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Social Commentary

/inspired by/

“SEASONS” inspired by Ms. Lauryn Hill

life moves in seasons.

imagine this with me:

in the fall we are walking on the plain, the lowest we can ever be, contemplating the goal, feeling out the possible pain, understanding the mistakes, understanding the consequences /

in the winter we are climbing the mountain, we see the journey clearly, we gather the armour and climb steadily, carefully, but we can always fall off the cimb only to start over, if this happens, each time the climb gets harder /

in the spring (the months when most opportunities appear, march, april, may) we are at the peak of the mountain, the height of your harnessed abilities appears here, this is practically the end– where the vertex of our abilities meet– but the peak can either be the height of failure or the height of success, and you will know it /

in the summer we are sliding down hill, it is fun but do remember we are going down. again when fall appears, we forget about the past mountain and contemplate a new one /

/Selah/

[cover art: Kehinde Wiley, “Ship of Fools” (2017)]

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Creative Media

Caribbean Artists on Art: Devon Ramdass | Our YouTube Future

I was so excited to find a Caribbean YouTuber who took his content and video quality seriously that when I contacted Devon Ramdass in December for this interview, I (the dumbass) assumed that he was only influenced by Casey Neistat.

Devon told me, “Casey has definitely stapled the “drone shot followed by handheld” sort of look for vlogs. I look up to him in terms of content quality of course, but I am definitely more influenced by people like Sawyer Hartman and Peter McKinnon.” Huh.

You see, all of Devon’s vlogs open with flawless drone shots overlayed with instrumentals then he cuts to a hand-held. Neistat does a lot of that but I’ve come to realize that intro isn’t special/rare. Devon is less interested in the aesthetics of Neistat’s mini movies and more in the style of Sawyer and McKinnon. “Their style and color grading makes you feel a certain way when watching their videos and that’s what I hope to achieve.” Huh. I need to do more research.

Devon is a Trinidadian tech-entrepreneur and a speed-talker. The two combinations make some words fly over my head when I watch his vlogs, but the organic interactions between he and his friends (#smashlife!) gives me a peek into this whole other culture and that’s worth it.  It’s unfair that his vlog channel does not have more than 1,100+ subs. but he is still appreciative of it all,“Everything I do at the moment is all thanks to YouTube. Before starting my main channel where I do tech reviews, I didn’t have the simplest idea of what shooting editing and producing a video in general entailed.”

His main channel, Devon X Scott, has been up for about three years and the moment he decided to take it seriously and the moment things started to turn around were simultaneous. “If I had to pinpoint one specific moment it would honestly be the day I got my first Adsense cheque (Devon made a video on making money from YouTube, watch it, here). To experience doing something with your computer and a website and then seeing a physical cheque come in your mail is a pretty amazing feeling!”

Devon does technology reviews and content production for local Trinidadian dealerships and gigantic companies like LG and Samsung. “Since starting [YouTube], I now do videography and photography professionally and I own a relatively successful graphic design company. All of which birthed due to having to learn those skills to further my YouTube channel.”

Yea, you read that right. YouTube gave him the opportunity to create the beginnings of an enterprise.

I believe the beauty and ultimate success of of YouTube is it’s intimacy, it’s an intimacy that T.V. and movies can’t give us. It has this great ability to connect the most random group of everyday people with a range of  talents to create a YouTube culture and anybody can add to it.

I told Devon that we have social media stars here in Jamaica who are making a living from using their personality to add to this culture but that I think they don’t have the true professional mindframe that even the youngest of American Youtubers have. The biggest problems we face in Jamaica are that generally: video quality and editing are not taken seriously, vlogs are boringly long and plotless and video releases are inconsistent and uncreative because everybody wants to be a comedian.

Devon agreed that Caribbean YouTubers’ video quality is poor, the same thing happens in Trinidad. He basically told me the same thing that Romario Lynch did: we have very low standards in the Caribbean when it comes to art. Devon said, “If you look at most widely known productions locally especially TV ads and segments, they set the bar pretty low in my opinion.” Romario said, “I notice, across all fields of work [in Jamaica], much attention isn’t paid to detail or quality of work. I see it in ‘fancy restaurants’ where they just use the cheapest ingredients.  I see it in construction and even carpentry where work is decent but not perfect. There are people can cook and there are people who create dishes. There are people who can work a camera and there are people who capture moments… Creativity isn’t as valued out here as it is overseas.”

