Thursday, 30 October 2014

REGGAE 'STORM' GUSTS THROUGH BROOKLYN, IN TRIBUTE


The Coalition to Preserve Reggae will present their annual Reggae Culture Salute on Saturday, Nov. 1, in Brooklyn, New York.

The event is aimed at raising funds to preserve and promote traditional reggae music (scroll down for an earlier article about the Coalition in SWAN), and chief organizer Sharon Gordon promises a “storm” of a concert.

“Lyrical wind gusts are expected to be 180mph so make sure you're safely seated by 7 pm in Nazareth H.S. located at 475 E 57th Street in Brooklyn because Da Real Storm is brewing,” Gordon says.

Performers include reggae icon Marcia Griffiths, U.S.-based musician Don Minott, and the fast-rising singer and poet Da Real Storm.

Thursday, 25 September 2014

FRANCE HOSTS MEXICO'S SHOW ON MAYA CIVILIZATION

The Quai Branly Museum in Paris is presenting another sure-to-be blockbuster exhibition titled Mayas: Révélation d'un temps sans fin (Maya: Revelation of an endless time), beginning Oct. 7 and ending next February.

Produced in Mexico, the show focuses on the civilization created by the Maya peoples of the pre-Columbian era, and allows visitors to appreciate their “legacy to humanity”.

“They have left to posterity dozens of cities with striking architecture, a range of technically perfect sculpture, numerous frescoes and ceramic vases, and a detailed record of their religious beliefs, their rituals, their community life, their habits and their history,” say the curators.

Done thematically - and covering the relationship to nature, the power of cities, funeral rites - the show features various aspects of this culture and its “creative genius”.

The exhibition seeks to give both a general overview and to show the variety of styles and aesthetic achievements of the different Maya groups, each with their own language and their own forms of expression, according to the museum, which features collections of objects from the indigenous civilizations of Africa, Asia, Oceania and the Americas.

Often criticized as having ”colonial undertones” or “regressive tendencies”, the Quai Branly has been working with countries and national institutions to give an appropriate presentation of their collections. 

This exhibition was conceived and first shown by Mexico’s Instituto Nacional de Antropologia e Historia (INAH), highlighting the fact that the Maya originated in the Yucatán more than four millennia ago and saw their civilization rise to great heights in present-day southern Mexico, Guatemala and other areas.

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

INDIAN WRITERS IN SPOTLIGHT AT PARIS LITERARY FEST

The second edition of Écrivains du Monde (World Writers Festival) is featuring Indian authors in a range of discussions and events in Paris, France, this month.

Kirin Desai
(Photo by Annette Hornischer)
Taking place Sept. 17 - 21, this annual “celebration of world literature” brings together renowned writers such as Kiran Desai, Vikram Chandra and Amit Chaudhuri, alongside new voices, to talk about their work, globalization, language and politics, and other issues.

Organized by New York’s Columbia University and Paris’ Bibliothèque national de France (national library),  the festival decided to put the spotlight on India since one of Columbia’s Global Centers in located in the country, said festival director Caro Llewellyn.

“Last year, the festival was international, and this year we decided to focus on one of the countries where we have a Global Centre,” Llewellyn told SWAN. “There will be a lot of new names which I think is very exciting. We’re bringing writers that people may not have heard of, but that will change after this festival.”

Écrivains du Monde is the brainchild of Paul LeClerc, the director of Columbia Global Centers | Europe, which is known for organizing interesting symposiums on global and cultural issues. The festival partnered with a magazine in India and ran a competition to find emerging writers, five of whom will join masters students from Columbia University for “cross-cultural dialogue” and interaction.

Events begin Wednesday with a talk on Exile and Homecoming, to be held at Paris’ École Normale Supérieure, with novelist, poet, critic and academic Chaudhuri.

Amit Chaudhuri (Photo by Geoff Pugh)
The author of Clearing a Space: Reflections on India, Literature, and Culture will discuss his “impatience … with certain narratives (about India, Indian literature, modernity and modernism, etc.) and the way they compartmentalise" certain creative exploration, according to the festival organizers.

In conversation with Laetitia Zecchini, a researcher, translator and scholar of modern Indian literature, Chaudhuri will examine the “spaces he wants to clear; the way he himself navigates between different worlds and genres; the tensions of belonging; the singularity of his creative and critical writing, and his memoir Calcutta, Two Years in the City,” the organizers added.

