” 

And because no NDTC performance is complete without a slice or two of Rex Nettleford-inspired magic, we were happily transfixed by the fresh takes on 1997’s “Tintinnabulum,” fuelled by the robust score provided by Adieumus (also feature on Troy Powell’s brilliant “Unscathed” and “Revival Time,” a highly energetic and lavishly costumed (dazzling white) offering backed by traditional orchestra accompaniment from Chalice, before “Psalm 150” (with classic musical arrangement by Noel Dexter) brought everyone together for a memorably fantastic finale.






Friday, 21 April 2017

RIDDIMS & RHYMES: High-school bands competition unearthing future Bob Marleys and Jimmy Cliffs

PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT: Rehearsal is a key part of the preparation process for these secondary school musicians.

PAUL Graham dreams of becoming a member of the backing band for the likes of Chronixx and Tarrus Riley and accompanying them on tour, taking reggae to the global masses. He’s getting terrific practice as a member of the Bog Walk High School band, the top school band heading into next week’s grand finals of Jamaica’s Best School Bands competition, an annual showcase for talented teen musicians and vocalists, now in its fourth year.

“I like this competition because I’m getting to make use of my talent and I get to play roots music, which is my favourite kind of music,” shares a beaming Graham, 16, who plays the bass guitar. “In the future, I want to play for artistes and go on tour and hopefully study music in college.” 

TALLAWAH hears multiple variations of his story on this warm and extremely busy Sunday night inside the Vera Moodie Concert Hall at the Edna Manley College, where the judges are checking out performances from this year’s crop of semi-finalists to select the six schools that will view for top honours at the finals on April 23.

DaWayne Wilson, the 18-year-old leader of the Cross Keys High contingent, clearly has a bright future ahead of him. Extremely tall with the vocal and songwriting skills to match, he’s been penning tunes for the past seven years. He may have a hit on his hands with “The Struggles,” a deeply resonant riff on today’s harsh socio-economic realities and the resilience it takes to pull through.

“I would say it has been an extremely wonderful experience so far. We really want to win the competition this year. We’ve been rehearsing every day after school. Some of our instruments got stolen recently, and that set us back a bit, so the song is also reflecting what we’ve been going through,” says Wilson, who is already using the stage name Prince Touriss.

In performance, he pours enormous feeling into his vocals, using his powerful tenor to awesome effect and working up a sweat. Alongside his five bandmates, they treat the audience to covers of popular hits by Bob Marley and Tessanne Chin, among others. “Music definitely chose me. I can’t think of anything else that I enjoy more,” says the Manchester native, a self-admitted fan of Romain Virgo, Sanchez and Chris Martin. “If we win the competition, it would be a great motivator for us and the school.” 

Mr. Andre Porter, chaperone of the Cross Keys gang, is well aware that his kids are beyond talented and vows to continue playing his key role as mentor. “When I first heard them perform “The Struggles”, I knew right away that it was something that deserved to be recorded,” he tells TALLAWAH. “At Cross Keys, we encourage the creativity and we use the medium of the school band and the school choir to encourage the youngsters to showcase their talent and bring glory to the school.” 

Delevante Naraga wants to make his family proud. “I started playing the drums at my church, but now I play both the drums and percussion for the school band,” shares the 15-year-old Claude McKay High student. “My family and church members encourage me all the time to continue. I want to play drums professionally.” 

Dr. Sonjah Stanley Niaah, Director of the UWI-based Institute of Caribbean Studies, hopes the competition will continue playing its important role for many years to come. “Following the great success and inspiration of bands such as Raging Fyah and NoMaddz and established bands like Third World, we stand to benefit from the encouragement of this competition,” she tells TALLAWAH. “As a country using music as one of our chief export products, we must solidify our place as a centre for the arts, and a high school competition like this will go a long way in helping that vision.”

Competition producer and founder Rayven Amani wholeheartedly agrees. “It is up to us as adults to unearth and nurture these young talents, not just vocally,” she notes. “There are so many talented children across Jamaica, and the future of the music industry is dependent on them. That’s one of the reasons I started this competition, and we hope to keep it going for the years to come.”






ON THE RECORD: Ace comic Ity Ellis on being a new man in Christ and building his ‘praise and laughter’ brand

THE NEW ME: “It’s a unique experience, and I see that the Lord is doing something in my life,” Ellis says of embracing his new chapter.

