Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Gentleman - MTV Unplugged

Gentleman- MTV Unplugged is the German artist’s 10th album and a major departure from his normal output. For starters, the album is a compilation of previously released music with two new songs added from his collaborations with Shaggy “Warn Dem and “Solidarity” with Ky-Mani Marley. More collaborations with Tanya Stephens, Milky Chance, Tamika, Martin Jondo, Marlon Roudette, Capino and Christopher Martin are also included.
Those who have watched the MTV unplugged series; and there have been some memorable ones; know the premise is that the artist(s) perform without amplification of any kind – hence the ‘unplugged’ which qualifies itself by adding the words Unadorned, Unattached, Unguarded.
>VP, the largest independent reggae record label, international music distributors, and retail record store organized the event in tandem with Milk River Lounge and promoter Raul. The press event preceding the performance of selected songs from the new album was a low key and relaxed one hosted by Richard Lue, Director of Business Development at VP, who kicked off with questions to Gentleman before opening the floor to give the press corps ample time to pose their commentary and questions. Gentleman was indeed relaxed, affable and in a playful mood, who, when asked by this writer to describe his music, perhaps prompted by the options in the question, replied, his music is reggae, roots, world music! When asked what the experience was like recording unplugged in such an intimate setting, he said it was a cool experience, but no different to performing before tens of thousands of fans. After the questions, Gentleman gave an impromptu acapella performance of his DJ skills much to the delight of everyone around him.
An added treat for the evening was the MTV film of the making of Gentleman’s Unplugged, which set the scene quite nicely for what was to follow. The performance was perhaps recorded withs the largest group of performers on an Unplugged stage, comprising 8 band members, including virtuoso saxophonist Jamaican Dean Fraser, a strings section and other wind instruments together with back up singers, including Tamika his partner. In contrast, the Milk River stage supported Gentleman, his accompaniment of two back-up singers and two guitarists – unplugged indeed.
While there were no jaw-dropping revelations, Gentleman did announce that following his collaboration with Ky-Mani, the two will be producing an album together. He was natural, chiding his band members affectionately on a minor slip-up, one could sense the camaraderie the performers shared. He definitely connected with the audience, leaving the stage to serenade those who were singing along with him word for word and breaking down the barrier between them and the stage. All in all, a very pleasant evening spent in the company of a man who wants to spread his philosophy through his love of reggae music and Jamaican culture.
If you are a Gentleman fan, you’ll love the stripped down intimate feel of Unplugged, if you don’t know this artist – there’s something for every taste on this double CD - check him out – he’s really very good.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Community Baby Shower - Magnolia Tree Earth Center

Pregnancy and delivery are usually joyous occasions, but sometimes those occurrences can be fraught with trepidation and isolation, so my curiosity was definitely on high alert after receiving an invitation to attend a Community Baby Shower in Brooklyn on August 29, 2015.

My tortuous journey from the Bronx ended at the Magnolia Tree Earth Center* – opposite Herbert Von King Park on a hot steamy Saturday afternoon just as the event was coming to a close, but, I was nevertheless welcomed to the cool interior by Joy Grey-Morris and Jazz Fenton two of the main organizers, who, along with Andrea “Sistah Cuchy” Brathwaite, form part of the Women’s Healing Circle, one of the programs based at the Magnolia Tree Earth Center.   The Healing Circle came up with the concept of hosting a community baby shower to celebrate expectant and new mothers as a way of reaching out to those lacking in resources.

The event was well attended, with 25 participants from the Tristate area, who were treated to presentations on nutrition, home safety, healthy relationships and breastfeeding.  A speaker from The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) also outlined the availability of services on offer from them.  Babies "R" Us provided sponsorship by ensuring that each participant received a gift bag, in addition to those 30 bags lovingly prepared by the Women’s Circle[JG2]  containing pampers, bottles, sleepers, bath products and; where the mothers knew the gender; gender-specific items were included.  In addition, tables with neatly arranged gently used baby and toddler items were on display for the mothers to help themselves.  A crib, donated by the Department of Health & Mental Hygiene - Bureau of Maternal, Infant & Reproductive Health was raffled off.  Excitement was high in both participants and organizers as the winner was announced and the crib was gratefully received by a very appreciative young mother. 