Chaudhuri will also host a concert of This Is Not Fusion, a project in experimental music that he founded and which brings together genres including jazz, blues, and rock, with Indian raga.

The festival’s other events include an evening of readings in Bengali, Hindi, Tamil, and English as part of The Many Voices of India. This “show” features  acclaimed Indian authors based in India, Britain, and the United States: Booker Prize-winner Desai; poets and novelists Jeet Thayil and Uday Prakash; novelists Chandra, Indra Sinha, Shumona Sinha, and Akhil Sharma, and the celebrated Tamil poet Salma.

Part of the poster for the festival.
A 2013 documentary about Salma, by Kim Longinotto, will be screened, followed by a discussion with the poet. The film is about Salma’s life as a young girl in a south Indian village who was locked up for years beginning when she was 13 years old. Her family forbade her to study and forced her into marriage.

“During that time, words were Salma’s salvation,” according to Écrivains du Monde. “She began covertly composing poems on scraps of paper and, through an intricate system, was able to sneak them out of the house, eventually getting them into the hands of a publisher. Against the odds, Salma became one of the most famous Tamil poets today, discovered her own freedom and challenged the traditions and codes of conduct in her village.”

Sunday, 7 September 2014

EXPO: SOUTH AFRICAN EMBROIDERY CAPTURES HISTORY

Artists from two community groups in South Africa have for decades been using needle and thread to express views on issues affecting life in their country, and capturing history with the art of embroidery in the process.

Now the public has a chance to share these portrayals through an exhibition at the Fowler Museum at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), from Sept. 7 to Dec 7.

Embroidered textile, designed by artist Calvin Mahlauli.
(Photo: Don Cole, Courtesy of the Fowler Museum)
Under the title Bearing Witness: Embroidery as History in Post-Apartheid South Africa, the show comprises a selection of what the museum calls “fantastically-hued pictorial embroideries”. They were all produced around 2000, six years after the official dismantling of apartheid.

The artists (who hail from The Mapula Embroidery Project, founded in 1991 in the Winterveldt area outside Pretoria, and Kaross Workers, founded in 1989 on a citrus farm in Limpopo Province) portray historical events as well as their own personal experiences in remarkable stitch-work.

The objects “reveal the deeply political imaginations that have inspired them”, according to Gemma Rodrigues, Curator of African Arts at the Fowler Museum.

Among the topics covered by these “lyrical yet socially engaged tableaux” are the joyous celebrations of Nelson Mandela’s 85th birthday; the questioning of traditional gender roles; the impact of HIV/AIDS and other public health issues; and current affairs and global happenings in places as distant as New York City.

Curator Gemma Rodrigues
“People, animals, trees, and buildings embroidered in lilac, green, yellow, and red - colors chosen for their tonal harmonies and sparkling contrast - populate intricate narratives that pulse with life,” states the Fowler Museum.

The institution is devoted to exploring the arts and cultures of Africa, Asia and the Pacific, and the Americas, and holds a vast collection of more than 120,000 examples of world arts, including a repository of some 20,000 textiles that “trace the history of cloth over two millennia and across five continents”.

The embroideries on display belong to a group of 45 textiles collected in South Africa by William Worger and Nancy Clark, scholars and professors of South African history at UCLA and Louisiana State University respectively.

According to the Fowler, Worger and Clark’s deep interest in South Africa’s past first attracted them to the artworks and later inspired them to make their collection available for further study and display by donating them to the Fowler Museum.

A grouping of the textiles in Fowler in Focus.Courtesy of the museum.
In conjunction with its 50th anniversary, the museum is also presenting Fowler in Focus: Yards of Style, African-Print Cloths of Ghana

This separate exhibition, which runs until Dec. 14, examines how the double-sided and factory-produced cloths convey different messages about "individual and community values, reveal perspectives on taste and fashion, and offer telling insights into the global economy”, as the curators put it.

The Fowler is part of UCLA Arts and is located in the north part of the UCLA campus. For additional information: www.fowler.ucla.edu.

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

DIASPORA FILM FEST AIMS TO PROMOTE DIALOGUE, LINKS

With so many incidents of abuse of power taking place in the world, the African Diaspora International Film Festival is more than ever seeking to be a means of bringing people together and promoting dialogue, according to the organizers.