For the past quarter-century, Ian ‘Ity’ Ellis has been serving up whip-smart comedy routines with his rotund partner-in-rhyme Alton ‘Fancy Cat’ Hardware. Together, they do serious damage, blending wit, keen observations of Jamaican life and social commentary to create laugh-out-loud entertainment. 

These days, something new is happening in Ity’s life. Not only has he given his life to the Lord; he’s melded his Christian faith and comedy genius into a business venture branded as “praise and laughter,” which he and his creative team will be heavily promoting for the rest of the year and beyond. 

TALLAWAH caught up with the 40-something entertainer, businessman and popular emcee at Monday’s Unity in the City gospel bash at the National Indoor Sports Centre to talk about his Christian walk, his serious side, and celebrating a major career milestone. 

TALLAWAH: How have you been finding the Christian-life experience? Has the church embraced you? 
Ity Ellis: Since I made the change January 1st of last year, it has been wonderful. As you know, my genre is comedy, where it’s all about fun and laughter, but the church has really embraced me. I’m doing more events like these, and the response has been good. It’s a unique experience, and I see that the Lord is doing something in my life. I’m also building my own brand called “praise and laughter”, so the work continues. 

TALLAWAH: What has surprised you the most since making the transition? 
Ity Ellis: I think what has come as the biggest surprise for me is the amount of experts outside of Christianity who are telling Christians how they should live; people who are not Christians behaving like experts. 

TALLAWAH: So what would you say is your role now as a new man in Christ? 
Ity Ellis: My role is to live a life that people can see Christ in me and come to know Christ. 

TALLAWAH: You’ve been serving as a brand ambassador for mobile giants Flow for a while. What’s that like? 
Ity Ellis: I’m a free agent now, but I still do some work with them from time to time, appearing on different shows, emceeing, performing. I did have a contract with them, but I’m not working with them in that capacity any more. 

TALLAWAH: Your comedic partnership with Fancy Cat still gets people rolling in the aisles wherever you go. Are you still as thrilled about stand-up comedy as when you just started out? 
Ity Ellis: Absolutely. This year, I’m celebrating 25 years of my comedic partnership with Fancy Cat. This is our 10th year doing The Ity & Fancy Cat Show. So we’re giving thanks. It’s still fun, it’s still exciting, but my friends say I shouldn’t let the church get me too serious. (Laughs). 

TALLAWAH: So there is a serious side to you. 
Ity Ellis: Yes, definitely. When it comes to God I am very serious. 

TALLAWAH: How will the rest of the year play out for you? What are you most looking forward to? 
Ity Ellis: As I said, it’s the 10th year of The Ity & Fancy Cat Show, so we have major plans to celebrate that milestone. We also plan to put on a big show later this year in support of the whole “praise and laughter” brand that we are promoting. 

TALLAWAH: That’s a lot to look forward to. When you reflect on your journey to this point, how do you feel about your life in general? 
Ity Ellis: It feels good; it feels wonderful. I have life, can’t complain. And having that life now extends beyond the physical realm. For me, life is now eternal through Christ.






Tuesday, 18 April 2017

STAGE LEFT: JCDC finalists going for gold + Karl Williams and Braata Productions team up + Halvard White preps for May recital

DREAMING IN COLOUR: Karl Williams has done it again. The versatile award-winning playwright has followed up the triumphant success of his provocative plays The Black That I Am and Not About Eve with Welcome to America: A Caribbean Musical, which gets its world premiere run at the York College in New York this month. The song-and-dance show sees Williams (book and lyrics) collaborating with Braata Productions’ Andrew Clarke (producer) and composer/musician Joel Edwards (musical director). Exploring the Caribbean immigrant experience, the complex pursuit of the American dream, and such universal themes as ambition, hope and dignity, Welcome to America tells the story of Sabrina Barnes (Fitgi Saint-Louis) who leaves her island home in the hope of becoming a bonafide star, but she soon realizes that, in spite of her talent and determination, the dream she is chasing may be in jeopardy. In addition to Williams, Clarke and Edwards, the production’s creative team includes Courtney Ffrench, who supplies the choreography and Yudelka Heyer, who directs. 

CLASS ACT: On May 2, Mona’s Philip Sherlock Centre will come alive with the sound of heavenly piano-playing. Iconic pianist Halvard White is bringing his impeccable artistry and one-of-a-kind musicianship to the stage for a recital that’s sure to delight his long-time admirers and secure new members for the fan club. No stranger to giving solo piano recitals that consistently draw standing ovations from packed audiences, White’s programme will see him delivering interpretations of compositions by Chopin, Debussy, Ravel, Rachmaninov and Ludwig Van Beethoven, among other classical masters. Showtime is 7:30pm. 

