Thursday, October 2, 2014

Review: Talkin Dub - Michael ‘Mikey’ Smith 60th - Birthday Tribute

 Mikey SmithMichael “Mikey” Smith born 1954 in Jamaica was one of the early innovators of a new art form, combining music – usually in the form of a resonant drum and heavy bass line – and spoken word interwoven to form DUB POETRY. The popular and original artists in this new genre were Linton Kwesi-Johnson and Jean Binta Breeze from England and Oku Onoura from Jamaica.

Performing publically in the 70s and 80s at a time of political unrest, as evidenced in the partisan political climate of Jamaica or the police oppression taking place in England and excessive use of the ‘Sus’ laws, dub poets were seen as aggressive griots, calling out the establishment and exhorting their listeners to action.
Talkin Dub - Michael ‘Mikey’ Smith 60th Birthday Tribute
Mikey Smith a strident opponent of injustice was a talented performance poet whose tragic murder by an alleged politically affiliated trio who stoned him to death on August 17 1983 cut short what was definitely a promising career.

To celebrate what would have been Smith’s 60th birthday, the Caribbean Cultural Theater under the banner of their Poets & Passion series presented “Talkin Dub – Tribute to Mikey Smith” on Thursday September 18 in Brooklyn. Paying homage to the Jamaican dub originator, Aja from Barbados, YaBez, Ras Osaagyefo and Queen Majeeda all from Jamaica not only performed their own works, but collaborated in a tribute by reading the iconic ‘Mi Cyaan Believe It’. The evening’s presentation took on the form of live spoken word together with a video clip of Michael Smith himself performing Mi Cyaan Believe it as those in the audience witnessed firsthand the poetic prowess of the poet as activist.

In the open mic session that followed, local artists were encouraged to bless the mic with their dub poems, with outstanding performances from the female poets one from Australia, got a round of applause on revealing this was only her second day in the Big Apple, Nandi Keyi-Ogunlade (Trinidad) and Arielle John (Trinidad) energized the audience with their excellent performances. Whether celebrating Trinidad’s independence and the lack of parity between their Afro and Indo nationalities, or the reverent tribute to the women and children sacrificed on the slave ship – The Zong during one of many horrific tales of genocide on the middle passage and the banal insincerity of those who don’t understand the spiritual significance of not doing justice to the remembrance ritual.
A lively discussion followed where artists and the public exchanged thoughts on when and where artists should perform free to serve a greater good and how artists reach a wider audience and more importantly impact on the lives in their own communities.

It was an energetic evening; the landscape enhanced the ambience as one was able to browse the afro-centric jewelry, oils, books and clothes on display at Sister Kufunya’s Nicholas Brooklyn in the heart of the melting-pot that is Brooklyn.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Tribute to Maya Angelou

I've not been updating as frequently as I should.  Scouring through my unfinished scribblings, I came across a tribute to Maya Angelou and deem it fitting to post here on my blog......

Reading “I know Why the Caged Bird Sings” was a revelation to me and further solidified my love of reading, but - this author was someone special, in the UK I had grown up with Buchi Emcheta, but this woman Maya Angelou was raw, fresh and real.
I can honestly say that I read all her autobiographic materials, and loved every one.  For the last book she published, I was in the audience at the flagship Barnes & Noble at 14th Street and bought two copies of her book Mom & Me & Mom, hoping to have her sign both, but the crowd and the volume of frustrated fans wanting to get next to her was just too much for me so I decided I’d send one copy away for her to sign….I never did, but not having her signature in a book pales in comparison to knowing that she’s gone.  No longer will I see that smooth yet weather beaten face or those huge sunglasses she’d taken to wearing in later years, there’s a lump in my throat and an ache in my heart.   
“Aunty Maya” was so many things to so many people.  Dining with princesses, presidents and kings, she kept it real and through her writing became a friend to those who never even ‘knew’ her.  Her writing was more than inspirational, her quotations became the code by which to live a fulfilled life.  An avid civil rights activist – she fought injustice wherever she found it and showed the way for countless young girls struggling with unprettiness.  Maya was an amazon among midgets, she blazed trails where ever she went, fearless in kicking down doors and forcing recognition of her talents.  An accomplished journalist, broadcaster, dancer, singer and actress Maya did it all.  Living life to the fullest she travelled the world and realized that we are all one, no matter where we come from – we are all Africans.  Aunty Maya, I’m not ready to let you go and I shan’t - not just yet, I’m vowing to re-read your works (especially the autobiographies) and crying as I will no doubt cry when my mother passes, coz that’s how much I rate you.
Condolences to her family – a Great Woman Passed this Way!
by Maya Angelou