Diarah N'Daw-Spech and Reinalso Barro-Spech, organizers.
“This is an international festival that’s Afro-centric, but the aim is not to divide people but to promote and reshape the discourse,” says Diarah N’Daw-Spech, who co-founded the festival with her husband Reinaldo Barro-Spech.

Presented annually in New York, Washington, Chicago and Paris, the event’s fourth European edition takes place from Sept. 5 to 7 this year in the French capital, with the films aimed at generating discussion about the causes and effects of racism both in the United States and Europe.

The movies should also encourage people of African descent to discuss what being part of the Diaspora means, said N’Daw-Spech, the daughter of a Malian father and French mother, and whose husband was born in Cuba of mixed Haitian-Jamaican heritage.

“When you talk about the African Diaspora, everybody has their own understanding of what this means, although most people think of people coming from Africa,” N'Daw-Spech told SWAN. “But you can have roots in Africa without having been born there, and we want to look at the whole black experience.

An image from Freedom Summer
“It’s like opening a window on another world for people who either want to learn about themselves or who want to be exposed to others’ cultures,” she added “We see the festival as a way to create bridges across cultures, even across cultures of people of African descent.”

That is one of the reasons for the broad scope of the event. The opening film, Freedom Summer, puts the spotlight on the history of the American South, for instance, with a gripping documentary about the violence that met activists trying to encourage voter registration in Mississippi in 1964.

Director Stanley Nelson uses footage and testimony from the volunteers of the then Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee to portray the injustices that occurred in the state, which “remained virulently committed to segregation” in the Sixties.

Working to advance human rights in Freedom Summer.
Many of the Committee’s members were young white students who, according to the film, were “transformed” by their work in Mississippi. Their story and the experiences of the African-Americans they supported remind viewers of the sacrifices made just 50 years ago to ensure civil rights for all.

Nelson will be available for a public discussion after the screening, as such debates are an integral part of the festival, N'Daw-Spech said.

Other films are set in countries ranging from Jamaica to Cameroon and cover a diverse range of subjects that affect the African Diaspora. From the Caribbean come two films - a dramatic feature and a documentary - about the impact of legislation in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom that allows foreign-born individuals convicted of crimes to be deported to their countries of origin.

A scene from Home Again
The deportations create enormous problems for both the home nations and the individuals, many of whom grew up abroad. In Home Again, a feature directed by Sudz Sutherland, three individuals from varying backgrounds come into conflict with this legislation. After their forced return to Jamaica, their ostensible “home” country, these characters experience a series of challenges and violent situations that test their survival skills. They end up learning much about themselves as well as their environment.

The second film dealing with this subject is Deported (Expulsés), which “gives a voice” to offenders from the United States and Canada who have been deported to Haiti after serving their prison sentence in North America. Their offences ranged from violent crime to drunk-driving and petty theft, and the film focuses on their attempts at re-integration in the country of their birth.

Directors Rachèle Magloire and Chantal Regnault construct Deported around trips in Haiti (where they followed their characters for three years) and events in North America where some families have no idea of the lives of those who have been sent back.

The deported face new challenges in  Home Again.
Discussions will also accompany the screening of Deported, and N’Daw-Spech says she hopes the festival will highlight this under-reported issue.

Another topical film is Otomo, a feature that shares a glimpse into the day-to-day world of refugees. This film reconstructs the true story of a West African asylum seeker in Stuttgart, Germany, who physically assaulted a ticket inspector on the subway, fled the scene, and became the target of a huge manhunt.

The film shows how institutionalized racism drives a disempowered individual to violence and inhumanity, according to its director Frieder Schlaich, and this subject is particularly pertinent as Europe debates how to deal with undocumented migrants and its Roma population.

Moving to the arts, the festival includes a film about music with Tango Negro. This documentary, by Angolan director Dom Pedro, “explores the expression of African-ness inherent in the dance of the ‘tango’ and the contribution of African cultures to the dance’s creation”.

Tango Negro explores the African origins of tango.
Pedro provides insight into the dance’s origins and cultural significance, depicting the social life of African slaves, and he brings together musical performances and interviews from tango enthusiasts, historians and various participants.

Other films being screened include Names Live Nowhere, a docu-drama that  gives a candid portrayal of the lives of African immigrants in Belgium; and W.A.K.A., a feature set in Douala, Cameroon, about a young waitress who becomes pregnant, has no one to turn to, and who faces the decision of whether to terminate her pregnancy or have her child.