TALENT SHOW: Before the crème de la crème can be selected for the beloved Mello-Go-Roun’ concert showcase, performers have to bring their A-game to the National Finals of the JCDC Festival of the Performing Arts. This year’s finals, to select gold medal winners in music, dance, speech, drama and traditional folk forms, is currently underway at the Little Theatre in Kingston, bringing together the year’s most outstanding entries and entrants (prep, primary and high-schoolers, community groups, et al) from across the island. The 2017 finals are scheduled to conclude on May 2.






TEMPTATION ISLAND: Three J’can short films capture a heady mix of choices and consequences

HEAD HIGH: Challenges aside, Sugar has big dreams for her future.

A headstrong young girl (Shantol Jackson) working to support her family dreams of going back to school. A free-spirited White couple (Jean-Paul Menou and Maylynne Lowe) finds her irresistible and wants her to join them in their ‘playground.’ What happens next? Will she accept their very tempting offer, given her desperate situation? Or will she take the high road and continue living within her humble means?

Meet Sugar (convincingly portrayed by Jackson), the 20-year-old heroine of the film of the same title (written by Sharon Leah and directed by Michelle Serieux), who must choose wisely, as she seeks to make a better life for herself. 

You feel her pain. At home, her unemployed, ghetto-fabulous mother Adele (Karen Harriott) steals her money, and food is a scarce commodity. At her job (she’s on the cleaning staff at the tourist-friendly hotel where she meets the couple), her friend and co-worker Delphine has just been fired, so her only confidante is Miss Maizie (Carol Lawes), her superior who acts as a mother figure, occasionally imparting wisdom. Sugar is a smart girl who knows what she wants but, as she learns, sometimes life throws you unexpected curveballs. 

With this well-made 15-minute adaptation of Leach’s short story, we get a realistic glimpse at the kind of hard-knock life many face in some of Jamaica’s rough-and-tumble communities, where people have to make tough, uncomfortable choices every day just to survive. But what makes Sugar’s case all the more heartfelt is that she’s a likeable and ambitious young lady who might ultimately have to step outside her moral parameters to get ahead. 

The element of surprise (you never know who is going to pop up next) is a huge part of the appeal of Origins, Kurt Wright’s noirish valentine to Jamaican folklore and some of the most intriguing characters that reside in that realm. I’m talking about Nanny of the Maroons (Julene Robinson), creepy Doctor Hutchinson (Tony Hendricks), Quashie (Chris Daley) and, of course, Annie Palmer, who is just as fiery and frightening (as compellingly portrayed by Jodi-Ann Whittaker) as history as recorded. 

That’s why Jack (Kevoy Burton), though a skilful thief, has to muster up enormous conviction to set foot inside Annie’s great house to steal a mysterious object called ‘the well.’ Consequently, a torrent of fury straight out of your worst nightmare is unleashed on him. Wright, working with co-producer and frequent collaborator Noelle Kerr, is obviously an innovative filmmaker and storyteller, and what he has created is a laudable mix of magical realism, film noir influences, historical facts blended with fictional liberties, and a hefty dose of humour. 

Filmmaker Janet Morrison is the first to admit that her short film Silent Hearts is a tough watch. And indeed it is. Brutal, tragic and unforgettable, it weaves an unflinching, interconnecting narrative, vividly showing how a singular occurrence affects many different lives. What’s more, it calls into sharp focus the tendency of many Jamaicans to look the other way upon witnessing serious criminal activity. 

When a schoolgirl (Nardia Scott) on her way home, innocently steps into what she thinks is a regular route taxi, she is unprepared for what happens next: an abduction and vicious assault that ends in bloodshed. But could the tragic turn of events have been thwarted? Why didn’t the fruit vendor who caught a glimpse of what was unfolding in the back seat of the car raise an alarm? What about the businessman who found his newspaper much more important?

Morrison neither glorifies the violence nor sugarcoats it, opting instead to tell her story with a slice of sobering reality and bare-bones honesty. Thankfully, some breathtaking vistas and camera angles (showcasing Mount Rosser and its environs) provide a stunning and refreshing contrast to the ugliness playing out at the film’s core. 

