Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Made in Jamaica, A Powerful Portrait of the Reggae Music Movement

Toronto International Film Festival presents the worldwide premiere of Made in Jamaica, a powerful portrait of the reggae music movement

TORONTO – August 28, 2006

The Toronto International Film Festival features the worldwide premiere of Made in Jamaica, a feature length documentary telling how a small island nation of only three million people has made music that resonates around the world. The first screening, for Press & Industry, takes place at the Royal Ontario Museum, on Tuesday, September 12, 2006, at 2:30PM.

Made in Jamaica tells how reggae became such a worldwide phenomenon and provides a powerful portrait of the leaders of the movement. Filmmaker Jerome Laperrousaz tells how reggae music sprang into life in the 70s, making Jamaica one of the first third world countries to make itself heard on an international scale. The reggae sound became a celebration of life and a universal message of hope.

But the movement did not stop there. Now a new generation of reggae artists has emerged, influenced by their predecessors, but creating a new and equally as important brand of music. Dancehall, emerging from reggae, is drawing large crowds from across the world. At its core, dancehall is influenced by religion. But like rap music, its message contains lyrics about sex, violence, and social issues, including much on women’s rights. Its messages are important, powerful and straightforward.

The film features the best reggae and dancehall artists ever assembled. Extensive interviews throughout, with names such as Toots (2005 Grammy award winner), Gregory Isaacs, Bunny Wailer, Blessed, Tanya Stephens, Elephant Man, Koolant and Third World, the film describes how they have struggled to leave their native ghetto to achieve international fame and create a musical phenomenon in the process. In essence, it is about how they are the embodiment of the “Jamaican Dream”.

Standouts include the story of Lady Saw, who has collaborated with music sensations No Doubt and is routinely called “The First Lady of Dancehall”. She was born in St. Mary in 1972 and in 1994 she recorded the single Want it Tonight.

Also featured is Capleton, a 2006 Grammy award nominee. He is one of the best reggae music deejays of his generation. He has produced numerous dancehall classics and is constantly topping the charts.

Also featured in the film are some standout live performances. Laperrousaz weaves between the interviews, a selection of the beautiful and uplifting music of reggae and the grinding sounds of dancehall. The performances from many of the featured artists capture the spirit and struggle of Jamaican music and provide the perfect complement to the illuminating interviews.

Filmmaker Jerome Laperrousaz has 25 years of family history in Jamaica. In 1980 he directed Prisoners in the Street: ‘Third World’ (Cannes Festival selection), which highlighted Jamaican reggae through the experience of the group Third World. His past films include Continental Circus (Jean Vigo and Academy Award selection for foreign production) and Human in which he cast Terence Stamp and Jeanne Moreau. He has a special talent for exposing the sensitive and personal and this is especially evident in Made in Jamaica. He is able to capture the recording studios of Kingston alongside the pulsing sounds of Ochos- Rios and the morning light of the Blue Mountains in all its full glory.

Made in Jamaica (a co-production between Lawrence Pictures and Herold & Family), is making its worldwide premiere at Toronto International Film Festival. The film will be a treat for fans of reggae and dancehall and for those unfamiliar, it will be the perfect introduction.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Hill Penned Socially Conscious Lyrics

BEFORE the start of the US-led invasion of Iraq, the reggae group Culture recorded an album called "World Peace."

Lead singer and songwriter Joseph Hill penned lyrics that reflected the concerns of many people around the world as the threat of war loomed:

We can’t take another war/ We want world peace/ Every day the children are crying/ Mamas and fathers are dying/ Nuff man gone to war and na return . . . " he wrote in World Peace.

By the time the album was released in 2003, the fighting had begun.

In a career that spanned three decades, such socially conscious lyrics, backed by roots rhythms and delivered in what was once described as "one of those distinctive Jamaican voices that recalls the village elder passing on centuries of tradition," earned Hill a place of respect in the world of reggae music.

Hill died on Saturday in Berlin, where the group was performing. He was 57. The cause of death was not immediately known. The group planned to continue the tour with Hill’s son Kenyatta singing lead vocals in his father’s place, according to a website posting by Jim Dooley, a Hill biographer.

