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. 


1www.about.com

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

JAMAICA VISUAL BLOG - FEBRUARY 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.










Monday, February 24, 2014

Here Comes the King - A Daughter's Tribute

Marla Brown is the youngest daughter of legendary reggae singer Dennis “Crown Prince” Brown. Born in London to Dennis and wife Yvonne, she has four siblings who share their father's initials - 'D. Brown' – Dinah, Daniel, Deneice, Dennis– the latter uses his middle names Jason and herself Deborah known professional as Marla. Dennis spent a great deal of time in London, crafting some of his best works there and nurturing his young family.

Marla reminisces on growing up with Dennis, who she recalls as being a very loving and easy going father. “Mum was the disciplinarian in our household' she chuckled – 'dad was very easy going, loving, caring and sharing'. It is patently obvious that Marla has a very special bond with her father which lives on after his untimely passing when she was 12 years old. She tells the story of hearing the news of her father's death and recounts calling him the day before; he was not well and resting, she decided to call the next day, but never got to speak to him again. She wipes away tears and during our conversation, it is again reinforced that Marla is all about continuing her father's legacy, not just his music but his livity. She reveals that she and her siblings called themselves the Brown-Brady bunch; a reference to a 1970s popular American sitcom - The Brady Bunch! That this is a very tight-knit family is something else that is evident during the course of our chat on the grounds of the Bob Marley Museum at 56 Old Hope Road. It is fitting that we are having a conversation in that location, folks of my generation must now make way for the next and as we speak the Ghetto Youths Crew, the label spearheaded by Marley brothers Ziggy Stephen, Damion Jr. Gong and Julian (with label mates Wayne Wonder, Christopher Ellis and Black Am I), are rehearsing on the premises in preparation for another big February Reggae Month Celebration - Bob Marley's Birthday celebration on February 6.

D. Brown's legacy lives on and is strong in the Brown children, all of whom are musically inclined, Marla spent some years as a dancer before embarking on her fledgling singing career. She is in Jamaica to not only complete her own upcoming EP, but also to spearhead tributes to her father whose February 1 birthday is celebrated world-wide. Marla's passion is to ensure that the youth, particularly those in London where Dennis spent some time, get to know the man and his vast catalog of music.

Talking with Marla you definitely understand that her mission is more than the music, drawing on her family life with parents and siblings, the theme comes up again and again – it's all about LIVING IN LOVE. Something which Dennis Brown fans can definitely resonate with and draw a clear connection to many of his songs. Coming from an extremely tight knit family, one that has had to close ranks and absorb a huge void, has certainly rooted and grounded this young lady. With refreshing candor she is almost childlike in her fervent wish for the world to be one in which we all care about and love each other.

Poised on the verge of unimagined potential – there is already a buzz around Marla Brown who acquitted herself well at the Orange Street Tribute to her father held on Monday February 1 where a mic throw-down between Marla, General Trees and General Twitch was a definite crowd-pleaser. Debuting her original song “Here Comes the King” a tribute to her father. She tells the moving story of finding a rhythm in her music files and on listening and rewinding several times, she says she could swear that she heard her father's voice singing. She canceled all appointments and wrote the lyrics in record time, encompassing some of her father's song titles and other key phrases she remembers him using – what transpired is a love letter from daughter to father and is indeed a fitting tribute – not to a Crown Prince, but to a King - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qa8aBR4nxto

 © Sheron Hamilton-Pearson.  Article can be found at http://www.jamaicans.com/music/articles_reggae/daughtertribute.shtml


Read more: http://www.jamaicans.com/music/articles_reggae/daughtertribute.shtml#ixzz2uEbdjFuM

Friday, January 17, 2014

Sacre Bleu!!!!

The National Association for the Advancement of COLORED People (NAACP) has decided to nominate the following for the 2014 Image award.

No matter how I wrack my brain, I can't get my head around the recently published list, how in God's name can this be right. After duly doing my own investigation, I found that this was no spoof, no satire, but let me share with you the information that has me getting my knickers in a twist.

The list in the music category is what has me getting ready to bust a blood vessel:

These are the nominees for the Outstanding Male Artist:

Bruno Mars

Charlie Wilson

John Legend

Justin Timberlake

Robin Thicke


Is this someone's idea of a perverse joke? Current Chairman Ben Jealous must have been playing with Jersey Governor Chris Christie on the George Washington Bridge when this nomination was put together.

Don't get me wrong people, I have nothing against Justin Timberlake, Bruno Mars or Robin Thicke – well actually yes I do, is it just me or am I the only one to realize those guys ain't black – they sure as heck ain't colored either! WTF (the 'f' means Fart). Come one now – do you mean to tell me that you couldn't find a list of 5 men in the music industry who are bonafide card carrying members of the Negro Race????

I'm affronted by this travesty which has nothing to do with talent or lack thereof, but come one now – what a slap in the face for those black male singers out there slogging away and can't even catch a break with a recognition or nod from an organization that has purported to represent them and their interests since 1967 and the heady days of the civil rights movement.

The image awards were formed in protest against the 1915 showing of the racist

Birth of a Nation” by D.W. Griffiths which stereotypically portrayed blacks as savages. I think the governing body of the NAACP with oversight for the image awards could do well to remember its raison d'être!

The Awards Show will air on February 22 and I for one will not be watching as my small protest at what I can only describe as an NAACP sell out.



Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Hell Ah Top, Hell Ah Bottom and Hallelujah in the Middle!

It's funny but sometimes I wish I could only remember half the things I've forgotten in my lifetime. In England, where I was born, I used to knit, taught by my mother; sew, encouraged by my grandmother who used to send me to sewing lessons in Jamaica and I made a mean British-style oxtail casserole in the oven in a crockpot with lots of root vegetables. Another feat of which I used to be proud was my Jamaican Sweet Potato Pudding!

Living in New York, where I moved in 1996, is a much more hectic lifestyle with less and less time to do the things I really enjoyed. Talking with a friend, who told me about the Sweet Potato Pudding she'd recently made, my saliva filled mouth anticipated that sweet, gooey succulent dish and I decided to turn my hand again to the decadent treat.



There only one Whole Foods store in my neighborhood, so most of my groceries and provisions are purchased from the proliferation of Korean stores that dot the landscape like so many store-front churches, sometimes three to a block. I picked up the ingredients and using the recipe provided by Francine Chin got busy in the kitchen. I'm not sure why the alarm bells didn't ring at the consistency of the grated sweet potato, I added the lush ingredients and poured the mixture into my cake pans. Even when the mixture was still sticky on the knife two hours later, I wasn't too perturbed, but I guess it was the gales of laughter that greeted me when I told my mum about my disappointment at how the pudding had turned out. Her first question as to what type of sweet potato I had used solved the mystery. American sweet potatoes more suited to Thanksgiving dishes are NOT the same as Jamaican sweet potatoes, which have a more gnarled and reddish brown color as opposed to their pink American counterpart.

My disappointment was short lived, I made another pudding yesterday, same ingredients, but this time using the correct main ingredient and as I posted on Facebook, the pudding ah seh one, two and tree!. I feel that this English lady has proven her mettle in the realms of Jamaican cookie willels and my culinary prowess has been restored – at least when it comes to Jamaican Sweet Potato Pudding. Brigitte Talbot – you may have laughed loud, but this time I laugh last! The hell ah top, hell ah bottom and Hallelujah in the middle is complete.

I have to give kudos to a great recipe that's very easy to follow - the link is broken now, but I will post soon.