In the end, Silent Hearts speaks volumes about dark human nature and what happens when we turn a blind eye to the crime wreaking havoc in our country – and the predators targeting the young and the vulnerable.






Wednesday, 12 April 2017

NEW ARTIST SPOTLIGHT: Rising actor Jason Richards discovers the transformative power of theatre

THE NATURAL: “Theatre has groomed me, shares the 25-year-old drama student and future teacher.”

WHEN Jason Richards watches movies he likes to take note of the styles and techniques of his favourite actors Will Smith, Jamie Foxx and Denzel Washington. It seems they have started to rub off on him. These days, the 25-year-old School of Drama standout is fast blossoming into a sturdy leading man, with the kind of conviction and presence that reels in audiences. 

And not a moment too soon. Just recently, he was on stage at the Dennis Scott Theatre breathing full-bodied life into the pivotal role of Ephraim (a young go-getter desperate to flee the poverty in his native Trinidad), in a scorching revival of Errol John’s 1958 hit Moon on a Rainbow Shawl.

The production marked Richards’ first major lead role, and he’s well aware that first impressions are everything. “It was a team effort. In preparing for the production, we were able to feed off the group’s energy,” he says, seated inside the theatre after a Friday night performance. “But I also had to centre myself in the role and reflect on Ephraim’s life. I wanted to deliver a strong performance.”

The Innswood High School graduate, now in his second year of Drama Education studies at the Edna Manley College, readily sings the praises of director Eugene Williams for the much-needed guidance. “Working with him was good. He’s a marvelous director. The process of working with him was really helpful. I think the process is always valuable for us as actors. You appreciate the work more,” Richards reflects. 

Since attending Edna, he’s been cultivating an appreciation for Caribbean classics, including Dennis Scott’s An Echo in the Bone and the Actor Boy-winning Dog, in which he appeared last season. Prior to that, he wrote and performed gold-medal-winning dub poems for the JCDC Festival of the Performing Arts, under the tutelage of Alatia Noel, who first introduced him to the joys of being on stage, while at Innswood. He’s been hooked ever since.

And it’s a life-changing ride he’s grateful for. “Theatre has groomed me in terms of making me more mature, more subtle, and a more rounded human being,” says Richards, a chap of medium height and built, who appears shy and unassuming in person but powerfully transforms on stage. “As an actor you get to tap into the life of another, and in being that person you become fully submerged,” he notes. “That helps me a lot personally. I’ve been able to widen my vocabulary and be more understanding of people’s struggles.” 
Richards grew up in a Christian home in Homestead, a place he describes as a volatile area on the outskirts of Spanish Town. He still lives there to this day. And given the socio-economic realities, his plan is to use his training in Drama Education to teach and mentor youngsters from his community (and elsewhere), helping them channel their energies into creative pursuits, thereby side-stepping the negativity that surrounds them. 

“I definitely want to use the art form to reach out to a lot of youths. I love teaching. Education is what I’ve always wanted to do,” shares Richards, who wears stylish locks, but is just an admirer of the Rasta faith. “I want to make some valuable contributions to the performing arts and society. And hopefully, I can one day add to the legacy of the greats like Eugene Williams and Dennis Scott.” 

> REVIEW: ‘Rainbow Shawl’ is a provocative gem






CULTURE VULTURE: Lorna Goodison heads Talking Trees lineup + UWI readies for Tanya Stephens symposium

REBEL WITH A CAUSE! Tanya Stephens may not yet have a Grammy in her trophy case, but she gets lots of love from the academic community. Her lyrics consistently provide intriguing discussion material for reggae and dancehall studies classes, but come mid-year the University of the West Indies will be celebrating her contribution to Jamaican music in a big way. On June 14, a groundbreaking symposium dubbed “Rough Riding: Tanya Stephens and the Power of Music to Transform Society” will be hosted on the Mona campus to “honour, celebrate and affirm her body of work while critically subjecting it to scholarly and political interrogation.” 

The event is being organized by the Institute for Gender and Development Studies and the Institute of Caribbean Studies, who put Stephens’s “lyrical contribution, social justice commentary and political analysis on par with her musical counterparts such as Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, Mutabaruka and Linton Kwesi Johnson.” The campus’ Neville Hall Lecture Theatre will host the symposium, for which artistes and cultural producers are being invited to contribute poems, songs, dub selections and paintings, all related to the work of Tanya Stephens. For more info, contact the organizing committee at tanyastephenssymposium@gmail.com. 