“What we hear from viewers is that the films that we bring are works that people don’t have access to at all,” says N’Daw-Spech. “So that gives us inspiration to keep going. We’re not interested in films that don’t have a serious topic or are one-dimensional. All the films have a message.”

For more on the Paris schedule, in English, go to: http://fifda.org/paris-adiff-2014-english/ The annual New York presentation of the festival  will take place in November.

Saturday, 23 August 2014

SCHOLAR BRIDGES DIVIDE, LIFTS DEBATE ON SLAVERY

When Lucia Nankoe was shown a photograph of writers from the French-speaking Caribbean recently, she was able to identify everyone by name. The same goes for the main authors from the Anglophone and Dutch-speaking countries in the region.

Lucia Nankoe
 (Photo: Monique Kooijmans, Amsterdam, June 2013)
Nankoe, a Surinamese scholar and lecturer at the University of Utrecht in the Netherlands, is among those working to bridge the Caribbean linguistic divides that are a result of colonialism.

Fluent in English, French and Dutch - three of the languages spoken in the Caribbean - she is able to understand a wide cross-section of works, and to examine the area’s history and literature from different perspectives. She is equally interested in fostering debate about the impact of slavery - a tragedy common to the islands.

Her latest project is De slaaf vliegt weg (The Slave Flies Away), a thought-provoking look at the portrayal and perception of slavery in the arts. Co-edited with Jules Rijssen, a researcher and filmmaker also from Suriname, the book has been used as a basis for public discussions about slavery.

In the Dutch city of Leiden, Nankoe and Rijssen recently hosted an open debate that examined the attitudes of the descendants of both slaves and slave-owners to their mutual history.

Sculpture by Jamaican artist Laura Facey:
"Their Spirits Gone Before Them".
Part of the Slave Route Project
© Laura Facey
“It’s evident that the issues about slavery are very much alive, and this was clear from the many questions posed,” Nankoe told SWAN. “Members of the public obviously think that more should be discussed at the national level than has been done up until now.”

The book is timely as this year the United Nations cultural agency, UNESCO, is “celebrating” the 20th anniversary of the Slave Route Project, an initiative that was created to heighten “understanding of the history of the slave trade in societies carrying this memory” and to promote intercultural dialogue.

August 23 is also the UN’s International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition. The day is observed annually “to remind people of the tragedy of the transatlantic slave trade”, and it gives people “a chance to think about the historic causes, the methods and the consequences”, the UN says.

The date recalls the uprising that began in Santo Domingo (now Haiti and the Dominican Republic) in August 1791 that “weakened the Caribbean colonial system” and led to the abolition of slavery and independence for the island. “It marked the beginning of the destruction of the slavery system, the slave trade and colonialism,” says the UN.

The organization is also preparing to launch the International Decade for People of African Descent (2015-2024), which should further help to advance dialogue about the 400 years of the trade in humans and its lasting effects.

Nankoe’s The Slave Flies Away comprises essays edited from lectures given in September 2009 in Amsterdam at an international conference on the relationship between historical novels and the imaging of the Netherlands’ history of slavery.

The speakers included the book’s co-editors and a multi-lingual roster of academics who explored the role of art forms on the public perception of slavery, and discussed the function of art in current debates about slavery's effects, particularly on the descendants of those enslaved.

The book focuses on the work of artists such as Letitia Brunst, Remy Jungerman, Frank Creton, Elis Juliana, Natasja Kensmil, and Ras Ishi Butcher, all of whom have portrayed slavery in one form or another. It includes literary contributions from a number of writers, including Rijssen.

Nankoe’s next project, still in its infancy, is a book with historian Jean Jacques Vrij that will comprise photographs from 1863, when slavery was abolished in Suriname. She believes that with the rise of nationalism and racism in many areas of the world, it's imperative to discuss these issues.

Meanwhile, her literary studies (she holds a degree in Modern Literature from the French university La Sorbonne) are continuing. Books she has edited include De komst van de slangenvrouw en andere verhalen van Caribische schrijfsters (The Arrival of the Snake Woman and Other Stories by Caribbean Writers), a collection that introduced several authors to a Dutch audience for the first time.

Thursday, 31 July 2014

WRITERS, ARTISTS AND A SINGER JAZZ UP THE SUMMER

L-R: artist Vu Can, writer Sadiad Youssouf, singer Denise King,
writer and medical doctor Caroline Vu, and writer and artist Alecia McKenzie.
Pictured below is Nam Tran Nguyen (Photo courtesy of Vu Can)
Despite the sweltering heat, spectators enjoyed a memorable evening of literature, art and jazz on Paris’ Left Bank last weekend, when a multicultural group of artists presented an unusual show before a large crowd.