And this is sad because YouTube not only helps an individual, but a country. “My YouTube work has resulted in monetary gain locally here in Trinidad and Tobago due to companies contacting me for video production purposes,” Devon said. “Being noticed by those large companies really showed me the sheer power that platforms like YouTube and its international reach can offer to creators, even if you’re in the Caribbean.”

However, both Devon and Romario believe that the creative fields are growing so rapidly that in time things will change. “Truly I believe that the next generation will raise the standards in terms of video quality for sure,” Devon said. And I believe him too because the funniest part of all this is that we have everything we need to start a Caribbean YouTube revolution: content and culture… Devon said, “Being a “good YouTuber” isn’t just about the gear you use, but the content you produce. If your content is on point, that’s the most important thing.” …we just need to work on the rest. Especially since it’s so easy to start too, a modern smartphone is all you need. That’s how most Youtubers started out and most importantly, that’s exactly how Devon Ramdass– one of The Caribbean’s rising YouTube stars in my eyes– started out. –Bless.

[cover image by: Devon Ramdass]

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Creative Media

Caribbean Artists on Art: Lila Iké | The Mama Song Formula

Lila Iké’s song, “Biggest Fan” is a rarity for me among female Reggae artistes. In my experience “mama songs” are usually reserved for males– Gyptian’s, “Ma Ma” and Sizzla’s, “Thank You Mama” pop up to me easily– not because females love their mothers less than males do but because Jamaican parents are usually harder and are generally more influential on their sons than on their daughters. So when Lila’s debut single gave a female perspective on a personal struggle, her career path, it was not only different from Gyptian’s and Sizzla’s song for that reason, it was also refreshing and more intimate to me.

The song has propelled her to go on tour with Protojé in 2017, who currently signs Lila under his In.Digg.Nation Collective label. I asked her what sort of emotions performing for a different crowd every time evokes.  I wondered how scary it was. Lila said, “Performing on tour does evoke a lot of emotions. I am excited because I get to finally do what I have always dreamt of doing. Performing in a different space is also exciting and scary because I don’t know what to expect.” And I feel like that is the benefit of being a new artiste. There is freedom to surprise the audience, no one really knows what your presence is suppose to feel like as yet and maybe this why she said of performing, “I usually have no expectations and so I challenge myself to please every set of audience both at home and away… [I want]  to bring good vibes always and provide music that is universally accepted and in the same breath make my mom proud that I am actually doing what I wanted to do something that she was scared of.”

And listening to, “Biggest Fan” you understand her mother’s fear. Being in the music industry is often seen as harsh and unforgiving especially for females. In one line Lila sings of her mother’s fear of sexual favours, “You feel like no producer bwoy can carry go a studio and lock up.”

I think Ms. Iké is half way there though because her curly afro and John Lennon specs has given her a signature style, which she explained was somehow born out of comfort.“The glasses are tested (I’m farsighted lol) but I chose to get the frames in that style because I don’t like the regular frames. My hair is just easier to handle in an afro so I normally wear it like that; I guess overtime it has become a signature but my style is really not limited at all. I style according to my mood really.”

But even with eye catching image for younger audiences popular music nowadays is almost completely reserved for dancehall. Once in awhile you will hear one or two Reggae songs being dropped in a prime time segment at a party– most recently there is Agent Sasco’s, “Winning Right Now” and Dre Island’s “We Pray” featuring Popcaan –but the crowds don’t come to the parties for Reggae and Lila sees this. Getting exposure is hard, especially for females.

“I feel exposure is hard to gain for females in the music business and because of this females usually feel that its easier to “buss” quicker in Dancehall rather than Reggae music.” And maybe it is, but for the music Lila produces thankfully there is a new wave of young Reggae artistes. Chronixx & Protojé lead the charge, reinvigorating  young people, and Lila is prepared to ride the wave while still understanding that, “One of the major challenges is making a career out of it [Reggae music]– in and out of Jamaica. I got the opportunity to perform for yaad and abroad and see where it is very well received and is in demand so this has inspired me and I’ve become more driven to conquer the odds.”  

It is this perseverance that in a twist, has made her mom come around, and has given Lila inspiration for her first major single (her second single, “Gotti Gotti” was released five months after her first). It is a twist that she really appreciates. “What surprises me most is because I believed in my music for myself, I got to see my mother turned a listen ear. Not only that, she has been encouraging me since and this all happened in a short period.” Her Mom is one of her biggest motivators and that is the winning formula for the perfect “mama song” I have realized: appreciation + love = mother heroines. “Ma Ma,” had it, “Thank You Mama” had it, and now “Biggest Fan” has it and if you don’t believe me while on stage Lila confesses, “While performing sometimes (lol) I usually mute the crowd and imagine my mom is the only one sitting in the audience. At that point I feel so proud of myself and my brand which I’m creating.” — Bless.