SAVE THE DATE! Waiting-in-the-wings Poet Laureate of Jamaica Lorna Goodison is set to headline this year’s Talking Trees Literary Fiesta, which returns to the Two Seasons Guest House in Treasure Beach, St. Bess, on May 27, for a full day of poetry and fiction readings, theatrical performances, fashion, food and fellowship. Stay tuned for details (including the names of confirmed participants) in the coming weeks.






Tuesday, 11 April 2017

REAL TALK: Some jobs in Jamaica will never be filled by women

DYNAMIC DUO: Top cops Grant and Quallo (left), the newly appointed Police Commissioner, enjoying a light moment.

By now we all know that Miss Novelette Grant did not get the job as Police Commissioner, even though she was “acting” in the role for some time, for about the second time in her career. Mr. George Quallo is the new top cop. But a woman in the role of Commissioner at this time would have provided such an interesting change for the image of the constabulary and a new confidence boost for girls and young women across Jamaica. Wishful thinking?

This moment brings back so many memories. You will recall in 2006, for instance, when Margaret Campbell was made Principal of St. George’s College, and the enormous backlash her appointment caused – a ripple effect that was even felt in the Diaspora. A woman had been appointed headmistress of the venerable all-boys institution, which was started by the Jesuit Catholics. Was this the end of the old boys’ club? For the record, Mrs. Campbell is no longer Principal of St. George’s College.

Call it unshakeable tradition or plain-old gender bias, but there is this entrenched belief that certain positions, certain roles, in the society are expressly for men. Competence be damned. Don’t we need men and women to rule equally? Still, let’s face it: in this lifetime, a woman will never be appointed Commissioner of Police, Minister of National Security, JDF Chief of Staff, Archbishop of the Roman Catholic Church or Governor General. For many, these roles demand a certain gravitas that only a strong, commanding leader (a man, that is) can deliver.

What’s more, as Caribbean people, too many of us are threatened by benign change, and our long-held prejudices tend to cloud our better judgment.

But back to the Commissioner job. One can’t help but wonder: why is Novelette Grant good enough, qualified enough, to “act” in the role but not take over officially? She’s not tough enough to tame the crime monster? 

It’s always been a terrific experience to see influential positions like that of JTA President being filled by members of both genders – the Nadine Molloys standing shoulder to shoulder with the Howard Isaacs. At the same time, the female bishops (in several denominations) continue to shepherd large congregations and church districts the length and breadth of Jamaica. Like I said, we need men and women to rule equally. 

Hats off to the sharp and super-strong Paula Llewellyn, who is still fighting the good fight and rolling with the heavyweight punches that come with her job as Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP). 

It might be a while before Jamaicans witness the rise of another Portia Simpson-Miller (and another Hillary Clinton in the United States, for that matter). But rest assured that Nanny’s spirit is very much alive and well, so one should always expect the unexpected. 

That said, I’m starting a petition to have Barbara Gloudon appointed our next GG!






CRITIC’S NOTEBOOK: Terri Salmon + Y.A.R.D Empire; the future of JADA; UWI Chorale in concert

“My speech will be very controversial, because it’s coming from the heart.” So says Terri Salmon, in reference to the strong message she will be delivering to mark the genesis of her not-for-profit entity Y.A.R.D Empire, which stands for Youth for Arts and Recreational Development. Salmon and her team will be hosting a press/media launch on May 31, inside the Phoenix Theatre’s Blue Room, where she plans to challenge stakeholders to play a more vigorous role in mentoring at-risk Jamaican youth. And that’s precisely the core objective of Y.A.R.D Empire – using the performing and visual arts to empower at-risk youth (aged 13-23 years) and rehabilitate them. 