The event, at the Espace Kaméléon gallery, featured a book launch, bilingual readings by three remarkable authors, an exhibition of fascinating paintings and some outstanding jazz improv.

Canadian-Vietnamese author and medical doctor Caroline Vu led the lineup, launching her novel Palawan Story in France after its publication and presentation in Montreal.

Jamaican author and artist Alecia McKenzie (SWAN’s editor) read from her novel Sweetheart, winner of the 2012 Commonwealth Book Prize for the Caribbean region, in a joint performance with American jazz singer Denise King, a master of improvisation. And Parisian writer Sadiad Youssouf read excerpts from her unpublished works of fiction.

In Palawan Story, Vu traces a sinuous path through the impermanence of identity as a young girl is sent off on a perilous boat trip to escape Vietnam and start a new life in North America. Vu says the inspiration for the book came from her desire to explore issues of memory, and the story delves into how characters survive traumatic experiences by burying recollections in the recesses of their minds.

McKenzie’s novel deals with complicated relationships, love and art, against the backdrop of the Caribbean and New York. Her vivid, concise, and direct style in Sweetheart grips the reader's attention with skill and humor as various characters reveal their ties to a famous Jamaican artist who has disappeared.

For Youssouf, who is of African and Vietamese descent, her childhood experiences in Djibouti inform her manuscripts, enthralling readers with rich, indelible scenes of Africa.

Artist Nam Tran Nguyen (photo by Vu Can)
The authors were joined by the Paris-based Vietnamese-French calligrapher Vu Can and prize-winning painter Nam Tran Nguyen who, along with McKenzie and her daughter, exhibited artwork that filled the gallery with colour.

The paintings, in a variety of media including oil and ink, were an integral part of this jazz-lit-art show, which King closed out with a superb a capella performance.


Thursday, 10 July 2014

POETS FROM THE CARIBBEAN SEIZE THE BALL AND SCORE

Young readers in the Caribbean and around the world are in for a treat with a vibrant new anthology of poetry titled Give the Ball to the poet.

Timed to coincide with the 2014 World Cup and the Commonwealth Games (23 July to 3 August in Glasgow, Scotland), the book has its own exciting tempo, with adroit word-play by writers from across the Caribbean region.

The poetic atmosphere is further enlivened by the dynamic illustrations of artist Jane Ray, giving the whole collection a colourful, sensuous flair.

“We tried to represent the past, the present and the future of Caribbean poetry,” says Morag Styles, Professor of Children’s Poetry at Cambridge University and one of the editors of the anthology along with Georgie Horrell and Aisha Spencer.

“Readers will find the uniqueness and music of the Caribbean here, and there are some delightful new voices alongside the more established poets,” Styles adds.

Poetry lovers will recognize the works of well-known writers such as Benjamin Zephaniah, Louise Bennett, Derek Walcott, Linton Kwesi Johnson, Olive Senior and Velma Pollard, among others, while the emerging generation of poets includes Kei Miller and Shara McCallum of Jamaica.

Prof. Morag Styles
Aimed primarily at students aged 11 to 16, the anthology will appeal equally to grown-ups as the poems range from humourous and cheery to serious and provocative.

The main emphasis is on Caribbean poetry as it is spoken, according to the editors, thus many of the poems seem to call out to be read aloud. Take “from Dreamer” by Jean Binta Breeze. It begins:  roun a rocky corner / by de sea / seat up / pon a drif wood / yuh can fine she.

This kind of lyricism and rhythm swings through the collection, whatever the topic. The anthology, in fact, has several themes, one of the first being sports and games. It is especially with sports that readers see the poets ready and willing to play - with language, ideas, meaning and more.

In Sir Garfield, John Agard of Guyana pays homage to one of cricket’s greatest players with a poem that holds the lines: he hit one six and he hit two six / he hit three six and he hit four six / he hit five six and he hit six six / Six six in a row. / Licks-o licks-o! Sir Garfield on de go.

Further, in the work that gave the book its name, Agard links writing and cricket, with these thoughts:

If is true de poet
does commune with nature,
then de fast bowler (don’t forget)
does talk to de wind.
So rub a poem on yuh flannel,
rub till de poem red as hell.
About time de poet
have a little spell.