The free bird leaps
on the back of the wind
and floats downstream
till the current ends
and dips his wings
in the orange sun rays
and dares to claim the sky.
But a bird that stalks
down his narrow cage
can seldom see through
his bars of rage
his wings are clipped and
his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing.
The caged bird sings
with fearful trill
of the things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill
for the caged bird
sings of freedom
The free bird thinks of another breeze
and the trade winds soft through the sighing trees
and the fat worms waiting on a dawn-bright lawn
and he names the sky his own.
 But a caged bird stands on the grave of dreams
his shadow shouts on a nightmare scream
his wings are clipped and his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing
 The caged bird sings
with a fearful trill
of things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill
for the caged bird
sings of freedom.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Tasha T - Keeping it Real with REAL TALK!

Tasha T, the Canadian reggae princess hosted the launch of her second album Real Talk under the auspices of Chip Smith’s Caribbean Billboard Magazine at Tafari Tribe café in Brooklyn on Friday July 20.  The Media was invited to attend an early pre-event from 7-10 pm and  had unfettered access to Tasha T without the usual crush of eager fans who would arrive later that evening.

Tafari Café is building a nice name as a place where good things happen, whether it’s the hospitality of business partners Sandra and Steadman or the ambience, it’s a great music hang-out spot on Flatbush Avenue.

Looking elegantly trendy in her black lace dress, Tasha T graciously answered questions about the album and mingled with the crowd, with not a trace of diva behavior to be seen on her countenance.

This is a full roots reggae album with 17 tracks each offering a different vibe and telling its own story, already Bed of Fire is #1 in her native Canada and climbing the Italian Charts where it stands at #14

The VP distributed album is produced by some stellar names in the reggae industry - Mikey Bennett, Bobby Digital, Computer Paul, Syl Gordon, Orville 'Rorey' Baker, Paul 'Patchy' Wright and Danny Maestro.  With her catchy rootsy, ragamuffin singjay style, Tasha T brings her talents as DJ, Mike MC and vocalist into play.  Tasha T’s music always has a message, whether it’s about upliftment; better days or lessons of redemption.  Singing songs of praise to her Rastafari faith in Ethiopian Liberation, the Burning Spear inspired Ethopia, Jah Jah Children, Halamese Selassie and the powerful docusongmentary Bible Talk.
Social commentary is addressed in Real Talk, Bed of Fire, In a De Jungle, Mouth a Matic, Prescription, Preacher Man, Family Reunion, Firm Meditation, Long Distance Relationship, Educate Yourself shows her concern for youth education, and reinforces why she was chosen as an Ambassador for Read Across Jamaica in 2012.   Tasha T doesn’t forget that which makes the world go round and slows the pace to get into a lover’s mood with Today is the Day and True Love. The award-winning Tasha T continues to demonstrate her great stage presence whether she performs in Canada, Jamaica or New York.  With the release of this new album, she strides from strength to strength, a future force to be reckoned with.

There is something for everyone on this wholesome album the message of Rasta is after all one that resonates the world over with its tenets of livity and love. 


Thursday, July 3, 2014

An Extraordinary Opportunity - Marcia Griffiths and Judy Mowatt

Opportunity knocks sometimes when we least expect it.  Recently, I had the opportunity to sit down with two legends in the reggae music industry – Marcia Griffiths and Judy Mowatt.   

I can certainly empathize with the struggles they must have faced in those early days of women making inroads in a male-dominated world as I recently found myself up against an ignorant and egotistical man whose brain seems to reside in his nether region!  Anyway, both women were influenced by reggae icon Robert Nester Marley with whom they sang back-up and lived in close proximity.  Both  have remarkable stories to tell, Marcia speaks of her longevity in the industry, she remains a stalwart when many of her compatriots have been felled by illness or untimely death and Judy Mowatt with her revelations about Bob Marley's conversation to Christianity before his death from cancer on May 11 1981.  Mowatt herself converted to Christianity and now sings gospel music, but will return to the secular stage on June 29 at Roy Wilkins Park at the Grooving in the Park event in support her friend of 40 years Marcia Griffiths as the latter celebrates 50 years in a sometimes unforgiving industry.

 The questions posed in both interviews are solely mine and the rapport and ease between these two ladies and myself can only be attributed to a meeting of pure hearts and minds.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

White Sugar - Red Blood

Out of the blue one Friday evening, a friend and I decided to travel to Williamsburg to see Kara Walker’s exhibit – “A Subtlety* – The Marvelous Sugar Baby, an Homage to the unpaid and overworked Artisans who have refined our Sweet tastes from the cane fields to the Kitchens of the New World".  I’d seen details of the exhibit in one of the free papers you get in Manhattan and made a note to visit, but time constraints meant that tonight was the first time I had an opportunity to go.