The majority of participants came from the Brownsville Multi-Service Family Health Center who registered 17 women, while others heard about the event through a variety of women’s organizations.  The women were diverse in their circumstances, one woman accompanied her two young daughters, both of whom were pregnant, two women came with their partners, the men attentively receiving all that was on offer and giving very positive feedback.  Another woman was homeless, but left the event, not just with several telephone numbers of women from the Women’s Circle, but also an assurance that there was a community of women who cared about her wellbeing and were willing to follow up with her to ensure that she had a safe place to sleep.
A phrase that I heard repeated several times, was “the look on the women’s faces”, as an indication of their appreciation at the efforts made on their behalf, ‘they felt loved and cherished and grateful that someone had taken the time to do something for them’.  Many of these women may not have had the resources to celebrate and welcome the new life they were about to usher into the world, but the Women’s Circle stepped up to the plate and created a non-judgmental, safe haven (even if only for one day) where women dressed up in their finery and celebrated their life-giving selves.

The event was so successful that plans are afoot to take the concept to different locations in New York City, in particular, the next event may take place in Manhattan at City Care Inc., where Jazz Fenton has ties.

The Women’s Healing Circle formed about 20 years ago is the brainchild of the woman known to all as Sistah Cuchy, who felt the need to create a movement of women supporting women in Brooklyn.  Now housed at the Magnolia Tree Earth Center* in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, all of the programs and initiatives are aimed at educating and supporting women.  Whether it’s a facial, massage, or a meal; it might be turning on some music and stomping your feet; a space has been created for women to go where they could just let their hair down, or just weep and know that it’s not going anyplace else, or where they can just share something or learn something, because every program is about education, every bit of it.  Or it could just simply be a space for meditation, a place to be quiet.  All of this and so much more can be found within that Healing Circle.

When I asked Sistah Cuchy what message she would like to give readers about the community baby shower and the work of the Women’s Circle, she replied without hesitation

            “It really takes a village and that’s the message that we sent out today, a strong message that we can’t do it alone.  Today’s event was to show our young women that there are people who care about them enough to celebrate them and their pending progeny with a baby shower.  For those women who attended today, even if they have no or minimal support, their baby will be coming into the world with the basic amenities.  A lot of people in our community came out, the women came out, shopped, packed, cooked, prepared and really helped make the event so wonderful.  We came out today to show that black people do positive things.  Remember one person makes a start, but it is several joining in that make a circle.  We are thankful for Magnolia, because one woman had a vision about having this center and it has become a stable community center.  We do a lot of work here; we have environmental and community based programs, we have a wonderful board that really helps a lot. 

Today, I felt like I was pregnant and it was my shower.  I am very joyful. 
Can you imagine some of these women walking in here with no support!  A woman walking in saying she is in a shelter, a woman walking in saying she is HIV, a woman who has nowhere to sleep tonight, she had to take the train with her gift bag.  The event was more than a baby shower, it was a definite outreach and we will be following up on all our ladies to ensure that they know they have our support”.

Sylvia Wiley, a member of the Women’s Circle was quietly clearing up, at the end of the event, was acknowledged as being one of the stalwarts who along with others played an integral role in the success of the day.  When asked her thoughts on the event, her quiet and proud response was that the day had been fabulous; she enjoyed herself watching other mothers enjoying themselves.   The phrase has been used many times before in many different contexts, but Sylvia Wiley really summed it up for today’s event – “I think it takes a village to raise a child, we need to go back to that – we need to become our sisters’ keepers, our brothers’ keepers, we need to look out for each other.  It is a necessity”.  

*          The Magnolia Tree Earth Center, located at 677 Lafayette Avenue in Brooklyn is
now a historic landmark, is an institution and center for environmental preservation and community involvement consisting of three Brooklyn Brownstones which anchor a 100 year-old Magnolia tree. 


Sunday, September 13, 2015

Bashment Party for Irie Jam 22!

 Irie Jam Media group celebrated their 22nd anniversary by throwing a dancehall party in Queens at the Roy Wilkins Park on Sunday September 9, 2015.