In “Good Sport”, meanwhile, Jamaican poet Valerie Bloom writes wryly of the sleep-inducing qualities of some games, but again with that certain melody: I can’t understand people who do not like sport,/ I appreciate games of every sort,/ For I find that when I’m trying to sleep,/ Sports is much more effective than counting sheep.

Along with the more whimsical works, the anthology comprises some hard-hitting poems that have caused controversy even before this publication. An example is “I Am Nobody’s Nigger” by Dean Atta, who excoriates rappers for their use of the so-called N-word. Atta reminds readers that this was one of the last words heard by Stephen Lawrence, the young man murdered by racists in London in 1993.

The England-based poet rebukes those celebrities who “put money over everything … over self-respect and self-esteem,” charging that they “killed hip-hop and resurrected headless zombies”.

Jamaican poet Velma Pollard
This work and others form part of the poems of “resilience and resistance”, as Guyanese British poet Grace Nichols puts it in her foreword.

After the sports sections, the book “opens out into the broader concerns” of a complex Caribbean and its culture, she says.

The writers give us poems to "chant and sing and dance to as well as poems for quiet wide-eyed contemplation", says Nichols.

Velma Pollard's "Bridgetown" would fit this latter category, coming from a poet whose work has an artistic sensibility all its own. Because the sea / walks here / this city / hands you heaven, she writes. Words that could also be used to evoke the Caribbean.


Published by the Commonwealth Education Trust, Give the Ball to the poet is an outcome of the Caribbean Poetry Project, which is a collaboration between The University of the West Indies and the Centre for Commonwealth Education at the University of Cambridge. The book was produced by Third Millennium Publishing for the CET, with Neil Titman and team.

Jane Ray's illustration for a Jean Binta Breeze poem

Sunday, 29 June 2014

JAMAICAN AUTHOR, U.S. SINGER LAUNCH JAZZ-LIT MIX

What happens when an acclaimed American jazz singer takes the stage with an award-winning Jamaican writer? They produce an innovative art called Jamericazz©  - short stories interpreted on the spot and turned into original, unforgettable music.

Announcing Jamericazz©
Vocalist Denise King and author Alecia McKenzie, SWAN’s editor, met at an event organized by a mutual friend in Paris, France. McKenzie was asked to read one of her short stories, and she consented, but only if King would sing as well.

And so, Jamericazz© was born. The artists perform without rehearsing or even knowing in advance what each other will do. McKenzie, who has won two Commonwealth literary prizes, reads her stories, and King, who has graced stages around the world, improvises based on the reading.

The artists officially launched the exciting project at Waterstones bookstore in Brussels, Belgium, on June 28 to much appreciation, in the presence of the Jamaican Ambassador to Belgium and the European Union. The performance followed a poetic introduction by Patricia Viseur Sellers, a renowned American international lawyer and writer, who said: “In the beginning there was the word, and also the sound.”

Literature and jazz. Word and song. Jamericazz© is a celebration of oral storytelling and improvisation, key elements of both Caribbean and African-American culture. The artists plan to take the project to schools, bookstores and jazz clubs in different countries. 

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

ACTIVISTS AND ARTISTS FIGHTING TO PRESERVE REGGAE

There was a time when much of the music from Jamaica seemed to have hit rock bottom, and Sharon Gordon was among those disturbed by the plunge. Was this really what reggae had come to - songs showing a near-total lack of creativity, with vulgar and derogatory messages?

Sharon Gordon and singer Shaggy
Gordon, a Jamaican media expert living in New York, decided to do something about the issue. With her partner Carlyle McKetty, she founded the Coalition to Preserve Reggae (CPR) in 2005 with the aim of promoting talented musicians and restoring respect for the music.

Her efforts have done much to boost reggae, and earlier this year she was rewarded with the 2014 Woman of Great Esteem Emerald Award, an American prize that honours outstanding women who have “excelled beyond normal expectations in a multi-cultural society”, according to the organizers.

“Receiving this award for what I absolutely enjoy doing is a most awesome, humbling and gratifying feeling,” Gordon told SWAN, “It means that after so many years of hard work and pioneering efforts on my part of positively promoting, presenting and representing Jamaican culture, especially roots reggae music, there is recognition of my footprint in the Diaspora and it means a whole lot to me.”