Though not as famous as Bob Marley, Hill belonged musically to the same generation as Marley, part of the first line of reggae artists who early in the history of the genre found international success.

"People early on understood his talent and responded to it," said Chris Wilson, vice president of artists and repertoire for Heartbeat Records, which released Culture’s last album, "World Peace." "Many artists . . . live in their own rarefied world. He was always of the people . . . He was so concerned about what was going on in the world around him."

Hill was born January 22, 1949 in the Jamaican parish of St Catherine. He came of age musically during what has been dubbed "the golden age" of reggae, with contemporaries such as Marley and Burning Spear.

At Studio One, a recording studio in Jamaica, Hill began his career with the group Soul Defenders. As a vocalist he released a single, "Behold the Land." But his work with a trio formed with his cousin Albert Walker and Kenneth Dayes in 1976 was groundbreaking.

The group’s first album, "Two Sevens Clash," was based on a prophesy of Black Nationalist Marcus Garvey. Garvey had predicted that an apocalypse would erupt on July 7, 1977. The album was a hit in Jamaica and Britain.

In a 1987 review in the Los Angeles Times, writer Don Snowden described "Two Sevens Clash" as one of the best reggae albums ever recorded. In 2002, Rolling Stone included the album on its list of the 50 coolest records of all time.

From the start, Hill distinguished himself as the group’s frontman. Snowden described Hill’s sound as "rich and dark, liquid yet grainy, his voice sounded the way Guinness stout looks."

In the group’s early recordings, Hill also set himself apart from other artists by singing lead vocals and then recording second lead vocals. On those second lead vocals, Hill offered spoken word-style commentary on what he sang in the first. The effect was a textured sound and a rich conversation.

"It really was like poetry or early rap," Wilson said. "I think as he got older he felt more compelled to make his statement (declarative), rather than have sort of the Greek chorus. Those two voices melded together."

Hill viewed music as having a purpose, one that did not change over the years.

"Our message was a positive one," Hill said in a 2003 article in New Times Broward-Palm Beach. "From a very young age, I was aware of the roots and beauty of the country. I also noticed when the community began to collapse and what a dangerous thing that was. I began to see the corruption out there, and what I saw came out in my lyrics."

The lyrics of Hill, who was a Rastafarian, also resonated with listeners in Jamaica because they drew upon the island’s proverbs and sayings.

But his fame was international and his audience included people "who could have been the children of the people he first was writing for," Wilson said. After concerts "they would come up to him as if he were a spokesman for their generation." — Los Angeles Times.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Bank of Jamaica Issues Commemorative Bob Marley Coins in Gold and Silver

Canadian Press
Published: Wednesday, August 23, 2006
* KINGSTON, Jamaica (AP) -

Bob Marley's records long ago went platinum.

Now the Caribbean island nation's most famous son is being revived in gold and silver, as the Bank of Jamaica released a new round of commemorative coins bearing the late reggae superstar's dreadlocked likeness.

The 1,000 gold and silver coins, which were produced by the British Royal Mint, are being sold for $100 US ($111 Cdn) each, bank spokeswoman Jacqueline Morgan said Wednesday.

"We've received quite a bit of interest already," Morgan said from the Jamaican capital of Kingston.

Though the coins were intended to mark the 60th anniversary of Marley's birth in 2005, the bank is just now offering them for sale, said Morgan, who didn't offer a further explanation.

Born in Jamaica's rural St. Ann parish, Marley rose from the gritty shantytowns of Kingston to global stardom in the 1970s with hits like No Woman, No Cry and I Shot the Sheriff. His lyrics promoting "one love" and social revolution made him an icon in developing countries worldwide.

Marley, who died of cancer in Miami at age 36 in 1981, remains one of Jamaica's most beloved national heroes.

It is the second time the Bank of Jamaica has issued coins bearing Marley's likeness in the reggae icon's homeland.

"The coins to commemorate his 50th birthday have totally sold out," Morgan said.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Ziggy Marley brings message of peace to war-torn Israel

By Jo-Ann Mort
Special to the Tribune
Published July 31, 2006

RA'ANNA, Israel -- Ziggy Marley's bus arrived at a Tel Aviv hotel, but few people recognized the Jamaican reggae star. Scores of people milled around the lobby in the hotel, where practically every guest is an Israeli fleeing the country's north.