The exhibit is sited in the old Domino Sugar factory built in 1927 to house cane sugar before its whitening process, the factory closed for about ten years now is slated for demolition, to make way no doubt for some fancy smanchy high-rise water front exorbitantly priced condos, so I’m glad I had a chance to see this relic that’s steeped in history, my history.  The first jarring fact hit me in the description that’s inscribed on the outside of the old factory.  The word that jumped out at me ‘Artisans’ immediately set my blood boiling and pulse racing.  For the life of me I couldn’t believe that a black woman would refer to those who were responsible for bringing sugar to the ‘free’ world as ‘artisans'.  Since when did those enslaved Africans become ‘artisans’.  Even though this word left me with a less than sweet taste in my mouth, I decided to continue my foray into the depths of the cavernous space that once housed a thriving throbbing heaving industry fueled by the blood sweat and tears of my ancestors.

The first thing that hits you is the smell.  A sweet, sweaty, sticky, oppressive smell that pervades the very walls blackened with molasses, age and one can imagine the heat of long extinguished furnaces.   There’s a sense of foreboding and oppression that descends like a shroud and no matter the shrill twittering and what seems false gaiety of the throngs who’ve come to see the exhibit – it’s a feeling that I can’t seem to shake.  The preamble to the exhibit is the strategically placed ‘picaninnies’ that seem to usher a path to the magnificent statue at the end of the great hall.  The children, I imagine the referenced ‘sugar babies’ are holding baskets, bananas, or other items, but the thing that struck me most was that they are disintegrating and the dark pools that drip down onto the floor uncannily resemble red streams of blood.  I shudder at the sight as my primordial memory remembers the blood spilled in the cultivation of the cane refined to that sweet white almighty sugar, the rich man’s delicacy and the black man’s denouement.  One of the ‘babies’ has lost an arm, the symbolism is not lost in this space, where countless limbs no doubt were mangled by menacing and hungry machines being constantly fed with the substance that would produce that pristine poison.

As we get closer to the main attraction, my steps are slowed and tears well up, there she is - the great mammy, exaggerated negro features, the wide full lips and flared nostrils, the turban, the voluptuous breasts and round hard nipples, she sits on haunches like a great blindingly white Egyptian Sphinx.  The irony of her color doesn't immediately hit home because after all - this is an old sugar factory!  Walking slowly along her length, I’m assailed by so many emotions, slowing down, taking pictures, when I reach her rear end, I’m breathing hard as I see her backside, with the exposed labia and my heart bleeds as my friend, her facial expression as pained as my own whispers “the rape of the African nation”.  Exposed, defenceless, open – this is just too much for me and I make my retreat, brushing away the tears that are falling unchecked.  I’m aware that people are staring at me, but I can’t help it….I just can’t help it.

* Subtleties were old fashioned sugar sculptures adorning the dining tables of the wealthy.
NB:  The Exhibit runs until July 6, on Fridays through Sundays at the Domino Sugar Factory in Williamsburg. 

Monday, March 3, 2014

Before Radio Ruled the Airways - A Short History

Can you imagine a world without radio? In these technologically saturated times, envisage yourself if you will, living in the 18th and 19th Centuries. There were no newspapers and whatever broadsheets that were available, couldn't be read by most of the population. Only the clergy or those from a privileged background were afforded an education and able to read.

The very idea that sound could be carried via electric or electromagnetic waves was probably unthinkable, until various inventors and scientists working in the fields of sound transmittal paved the way for Guglieirno Marconi, an Italian inventor, who demonstrated the possibility of radio communication. He transmitted and received his first radio signal in Italy in 1895. By 1899 he flashed the first wireless signal across the English Channel and two years later, received the letter “S” telegraphed from England to Newfoundland. Marconi, originally credited with inventing this new means of communication lost that title in a decision of the Supreme Court who overturned his patent in 1943, awarding credit to Nikola Tesla. Ships made prolific use of the “Morse-code” format of messages, with the 'dot-dot-dash' formula, where messages wee tapped out over a device from ship to shore and enabled communication between ships. This system of radio communication was adapted b the United States Army who established a wireless base off Fire Island in New York. The Navy also adopted the wireless system some two years later, but before then, they had been communicating using visual signals or even employing homing pigeons.1

This primitive form of communication was opened up to the masses with the input provided by Lee DeForest, who developed and coined the word “radio”. DeForest was able to reach a much wider audience with his use of the triode amplifier. In fact, the word “AM” means amplitude-modulated radio. The volume of radio frequencies were expanded and many more sound waves were audible as a result of this amplification.