Gordon says she was uncomfortably aware of just how “awful the vibes and commentary about the state of the music” was when she launched the CPR. She constantly heard complaints from colleagues and friends about the figurative black eye the songs were giving Jamaica.

“There was decadence, vulgarity and obscene lyrics and a sound that was highly frenetic and bore no resemblance to its mother Dancehall or even its grandmother, roots reggae,” she recalls. “It was not the most positive representation of our musical contribution to the world-stage, or of Jamaica in general. Both Carlyle and I felt compelled to do something about it, but what?”

Gordon with actor Karl Williams
and Jamaican filmmaker Storm Saulter
As someone who was “deeply invested” in the roots reggae scene in New York, having worked in various fields such as radio broadcasting and music promotion, Gordon felt she had the skills to make a difference. She took note of the fact that 2005 marked the 75th anniversary of the coronation of late Emperor Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia (“reggae's most significant muse”) and his Empress Menen.

“We looked at the landscape and saw that no one was doing anything to recognize this significant occasion in our history,” she says. “We felt it was important to do something that would highlight the unique relationship between Rasta, reggae, Selassie and Jamaica because we saw Rasta and reggae as two very significant gifts that Jamaica gave to the world in the 20th century.”

She and McKetty brought colleagues together and mounted the first annual Reggae Culture Salute concert to commemorate the coronation and its impact on reggae music. The show featured Third World, Morgan Heritage and Luciano, “representing the past, present and future of roots reggae at the time”, she says.

Gordon with her award.
The concert took place in New York and was a greater success than anyone expected. From that experience, Gordon says she discovered that “folks were really hungry for knowledge about reggae versus Dancehall”. She also found that there was a great deal of confusion about the differences between the various genres, and that people didn’t make a distinction between the crass new music and real reggae.

“Folks were calling this new sound and its practitioners homophobic, mysogonist, and criminals. So we felt an urgent need to let folks know that reggae music is about peace and love and unity, about oneness,” she says. “We felt that they needed to understand how we got to where we were and why.”

She also believed there had to be a way to explain the “social, political and economical implications of what had happened to silence the positive message of roots reggae music and instead elevate a more negatively channeled but absolutely catchy and hypnotic sound that was certainly not reggae.”

Soon after the concert, Gordon and McKetty presented the idea of the Coalition to Preserve Reggae, a non-profit organization based in Brooklyn, New York, and many fans embraced the concept. Since then the organization has been active in ever-expanding areas, including hosting the CPR Community Conversation Series, which are free monthly forums that examine topical issues and bring experts and the community together, for instance.

Gordon (2nd from left) with reggae musicians
This year's forums have so far looked at "The Future of Reggae Music", "Who is Making Money in Reggae" and "Understanding Intellectual Property". The month of June marks three years since Gordon and her partners launched CPRLive, an internet broadcast platform where they stream reggae music as well as host “progressive” programming with shows titled Social Living, Real Talk, Reggae Rising and Reggae Calling.

Some of the discussions have been heated, with Gordon and her partners getting flak when they criticize certain elements of the music, but she says she wants to jerk people out of their complacency.

On Nov. 1, CPR will host the 10th annual Reggae Culture Salute which has become the annual fundraiser for the Coalition. “Our mission is to raise the bar in the creation, development, promotion and presentation of our beloved reggae music,” Gordon says.

THE ARTISTS

This goal is shared by several dynamic young musicians, including Jubba White, a co-founder
of the popular Jamaican band Dubtonic Kru.

Masia One
Like Gordon, White is one of the movers behind the current “reggae renaissance” movement that is re-energizing Jamaican music. His self-described aim is to produce “handcrafted reggae music with international appeal and strictly conscious, uplifting messages”.

After many years of working with his band, White recently decided to put his own company, White Stone Productions, more into the limelight, and last month he released two interesting new singles on the VPAL record label.

One of the singles is by Masia One, a Singapore-born Canadian reggae and hip-hop singer who wants to spread reggae throughout Asia. Her song “X Boyfriend” is a catchy number which has been getting much airplay in Jamaica and also gaining attention elsewhere.

“Reggae is appreciated in Malaysia, but I want to see it grow in other countries in the region,” says Masia, who lived and taught in Jamaica for a few years. She’s currently based in Singapore but she and White are working long-distance on her new album "Lim and The Lion” which will feature songs in the reggae tradition but with a youthful new vibe.