Given financial constraints, Salmon says she hopes sponsors will respond to the mission. “It’s not a big thing; we don’t have the money to do it on a grand scale, but it has to be done properly and it has to achieve its objectives,” the veteran actress and activist tells TALLAWAH, adding that the programme will also be venturing into communities and penal institutions islandwide. “The arts in Jamaica is lacking sponsorship, so I am trying to get sponsors to be aware of what we are doing and come on board.” To get in touch with Salmon and the Y.A.R.D Empire team, email terrisalmon876@gmail.com. 
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What will become of the Jamaica Association of Dramatic Artists (JADA)? According to TALLAWAH sources, the association, which acted as a lobby group for local theatre practitioners, has not been active for well over two years now. In an interview with TALLAWAH, circa 2015, the late Scarlett Beharie told us that she was stepping down as president, with the hope that a successor would be elected. Apparently, that didn’t transpire. So it remains to be seen if the momentum sparked by the recent Women In Theatre Festival and the new-look Actor Boy committee will help breathe some life back into the now-defunct association, which the industry desperately needs. 
** 

We don’t hear much from them throughout the year, but you can say this for the low-key UWI Chorale: they know how to put on a concert, taking cues from their big sister troupe, the internationally acclaimed University Singers. The chorale’s recent mini concert season, which we caught on its final night, delivered a hyper-rhythmic, soul-stirring blend of cleverly arranged spirituals and gospel jams, Jamaican folk classics and cool modern/contemporary sounds. They have a wonderfully talented leader in Shayn Wright, an exceptional vocalist and multi-instrumentalist who is guiding the flock with a maturity that belies his 20-odd years. Noel Dexter’s legacy is in good hands.






Monday, 10 April 2017

TALK OF THE TOWN: Wyndham New Kingston on its way back; the absence of Jazz & Blues Fest, and more

TOURISM stakeholders, led by Minister Edmund Bartlett, have always stressed the need for more hotel rooms, especially to meet the demand in the corporate area. Now comes glorious news that the Wyndham New Kingston (formerly the Hilton) is about to be re-opened! Though no official date has been confirmed for its return to business, we hear it will bring back some 300 rooms to the sector and join the competition for A-list clientele in the city. Another much-buzzed about establishment, The R (which was at one point being called The Renfrew), is opening its doors for business in New Kingston as of this summer, supplying over 30 high-end rooms and two-bedroom apartments as an extended-stay haven. And word on the street is Sandals Resorts International’s 220-room AC Hotel by Marriott is slated to commence operations in Jamaica in the last quarter of 2019.
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Quiet as it’s kept, the Jamaica Jazz & Blues Festival seems to have gone on permanent hiatus. Last we heard, plans were afoot for the staging of a spectacular 20th anniversary concert. But that was two years ago. Will we ever relive the musical magic that came with show-stopping performances from such headliners as Patti LaBelle, Celine Dion, Earth Wind & Fire and Beres Hammond? Time will tell.
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Speaking of surprising changes, it would appear that Usain Bolt’s Tracks & Records is no longer putting on concert series like the mega-successful Behind the Screen, which used to draw hundreds of patrons to the Marketplace hotspot on a Tuesday night, to catch performances by everyone from Beenie Man to Konshens to Tanya Stephens. In partnership with Sharon Burke and the Solid Agency team, it was a splendid addition to Kingston’s live music scene – and a revival would be much appreciated.
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QUESTIONS OF THE WEEK:

* Will Olivia ‘Babsy’ Grange and Lisa Hanna ever call a truce? The ‘culture’ queenpins are always going at it. But on the upside, as influential policymakers, they are keeping each other honest and holding each other to account, all in the name of good governance. One can only imagine the ‘friendly’ sparring to come between PM Andrew Holness and Dr. Peter Phillips on the campaign trail as Elections draw closer.

* Is Camille Davis returning to the flock at Jambiz Productions? Both Davis and fellow actress Sharee Elise are sitting out this season’s production, Frank the Freak, currently thrilling audiences at Centrestage. But while Elise has indicated that she intends to be back on stage for their summer 2017 production, Davis’ future plans are still up in the air. Both Elise and Davis have co-starred in such crowd-pleasers as The Baby Scam, Duppy Whisperer and last year’s Blind Spot.






TALKING FASHION: Avant Garde Designer of the Year Cecilia Davana is living her dream and having the time of her life

MONEY SHOTS: The designer, 33, sporting one of her own designs; (below) accepting her cheque for The Fashion Genie.

DESIGNER Cecilia Davana exudes such a girl-next-door charm that in conversation she feels like someone you’ve known all your life. Like family. She brings that same down-to-earth aura, that utter realness, to her work as a seamstress and businesswoman. No wonder she’s been able to amass such a large clientele who keep her busy crafting custom-designed pieces perfect for the dancehall party scene and the occasional high-end event.

Versatility becomes her and, by all appearances, that it factor, coupled with the quality of her work, helped her secure her second win at the Avant Garde Designer of the Year Competition, which recently had its 2017 staging in Kingston.