Entire families are crammed in rooms for long stays.

Shai and Orit Erera and their 8-month-old daughter, from Haifa's suburbs in northern Israel, are there for 10 days, subsidized by Shai's company, IBM. Unfamiliar with Marley's music, Shai said he is glad nonetheless that night life continues. "When you pass the Haifa line, it's like going abroad."

Marley, whose wife is Israeli, is in the country to perform a weekend concert originally scheduled for Achziv Beach -- within shooting range of the Lebanese border -- and a second concert in a Tel Aviv nightclub. But after the Katushya rockets fired by Hezbollah from Lebanon landed in Israel's northern cities, organizers moved the concert further south, collapsing two nights into one.

They decided on a beach on the Sea of Galilee -- until Katushya rockets hit nearby Tiberias, so they moved even farther south, to Ra'anna, an upscale, suburban-style city of 70,000 about half an hour from Tel Aviv.

A week earlier, Ra'anna saw starkly different gatherings: two large funerals took place in the military cemetery for local soldiers killed in Lebanon.

Crowds are sparse

Last Thursday, 7,000 people filled the park. In Israel, Thursday nights mark the beginning of the weekend, and often, conscript soldiers, most of whom are in their late teens and early 20s, get leave to let off steam. But now, few soldiers are among the crowd of mostly high school and university students, Baby Boomers and young families with children.

Summer is time for outdoor concerts and festivals in Israel. But cultural performances are sparsely attended these days, even in safe spots such as Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, and they are canceled in the north.

Marley's concert appears to be an exception. It's overflowing. Israelis want to encourage foreign talent to appear here, especially during difficult times.

And rock music provides a lifeline and an escape.

"It's important for us to feel part of the bigger agenda of the world. It brings a lot of energy," says Hanan Pomagrin, a 39-year-old architect from Tel Aviv who's not upset by the change of venue or worried by the rocket attacks. "In the Middle East, you can't make plans for maybe more than two hours ahead."

Eldad Elazar, 26, a film student from Sderot, where Qassam rockets, lobbed by Palestinian militants in Gaza, keep falling, says he's ready to fight if Israel calls up more reserve soldiers. Elazar, who wants to be the "Spike Lee of Israel," is of Ethiopian descent. A number of Israeli Jews from Ethiopia are in the crowd.

Amit Dadun is here with two childhood friends. He lives near Afula, where the Katushyas have hit. "It's a little weird being here, but we need to continue." He adds: "We came here to forget about the war and now you come and remind us."

But it's Marley who reminds the crowd, with an extremely political set. He sings about the war in Israel, Gaza and Lebanon.

In a song called "Shalom, Salaam," he asks, "Who will take the blame for my children dying from tanks and suicide bombers?" referring both to Israeli tanks in Gaza and Palestinian suicide bombers in Israel.

Adina Kruger, a religious university student from Be'er Sheva, is here in spite of the message. "I don't like people from outside making peace for Israel. I came for music, not to talk to him," she says, referring to Marley.

Feelings of guilt

She has several family members and friends serving now in Gaza and Lebanon, including her brother-in-law.

"He planned to come to the concert. I feel guilty by being here because I know so many soldiers who are out there."

But Rotem, who wouldn't give her last name, a female soldier on weekend leave from her duties in a northern bomb shelter, thinks otherwise.

"It sounds like a cliche, but it's nice to be at an event for peace," she says with a sigh.

The colors of the Jamaican flag flash on the stage; Marley comes back for an encore. He introduces the song his father, Bob, made famous by dedicating "something special to Israel and for Lebanon, too," to "all the mothers, women, sisters who lost children in this terrible war."

Thousands of Israelis join in for "No Mother, No Cry," as they leave the war in their region -- at least in song -- for the shantytowns of Jamaica.


A Thoughtful Message On World Peace submitted to

Only when an Israeli mother cries out in pain over the suffering and deaths of Arab children, and an Arab mother cries out in pain over the suffering and deaths of Israeli children, will there be true peace.