At 2:15 pm, the park was already hosting a sizeable crowd with early entertainment by the warm-up acts.  Hailing from Barbados, Edwin Yearwood provided a short and spicy set with songs like “Pump Me Up” and the very popular “The Road is Mine”.  It was perhaps a fitting nod to New York’s Carnival Weekend to feature Yearwood in that segment of the show.  Standing head and shoulders above the early entertainment though was New York’s very own Noel “DanceMaster” Stevens whose energy in the heat of the early afternoon was not only palpable, but infectious.  The crowds snapped up the Jamaican flags being thrown to them during the performance of Jamaica Bolt – his tribute no doubt to Usain Bolt’s outstanding Beijing performance.  DanceMaster could certainly show the younger artists a thing or two when it comes to stamina, voice control and engaging an audience.  Taking a leaf out of the lyrics of the Jamaican SensationGully Bop who would perform on stage later in the day, his “Dem no Know Bout Me” was very catchy and well received.  Ending his performance with the markedly calypso-heavy beats of “In the Center”, this artist set a hard pace for the remaining acts to follow.
A young DJ out of Brixton in London - Macini got a chance to perform and acquitted himself well.  As a warm up act, his self-assured delivery of songs like ‘Tell me she Love Me’ and ‘Man a General’ was refreshing.  Backstage, he was very appreciative of the opportunity to appear in NYC, when asked how he felt the crowd responded and whether the audience was hard, he laughingly replied that Jamaican audiences were much tougher.  Jamaican group No Maddz closed out the early session as being the only group to perform with a band – their own.
The day’s main entertainment came from a predominately dancehall roster of artists including Tiger, Dexta Daps, Christopher Martin, Ding Dong and Ravers Clavers, Gyptian, Red Rat, Assassin, Bugle, Spragga Benz, Mr Vegas, Flourgon, Konshens, Anthony Cruz, Lushy Banton,  Omeil, QQ, Gully Bop, Micheal 'Lick Shot' Palmer, and veteran female deejays Sister Charmaine and Lady Ann.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Proud & Free Jamaica 53 - Thanksgiving Church Service 8.2.15

The Thanksgiving service in recognition of Jamaica’s 53rd year of independence was celebrated at St. Frances of Rome Catholic Church, officiated by Rev Cannon Calvin McIntyre from the Church of the Good Shepherd – who did not disappoint with a barrage of jokes to tickle the mainly Jamaican crowd, while the Rev Dr. Sam Vassel Pastor at the Church of the Nazarene giving the sermon.  Rev Vassel gave the congregants food for thought directing them on when and where to do the right thing; pointing out at length that the right thing is not always that followed by the majority; not to be swayed by false prophets and also to listen to the words and voice of God.  The hidden message was clear to those who had ears to hear.

St. Frances of Rome is a beautiful edifice situated at 236th and Barnes Avenue in the Bronx, but as I sat in the sanctuary, I couldn’t help reflect on previous Independence Thanksgiving Services and the fact that there seemed to be something missing from this present one.  The musical presentations helmed by the maestro Lloyd Chung with his Independence Choir gave a spirited rendition of Peter Tosh’s ‘Jah is my Keeper’, but there seemed to be an air of suppression.  There was definitely a lack of the natural mystic.
Prayers for the country and the Diaspora were offered up from Dr. Roy Streete and Ms. Sabrina Hosang-Jordan, recently returned from a trip celebrating her first wedding anniversary.  Michelle Rodney, Dean of Monroe College in the Bronx and daughter of Karl and Faye Rodney and Winston Codner, Clarendon College Alumni Association read the Scriptures.  Assemblyman Nick Perry was in attendance and Congresswoman Ruth Hassell Thompson sent a representative.

A definite highlight came as a member of the public arrived late and as ushered to her seat.  Low and behold the lady created quite a stir as she walked into the sanctuary with what appeared to be a basket of fruit on her head – people actually got up out of their seats, craning their necks and applauded her inventive headwear.  I was lucky to get a picture of Ms. Cynthia Neita, who should definitely get a ticket to the upcoming Independence Ball for her eye-catching outfit.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Studio One - Legacy Lives On

Morna “StudioOne” Dodd, is one of Studio One legend Coxsone Dodd’s children.  An entrepreneur in her own right, this chef and businesswoman seems to have inherited her father’s passion for business, legacy and family.  However her quest to continue in her father’s footsteps has thrust her into the path of adversity, animus and obstruction.

Morna was recently in New York to attend the funeral of her brother, Clement Seymour Coxsone Dodd Jr who passed away from cancer at the relatively young age of 56.  Morna firmly believes that her brother’s condition was exacerbated by his struggles with some members of the Dodd clan fighting to lay claim to the entire Dodd legacy with no intention of sharing with other siblings.