It is not clear who has the distinction of being the first person to lend their voice to radio, there are contentions that this honor goes to one Nathan B. Stubbelfield in 1892, while there is another school that attributes that feat to Canadian Reginald A. Fessenden in 1906. In 1915, the first transatlantic speech was transmitted from a naval base in Ohio to the Eiffel Tower in Paris.

The development of radio continued to evolve and in 1933 Edwin Howard Armstrong took it to the next level of refinement with his invention of frequency-modulated or the more popularly known FM radio. FM improved the audio signal of radio by controlling the noise static caused by electrical equipment and the earth's atmosphere. To illustrate how the growth of transatlantic telephones and radio signals were linked, until 1936, all American transatlantic telephone communication had to be routed through England. In that year, a direct radiotelephone circuit was opened to Paris. Telephone connection by radio and cable is now accessible through 1987 foreign points.

Radio continues to break new barriers and boundaries, from the early heady days of the transistor radio – introduced to the world by the Japanese electronics giant – Sony, to the proliferation of radio stations that can be accessed on the World Wide Web. Factored into that equation we must not discount pirate stations. In London, the most famous was Radio Caroline, which started life on a shop off the South East coast of England in 1964. Since then pirate radio stations have sprung like mushrooms up and down the AM and FM bands all over the world. In North America, some of these pirate stations have even attained a level of legality and have been afforded “community radio station” status. Certainly, pirate stations are not as constrained as legitimate radio stations in terms of the content and financial support they need to stay afloat.

So when next you approach your radio and press the 'on' button (or as the case may be, reach for the remote control) stop, pause and think about just how far the development of that first invention of sound transmission has come to the point that radio rules and you can now find anything you want to hear over the airways in this modern society.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014


The thought of doing a visual blog has been something I've toyed with for some time. Everyone knows of my affinity for Jamaica and its people, so I'm always traveling there for vacation or recovery and restoration. This time was no different – having just gotten over a very nasty bout of the 'flu – I had an urgent desire to go 'home'. I've never been to Jamaica with a young baby before, but this time I took my 20 month old grand-daughter and I can say the experience was one that was both priceless and very tiring. Kayleigh is a handful – no doubt about it – but I wouldn't trade the experience of introducing her to a part of her heritage. She loved it! From the foods to the sights, sounds, smells and close proximity to nature – she drank it all in, wanting to experience it all.

Traveling proved to be the biggest challenge, I was only able to hire a rental car for a short period of time (kudos to David Chen for his assistance in that department) and taking buses and taxis with the bag and pan associated with a baby was a bit daunting, but I've never been one to shy away from a challenge. In hindsight, the funniest experience by far was taking a taxi from Bath in St. Thomas to Morant Bay and to hear the driver exclaim that he had run out of gas! My aunt and I sat in the hot car while he traipsed off to the nearest gas station about 5 miles away. I gave him more sympathy he deserved – especially when I later discovered from friends in the area that this was somewhat of a regular occurrence for him. So much so, that his colleagues refuse to pick him up when he 'runs' out of gas!  I also had to 'blow up' the taxi driver in Morant Bay who thought he was slick when I went to the taxi park to get a taxi to Kingston.  He took one look at my clothes and the sweat dripping off my face and exclaimed "Lady ah charter you haffi charter me".  When I finished lambasting him in some raw chaw patois - he had nothing more to say - humpfff. lol.

One of the main purposes for my trip at this time is the event promoted by my cousin Iteen, proprietor of Iteen's in Bath – she hosts an annual Valentine's event. This year was special since another cousin from England made the effort to be there with us. Dor Ang – it was lovely seeing and spending time with her. If one thinks that what happens outside of Jamaica has no impact on those who remain – think again. It was obvious that there was a financial dearth impacting that semi-rural community – the people who would normally have attended the celebration were conspicuously absent; and it wasn't just Iteen's – another well publicized event in St. Thomas didn't do well either!

Fi Wi Sinting – the other reason I attend Jamaica in February was a bust. The reason? - no transportation! By this time I was beyond disappointed, but there was even more disappointment to come.

February is Reggae Month in Jamaica and I'm so proud of an organization called JARIA – Jamaica Reggae Industry Association. Their 2014 schedule of events was magnificent. From the Mona Chapel Ecumenical Thanksgiving Service to the last events at the end of February – the work that has gone into producing a series of stellar concerts, panel discussions, films and gatherings – not to mention tributes to Bob Marley, Dennis Brown AND Bunny Ruggs - is to be lauded, applauded and celebrated. I know they performed a herculean task, working with ludicrously limited funds – but they should definitely pat themselves on the back. Dem may be likkle – but bwoy dem TALLAWAH! 

Special thanks to my friend Steve for his patience - I promise to make it up to you and the organization next year.