Kabbalists are not pro-Israel, pro-Zionist, pro-Arab. Kabbalists are pro-humanity, pro-human soul, pro-God's children. This includes Christians, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, Atheists and all people who populate this planet.

Until we learn to cry tears for others only, nothing will change.

The teachings and tools of Kabbalah help us eradicate and destroy the self-centered aspect of our being that only allows us to cry for ourselves, both individually and as a particular people of specific faith. When we remove that destructive selfish part, we will have the ability to cry over the pain of our individual neighbors and other nations. With everyone concerned for one another, the hatred and conflict will cease. Paradise will be ours forever.

But no one gets it. The result? Wars and bloodshed for 2000 years.

Sometimes we win battles. Sometimes we lose battles. In both cases, the blood keeps flowing and the tears keep shedding. The idea is to win the war. And the only war is the war on one's own ego and self-interest.

Please pass this around instead of anything that only serves the interest of one people. Not because of morals. Or ethics. But because that approach has failed for 2000 years.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

"Miss Lou's" style and patois have influenced modern rappers and DJs around the world

Louise Bennett-Coverley
September 7, 1919 - July 26, 2006

Poet and broadcaster whose courageous use of patois inspired Jamaicans to take a pride in their language

"Miss Lou's" style and patois have influenced modern rappers and DJs around the world (Esther Anderson/Corbis)

KNOWN fondly on her Caribbean island and throughout the Jamaican diaspora as “Miss Lou”, Louise Bennett-Coverley was a cultural icon on a par, among her own people, with Bob Marley, one of many artists she influenced through her poetry in the island’s patois.
Marley, who initially dreamt of being a soul singer after the style of the American Sam Cooke, credited her with giving him the pride and conviction to include in his songs words in his own dialect — which until then had been considered a marketing liability.

Although she lived in Canada for almost the last two decades of her 86 years, for reasons involving her husband’s health, Bennett-Coverley was considered the mother of Jamaican culture and was granted the Order of Jamaica by the Government in 1974, giving her the official title “the Honourable”. Her return visits in recent years were treated like state occasions.

Bennett-Coverley studied at the Royal Academy for Dramatic Art in London after the war and was one of the first Jamaicans to sing and read poetry on what was then called the BBC’s West Indian Service, now the Caribbean Service.

Perhaps her greatest legacy was turning her island’s creole — a mixture mainly of English and West African tongues brought by slaves — from a thing to be ashamed of in class-conscious and racist colonial Jamaica into a proud vehicle for poetry, song, dance and drama, a new cultural phenomenon in its own right.

Recording some traditional patois songs he had first heard on her 1954 album Jamaican Folk Songs, including Banana Boat Song (“Day-o, Day-o, Daylight come and me want go home”) was what launched the career of Harry Belafonte.

Louise Bennett was born in the island’s capital, Kingston, in 1919, and was brought up by her dressmaker mother. It was not just from her story-telling mother and grandmother, but also from customers from all walks of life, rich and poor, that she picked up the tales she would soon turn into folk songs, poems or often pantomime in the patois.

“Everything that’s important comes from folklore,” she said. “From folklore; from stories and songs that are handed down from one generation to another, I learnt everything about history, manners, geography, philosophy, love, morals and religion from stories my grandmother told me.”

In her late twenties Bennett won a British Council scholarship to RADA, starting in 1945, believed to be the first black student there. She gained her diploma just around the time of the 1948 arrival on board the troopship Empire Windrush of the first batch of almost 500 Jamaicans shipped in to help with Britain’s postwar reconstruction.

As more and more Jamaicans arrived, Bennett found occasional work at the BBC, first reading her poems or singing her songs, later producing or presenting programmes in the patois to make the new immigrants feel at home. Her first performance was on the programme Bal Creole on June 30, 1950.

The Jamaican immigration inspired her to write one of her most famous poems, Colonization in Reverse, which was a light-hearted satire but unwittingly predicted the backlash against immigration from right-wing politicians such as Enoch Powell:

What a joyful news, Miss Mattie
Ah feel like me heart gwine burs’
Jamaica people colonizin’
Englan’ in reverse
By de hundred, by de tousan
From country and from town
By de shipload, by de planeload
Jamaica is Englan’ bound

Bennett returned to her island in her thirties, to seek a career in entertaining and to educate other artists in what she had learnt. She married the local actor and impresario Eric Coverley, known on the island by his nickname Chalk Talk, in 1954.