We’ve seen this scenario play out several times in the families of our reggae legends, the Marley Estate was settled to some extent, but there are still claims surfacing from children looking to establish heirship to the Marley empire, Sugar Minott, Dennis Brown, John Holt, all died without making wills and their estates are being settled by highly paid lawyers and administrators.

Coxsone Dodd did leave a will and for all intents and purposes, his assets were to be shared equally among his children, both those with his former partner who migrated with her three children, Claudia, Jr and Morna to England and his progeny with wife Norma Dodd who died in 2010.  There are allegations of names being fraudulently removed from the will, monies disappearing into thin air and even one highly placed radio personality serving jail time for his role in the misappropriation of funds!

Morna’s calm, but steely personality leaves one with a sense of confidence that she will put the Dodd ship to rights and that her motives are not driven by greed, but by a pure passion to ensure her father’s legacy as one of the main architects in creating the music known all over the world as reggae, stays alive, relevant and in the hands of those who crafted, fought and died to bring the music to fruition.

The lady is on a mission which is further fuelled by her brother’s death.  As a testament of that love, Morna is determined to continue her brother’s work and talent as a producer under the Coxsone label.  She is saddened by the fight that her brother endured abier, together with a picture of her own son who passed away in 2014.
t the hands of his Norma Dodd who made his life a living hell in the 1970 as she attempted to wrest control of the catalogue.  There is no doubt that the two were close, you hear the catch in her voice as she relates how she placed a Manchester United FC shirt in her brother’s

Morna, working with a handpicked selection of performers on her own label Studio One The Excellency of Reggae Music is well on her way to carving out her own niche, with or without the help of her sister Carol – who is painted as the main protagonist in this ongoing family feud. 

Attempts to obtain a comment from Carol Dodd received no response.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Selma’s deceptively idyllic opening soon gives way to the depiction of racism taken to a terrible zenith on Sunday - September 16, 1963 when the lives of four Sunday school children – Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson and Denise McNair were sacrificed.  Another child, Sarah Collins, lost her right eye in the attack and more than 20 other people were injured.
It is no coincidence that the 16th Street Baptist Church and Birmingham, Alabama featured so prominently in galvanizing the civil rights movement.  With its racist governor George Wallace and the brutally barbaric Police Commissioner Eugene ‘Bull’ O’Connor the climate was one which allowed for the protection of the KKK perpetrators of the Birmingham church bombing, stalling any investigation and criminal conviction for over ten years.
Selma, Alabama was chosen for the iconic march to Montgomery partly because it was still rigidly segregated in the 1960s, any African American trying to eat at so-called ‘white’s only’ establishments were beaten and arrested, there was no outward socialization between the races and that area of the Southern ‘black belt’ was clinging stubbornly and illegally to its past.  One must remember this was deep Dixie country.  The selection of Selma as the battleground between integrationists and racists was a well-designed strategy whose sole intention was to force the hand of Lyndon B. Johnson into enacting new civil and voting rights legislation.  Johnson, the Vice President at the time of John F. Kennedy’s assassination found himself in 1964 the newly elected President caught between ushering his own agenda into play and crafting a response to the nightly visions of brutality played out across American television screens.  Ordinary Americans were aghast at the constant images of murder and mayhem perpetrated by Americans against other Americans. 
Selma the movie, pays homage, primarily to Dr. Martin Luther King, a martyr and staunch proponent of the Mahatma Gandhi style of resistance, who believed in using non-violent tactics to effect changes in the status quo.  Director Anna Devurnay focuses on King the man, and yes, there is evidence of his infidelities; brought to light and used by the FBI in an attempt to destroy King’s image as a God fearing family man and sully his efficacy as leader of the non-violent movement.  King’s weakness in that regard is countered by his steadfast resolve to stare death in the face while always showing the power and strength behind the confrontational, but non-violent movement.  The movie also brings to life the other nameless, faceless freedom fighters, starting with Jimmie Lee Jackson, murdered by state police after a peaceful demonstration; Amelia Boynton, activist and one of the organizers of the Selma march, beaten unconscious on the Edmund Pettus Bridge on Bloody Sunday, the SNCC brothers Colia and Bernard Lafayette instrumental in spearheading the Selma voter registration campaign, James Reeb the white Boston minister murdered after participating in a symbolic march to the Edmund Pettus Bridge, following the televised brutality on March 7 1965 - Bloody Sunday when state troopers and police attacked the demonstrators with tear gas and billy clubs leaving many bloodied and broken.  The marches were led on that occasion by the current Member of the US House of Representative John Lewis and Hosea Williams.  Annie Lee Cooper, civil rights activist, forever remembered as the woman who fought to exercise her voting rights and punched Sein November 2010 at the age of 100. 