[cover image by: Nickii Kane]

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Creative Media

Caribbean Artists on Art: Romario Lynch | The Timeless Photo

My earliest memory of appreciating a beautiful photograph came from Vogue magazine. It was 2006 and the autumn issue that year saw Beyoncé and Jamie Foxx on the cover. From my memory Beyoncé had that model perfect c-pose and Foxx wore a black suit, the collar loose, fedora tipped, hugging the queen with hover hands. They looked flawless.

But seeing the cover now, the picture looks boring. Even back then I felt ambivalence after looking at the cover a little too long. Beyoncé’s and Foxx’s teeth were too white, their skin too flawless, and where was that wind blowing Beyoncé’s hair coming from?

So, when I emailed Romario Lynch, a young Jamaican graphic designer/ photographer,  just before Christmas last year, the first question I wanted to ask him was what makes a timeless photograph.

His series: ChocolatéCodeine Crazy, and Red October, as well as his digital photo book, “seen by LYNCH Vol. 1: 100 Shots from 2015,” are the works Romario is most proud of.  Especially of his earliest nude series, he said, “This was my first attempt at nude photography and I’m pleased with how the images came out.” (expect a sequel to his “Beautifully Torn” series, an experiment involving censorship and beauty, soon.)

I understand that photos should be appealing in some way but why does appealing to many people consist of the perfectly composed shot? Romario gave me three techniques for the timeless photograph.

“I started taking photos on cellphones in high school,” he said. “I’d take photos and try to give them a certain look, and what appeals to me is vibrancy and contrast. For me, these things give a moment more character.” Yes, his photos are very high on character.

He’s popular for his saturated night photos that feature backgrounds of deep, dark, black skies which allow human faces– usually swept up in some kind of intense emotion– to shine through. However, his day photos focus on the environment more. There are varying levels of intense greens and orange-browns for grass and land but the skies can be anything from blinding white to soft purple. Romario says, “I edit my photos to create the mood or atmosphere that the camera doesn’t pick up.” This editing he believes adds to the timelessness of photos as well as having an eye for rare human moments. “The second someone sees a lens pointed at them, they put on this mask that doesn’t show the real them, ruining the moment. I see beauty in untouched moments and that’s why I capture them.”

More than anything else though Romario is obsessed with the female form, “They say if you want to see what a man holds dear to him, watch what he photographs… I love the female form. It’s wonderful. The different features that make up a face or a body. The symmetry. Similarities and differences between them. It’s all beautiful.” And so it’s no surprise that a lot of his photography includes artistic nudes of faceless women in various positions usually on a bed or in water.

Taking nudes demands a level of trust between the model and cameraman, don’t you think? A woman stripped and looked at by a man is vulnerable whether nakedness is her choice or not. “My technique involves being observant and somewhat hidden.” he’s says, not of taking nudes, but as his final criteria for the timeless photo. But it this technique that I think is the most understated.

I think for a naked model it’s more important to feel as if you are looked upon by lens than by the eyes of a man but he says not quite.“With my nude photos, I choose someone who isn’t afraid to show their body. They’re usually close friends of mine so we’re comfortable in each other’s space, and that’s important. This makes shooting much easier as it’s less of a “shoot” and more like two friends hanging out, allowing the full expression of one’s true colors. No mask.”

For the interview my favourite thing that Romario said was this: “What got me started in photography was the fascination with freezing time.”

The three basic techniques he gave me for the timeless photo are seen in the foundation of all good photographs, I think: the hidden camera, the observant cameraman who captures honest emotion and the appealing editing. That Vogue magazine cover I saw at 9 or 10 years old lacked all of these things though. And when I think back to these two words: “freezing time,” I understand that a boring photograph is a waste of time because life’s too short to hold to boring moments. Yea. Pause. Wait a while and just let that sink in for a minute. –Bless.

[cover image by: Romario Lynch]

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Creative Media

4/4 | December

Today  I want to share with you a few of my favourites from the fourth quarter of the year. Merry Christmas and have a happy New Year when it comes. I’ll see you in February! 