While “proper” or “BBC” English was still considered the one to respect or master, and the patois was considered “bad English”, Bennett-Coverley, by then widely known as Miss Lou, brought a new sense of pride to poorer homes with a series of radio shows, notably Miss Lou’s Views and Laugh with Louise, in which she told hilarious stories, in the dialect, either learnt as a child, or from her own observations, often bitterly satirical and usually quoting her “Auntie Roachy”.

Even after independence in 1962 some sectors of the Jamaican population considered, and some do to this day, that speaking creole was simply not cultured, a sign of poverty or illiteracy. Bennett-Coverley had been criticised for her poems ever since secondary school, where she was taught to dance the Highland Fling and sing Greensleeves, and she could not find a publisher until the Daily Gleaner took a chance and gave her a regular weekly slot. It became one of the most popular parts of the newspaper.

Several books of poems were eventually published, notably the bestselling Jamaica Labrish (gossip) in 1966, which features one of her best-known poems Noh Lickle Twang (Not even a little accent), berating a friend who has come back from living in the US no better off, without any sign of having captured the American dream, not even a “twang”.

Yuh mean yuh goh dah ’Merica
An spen six whole mont’ deh
An come back not a piece betta

Dan how yuh did goh wey? For many years, her double act with the popular male comedian Ranny Williams in The Lou and Ranny Show topped the radio ratings, in Jamaica, giving her a chance at her own TV programme for children, Ring Ding, which turned her into a serious celebrity, easily recognisable by her ample size and African-style dresses and headwrap. After venturing into comedy and pantomime, she was appointed MBE in 1961, while Jamaica was still a colony, for services to Jamaican art and culture.

Bennett-Coverley recorded several albums of poems or songs, often talking over background music, and, although these were generally folksy, her technique was seen as influencing later artists, rappers and DJs, and won her a reputation as one of the original “toasters”, artists who talk or rap to recorded music.

Ironically, some of the Jamaican patois she spent her life promoting became part of the preferred slang among non- Jamaican gangs in other islands of the Caribbean, as well as in New York, London and elsewhere.

Louise Bennett-Coverley’s lifelong motto, now legendary to Jamaicans at home and abroad, was “Howdy an tenky bruk no square” (roughly translatable as “caring and gratitude create harmony”, a forerunner of Bob Marley’s One Love). There is little doubt that her promotion of Jamaicans, their language and culture was at least as important to what is now known as Brand Jamaica — the marketing of the island as a tourist attraction — as the great reggae singer’s posthumous contribution.

Her death put all Jamaica into mourning and tributes poured in from around the world. Jamaica’s Prime Minister, Portia Simpson Miller, described her as “our nationally beloved cultural icon, my role model and mentor”, adding “walk good, Miss Lou”, a traditional, respectful patois farewell to people departing.

Bennett-Coverley’s husband predeceased her in 2002. She is survived by a son and what she called “many adopted children”.

Louise Bennett-Coverley, MBE, folk poet, comedian and entertainer, was born on September 7, 1919. She died on July 26, 2006, aged 86.

'Mother' of Jamaican culture dead at 86

TORONTO, Aug. 2 (UPI) -- The Jamaican folklore expert who gave Harry Belefonte his hit song, "Day-O," Louise Simone Bennett-Coverly, has died in Toronto at age 86.

Bennett-Coverly, whose cultural efforts also inspired reggae icon Bob Marley, died last Wednesday at Toronto's Scarborough Hospital, the Los Angeles Times reported Wedesday.

Born in Kingston in 1919, the woman known as Miss Lou fought to maintain the true culture of the island through her poems and activism to help Jamaica's women and impoverished, the newspaper said.

"I say Jamaica is ... and a lot of the Caribbean countries now are culturally emancipated," Bennett-Coverly said in a 1994 interview. "We can sing our songs ... the children can sing the song that they know."

Bennett-Coverly's body will be returned to Jamaica and buried next to her husband, Eric Coverly, during an Aug. 9 state funeral.

She is survived by one son.