lma Sherriff, Frank Clark.  Cooper was fired from her job in a nursing home for pursuing her dream to vote in Alabama, a right she had already held in the States of Ohio and Pennsylvania.  She died
I was also powerfully reminded of the countless nameless supporters who answered the call to participate in that monumental march from Selma to Montgomery, those who provided food and shelter to the vanguard activists, and in so doing jeopardized their own safety, but nonetheless sacrificed for a greater cause.
The movie Selma does its job injecting new interest in a slice of history that many would like to sweep under the carpet, it shines a light on America’s shameful racist past.  Some would say America’s continued racism – evidenced by the escalating deaths and civil rights abuses of young black men at the hands of police officers across the length and breadth of America.
There are those detractors who have complained that little celluloid space was devoted to those who stood shoulder to shoulder with Dr. King, Ralph Abernathy, Fred Shuttleworth, Joseph Lowery, Andrew Young, John Lewis and Bayard Rustin to name a few, but Selma the movie is another trigger for the start of a much needed and hopefully continued conversation.

I was moved afresh at how far African Americans have come and yet how little things have really changed.  Dr. King’s dream is alive, the spark is dim, but the flame has not been entirely extinguished.  Every black child needs to see this movie, at least once and be inspired to live their own dream.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

That Daughter’s Crazy” - the one woman show that evolved into a film about the life of Rain Pryor who grew up a hybrid black and Jewish girl in Hollyweird.  Born at a time when retaliation at being called a nigger led to her expulsion from school and her front lawn being the repository of a burning cross and the word spray painted on the walls of that same home.  The only daughter of Richard Pryor and Shelly Bonis, a union which some would say truly celebrated the pimping lifestyle, after all Pryor was raised in Southern brothels, the son of a prostitute whose grandmother was a madam; Shelly was a go-go dancer.  The unlikely couple fell in love, married and produced Rain, so named one rainy night while her parents were stoned!

The documentary is not about Richard Pryor, it’s about his daughter coming to terms with her dual raciality.  The trials and tribulations of living with the prejudice that blighted her early forays into public performance, most notably being passed over in her Hollywood High School for the lead of Peter Pan, instead relegated to the more exotic role of Tiger Lilly.  Her paternal and maternal matriarchs played pivotal roles in character building, her father’s grand-mother the brothel madam from whom she learned that the word ‘nigger’ emanating from the wrong mouth was a signal to defend one’s heritage and from her mother’s mother she learned never to take no for an answer.  Those larger than life female role models helped her to carve her own road and gave the courage and strength to tell her story.  Growing up the child of arguably the funniest and most irreverent comedian in the United States, a longtime predilection for drugs, the famous attempted suicide when he poured alcohol over himself while freebasing, suffering 50% burns over his body who finally lost his battle for life to Multiple Schlerosis.  Raine’s story is poignant and bittersweet as she tells of losing faith after God ‘allows’ her father to die, but regains that faith when she discovers a Yoruba religion that
allows her to embrace both her black and Jewish cultures, and is well on the way to making the final step in becoming a Priestess.  One senses she is at peace, determined to break the destructive cycles that propelled her parents, adamant that her daughter will not be bound by the mistakes of her own parents.  She is mother to a beautiful golden child named Lotus and one can see the connectivity and the love they share.

The documentary really is a tribute to her father.  When she mimics him, you see like a bolt of lightning, that she is her father’s child and his comic genius has indeed been passed through genes and rests firmly and comfortably on her shoulders.

As is becoming more and more common, with one party owning the images, music and rights to a deceased celebrity, there are no images of Richard Pryor in this documentary, but there is something even better, his daughter Rain represents him and one gets the sense that Richard himself is sitting quietly in a corner pulling on a toke and beaming from ear to ear – proud of his little girl Rain,

Rain Pryor has no shame to her game as she takes you on a journey charting her course from a young gauche girl coming into her own womanhood who makes a conscious decision to embrace her unique heritage with no apology.  That Daughter’s Crazy indeed, but not in the way you could possibly imagine.  This accomplished, actor, director and jazz singer continues to speak truth as she knows it and in doing so endears her to an audience who loves her in her own right.