Davana (née Bucknor) topped the competition (30 designers all showcasing work inspired by Campari and Lasco Money) with her piece The Fashion Genie, a feat of exquisite skill, texture and vivid imagination that left the panel of judges (Sophia Max-Brown and Tom Tavares-Finson among them) – not to mention the packed Courtleigh Auditorium – in awe. Her big win secured her the coveted $100,000 cash prize.

“It wasn’t even about the money. The money just topped it off,” the 33-year-old designing woman tells TALLAWAH, trying to catch her breath after a lengthy round of picture-taking, alongside her leggy model, Deneil Lyttle. “I didn’t come into the competition this year thinking about the money, so the judges are the ones I have to thank. For me, it’s just the hard work paying off. Right now I’m on top of the world.”

With her big diva hair and megawatt grin, the Meadowbrook High School graduate is a veteran of the competition, having entered back in 2012 (the year she won with the her “Lady Ackee” creation), 2013 (pregnant and glowing), 2015 and last year.
As for the story behind the name The Fashion Genie, Davana says it came from her clients. “They call me The Fashion Genie. They say I’m a magician with fashion. So I decided to use the name,” explains the designer, who runs Awahsuh, a Downtown Kingston-based garment factory with her mom that supplies PE gear and dancehall-ready outfits. 

She had to use after-office hours to work on her entry for the competition. “My customers keep me busy, so I had to work on it late nights. No sleep,” recalls Davana, who has a three-year-old son with dancehall deejay Wasp. “It wasn’t easy, but my mom and some of my friends supported me along the way.”

Davana isn’t sure if she’ll re-enter the competition given her two wins, but she is grateful to organizers Saint International for giving relatively unknown design talents like her a swirl in the spotlight and the opportunity to earn while doing so. ”I really love what Deiwght [Peters] is doing; without him I wouldn’t have been able to do this. A lot of us designers have the talent, we just need the opportunities,” she says. “I’ve always wanted to design, and I’ve been doing it for 10 years now. So winning a national competition like this is a dream come true.”






BOOK NEWS: Kei Miller, Safiya Sinclair among OCM Bocas Prize finalists

> OCM Bocas US$10,000 winner to be announced April 27 
The three finalists (category winners) for the 2017 OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature have been announced. Jamaica’s Kei Miller topped the fiction category with his acclaimed Alexander Bedward-inspired yarn Augusttown (Wieidenfeld and Nicolson Press); US-based Jamaican writer Safiya Sinclair (a former contributor to the Observer’s Literary Arts Supplement) won the poetry category, thanks to the impressive depth of her collection Cannibal (University of Nebraska Press) while Angelo Bissessarsingh emerged winner of the non-fiction category with Virtual Glimpses into the Past/ A Work in Time: Snapshots of the History of the Trinidad & Tobago (Queen Bishop Publishing). The top three have now entered the final round of judging and will vie for the overall award of $US10,000, which will be presented on April 29 during the NGC Bocas Literary Fest (April 26-30) in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad. The judges this year include David Dabydeen, Susheila Nasta and the Jamaican duo of Dr. Kim Robinson-Walcott and Prof. Edward Baugh. 

> Hutchinson’s ‘House of Lords’ takes the prize 
House of Lords and Commons, Ishion Hutchinson’s latest anthology, has won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry in the United States. Described “as an exploration of the landscape of Jamaica and Hutchinson’s memories of growing up in Port Antonio,” the collection won rave reviews from the New York Times Book Review, The Guardian and The New Yorker, among other esteemed publications, and is his follow-up to 2010’s Far District. Hutchinson works as Assistant Professor of Poetry at Cornell University, where he mentors in the Creative Writing programme. Meanwhile, this year’s NBCCA judges awarded the coveted fiction prize to Louise Erdrich for her widely praised novel LaRose. The autobiography award went to Hope Jahren (Lab Girl) while Matthew Desmond won the non-fiction award for Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City

> More Poetry: New titles from Jean Small, Mervyn Morris and Ann-Margaret Lim 
On the heels of Ann-Margaret Lim’s sophomore collection, Kingston Buttercup, comes Send Me No Flowers, Jean Small’s debut collection that she launch recently at Hope Gardens. Meantime, Prof. Mervyn Morris’ newest anthology, Peelin’ Orange: Collected Poems, is scheduled to be launched at The Undercroft, UWI Mona, on April 20.