Gordon sees all this as a positive development. "I’m delighted that this is happening,” she says. “Jubba’s work certainly demonstrates exactly why Dubtonic Kru received CPR's first SIMBA Award in 2011.” The SIMBA Award is for those who have shown a dedication to creating and presenting “good quality roots reggae music", she adds. - A.M.

For more information on the Coalition to Preserve Reggae: http://www.cprreggae.org 

Sunday, 25 May 2014

DARING FILMS WITH A SOCIAL MESSAGE WIN AT CANNES

Most movie-goers would probably balk at sitting for three hours and 16 minutes to watch a film, but in the case of Winter Sleep by Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan, nearly every minute is worth it.

Nuri Bilge Ceylan
The movie has won the top Palme d’Or prize at the Cannes International Film Festival in France, fitting the mould of what jury president Jane Campion called “the brave and the original”.

Campion said the festival celebrates authorship and “films with a unique vision and their own personal voice”, and she might well have been describing Winter Sleep.

Set in central Anatolia, the film explores the stormy relationship between a former actor (played by Haluk Bilginer) and his young wife (Melissa Sözen) against the backdrop of inequality and social tension.

The director uses striking imagery, subtle humour and absorbing dialogue to hold viewers’ attention, and at the end, one is left with questions about how the individual can help to improve the world.

Ceylan said that when he wrote the film’s script, he did so as if he were writing a novel, and the movie does have the expansive feel of great literature, with its themes of self-examination and personal redemption.

A scene from 'Winter Sleep'
At the award ceremony on May 24, Ceylan dedicated the prize to “the young people of Turkey and to those who lost their lives during the year” – a reference to the political protests that have shaken his country as well as to a recent mining tragedy.

Ceylan’s work was among the 18 films in competition for the Palme d’Or, with several other filmmakers also addressing social issues, politics, war and human rights. Mauritanian-born director Abderrahmane Sissako presented a moving and timely drama about civilians resisting tyranny, but his film Timbuktu was surprisingly shut out of the main awards.

Abderrahmane Sissako
It did however win the prize of the independent Ecumenical Jury, which described the work as “a strong yet nuanced denunciation of an extremist interpretation of religion”.

The jury, comprising Protestant and Catholic movie experts, said its prize honoured Timbuktu's “high artistic achievement and its humour and restraint”.

“While offering a critique of intolerance the film draws attention to the humanity inherent in each person,” the jury added.

Timbuktu tells the story of a family in the north of Mali during the region’s occupation by religious extremists who have banned music, smoking and even football. Women are being told how to dress and behave and those who speak out are swiftly punished. But people still manage to resist, even in silence.

A scene from 'Timbuktu' 
The film gained much praise during the festival, which began May 14 and ended today with re-screenings of the movies, and critics commended both the director and his cast for their courage. At one press conference, Sissako broke down in tears and was applauded sympathetically by those present

“Maybe I’m crying in the place of all these people who’ve experienced these things, who truly suffered,” he said. "I consider that the people who were really courageous are the ones who experienced these events firsthand. When it’s your job to be a filmmaker, when you can do it, you have to spare no effort, you have to go even beyond what you thought you were capable of, you have to be daring enough to take risks, even if you fail.”

The poster for Charlie's Country
Another noteworthy prize went to the Australian Aboriginal actor David Gulpilil, who won the best actor prize in the Un Certain Regard category of the festival for Charlie’s Country, a film he co-wrote with director Rolf de Heer.

This category highlights “different” or off-beat works and featured 20 films in competition, representing 23 nationalities. Charlie’s Country was among the films that received a standing ovation, with critics giving high ratings to its depiction of Aboriginal life and struggles.

Gulpilil plays an ageing character who, fed up with governmental intervention in his community, decides to return to an older way of life, and the film follows his tragi-comical journey. 

The Un Certain Regard top prize went to White God (Fehér Isten), a riveting allegorical movie about a mixed-breed dog who has to fight to survive after a society declares his kind of dog unwanted. The film’s Hungarian director Kornél Mundruczó said his work is a metaphor for Europeans’ treatment of minorities.

Ironically, as the festival ended, far-right, anti-immigrant political parties in France and the United Kingdom garnered a high percentage of the vote in elections for the European Parliament, and Mundruczó’s cautionary tale suddenly seemed a harbinger of real-life darkness. - A.M.

For the list of all prizes, see: http://www.festival-cannes.com/

Canine stars of "White God"