LISTEN:

Slam Poetry

Slam is dub poetry minus the African drum beat. I think slam is what poetry was meant to be until paper got in the way. Porsha O. introduced me to the art form with the genius piece that is,  ‘Angry Black Woman’ and ‘Damn Right’ (Damn right I pay eighty thousand dollars for a education and still walk around stupid…); I keep a printout of ‘How To Cure a Feminist’ by Kait Rokowski on my bedroom door as the last thing I see before I walk into the world, it helps me to  cope with just trying to be a woman; when I saw some pictures from Davianne Tucker’s series this month, her words reminded me of Dominique Christina’s, ‘The Period Poem’; Edwin Bodney’s ‘When a Boy Tells You He Loves You’ will always come to me before love itself…

What I’m saying is this:

I dare you to listen to slam and not feel your blood rushing to your skull a new, I dare you to listen to slam and not think differently about your world, your art and why you aren’t doing more in both areas, I dare you to listen to slam and not feel a little bit more wiser, a little bit more complete and sadly a little bit more stony… the truth tends to do these things to us.

Songs

Banana Clip’ and ‘Told You So’ by Miguel

Taken from his fourth studio album, War & Leisure, these songs prove that Miguel has found the formula. Every, single, song on the album is perfect but these two are a stand out for me. The video for ‘I Told You So’ features some political images, like clips from Trump protests, and Miguel mentions protecting his girl in ‘Banana Clip’ (There’s a war on love/ Just look around you/It’s hard to know who to trust) these things make the album socially and politically conscious without losing the Rn’B power. I feel like that is so rare for modern artistes. I think that this shows the maturity in Miguel’s songwriting and I guess this is why the album is so great to me. He’s not trying as hard with digital funk beats and overt sexuality like he did before, he just lets the dreaminess and the truth of the music happen. Miguel’s  truly the amalgamation of M.J. and Prince for our generation, the only (distant) competitor to the throne is The Weeknd.

Express Yourself’ by Markus Guentner

Equals-film-poster-(2015)

Equals film poster (2015).

To find this piece anywhere is a b!tch, mostly because it’s a part of the soundtrack to the 2015 futuristic romance film, Equals, that came out to a limited release. The film itself is really very pretty and heartfelt, but it’s this piece that I want you to focus on. This music genre I found out is called, Atmospheric Electronica/ Ambient Pop, it’s soothing and freeing so much so that when I wake up and listen to ‘Express Yourself’ with headphones on my mind becomes instantly clear. It’s like I’m being washed by rain on a quiet night on the first day of autumn every time I listen to this. Which is everyday.

Honourable Mentions

The song, Saved’ by Khalid from his debut album, American Teen, for capturing the sad torture that is heartbreak (the whole album is like this, honestly) for Millennials which is kind of scary for a dude who just graduated high school last year– he’s 19 now– and is already up for five grammys next year. Like, what am I doing with my life?

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Erykah Badu and D.R.A.M. perform, ‘WIFi’ at the 2016 Soul Train Awards (image source: Mindy Small/ FilmMagic).

The song, ‘WiFi’ by D.R.A.M. ft. Erykah Badu for being the funniest and weirdest love song I’ve ever heard in my entire life. D.R.A.M opens with the seductive Rn’B whisper, “Do you got Wi-Fi?” and by the time Ms. Badu answers, “Boy I got Wi-Fi!” You’d think she said “Of course!” after D.R.A.M  asked her to marry him. In a way the song perfectly sums up what the Wi-Fi password status in modern relationships mean, it’s more than a hallmark of love, exchanging the Wi-Fi password says, “This a new level, I trust you now.”

The song,Hold Me’ by Janine and The Mixtape taken from her 2014 EP, Dark Mind, for giving me a haunting, distant yet emotional sound about the fear of strong love fading. I call Janine the softer version of Jessie J.

WATCH:
YouTube

Vox and The Verge

I have this vision of creating the Jamaican version of these two channels in the near future. I am obsessed with the content quality from the both of them. This is what news should look like, Vox particularly uses wonderful graphic design to illustrate and simplify complicated news stories and The Verge is practically the benchmark for quick and brutal tech. reviews in my opinion (runner-up: MrMobile). These two channels to me represent the YouTube future that Jamaica should pursue.

Honourable Mentions

Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk for its style and ambition only. The manipulation of time seen from the air (1 hour), the sea (1 day) and the land (1 week) is the star of the film. There is this old fashion sentimentality that you feel whilst watching it,  it’s less about blood and gore and the horrors of war and more about one man’s will to survive. That was really refreshing to see. However, the trade-off is that by the end of the film when they return home I didn’t celebrate with them because they never entered war so catharsis never occurred for me therefore any kind of celebration felt half-baked. 

Bad-Genius-(2017).

A scene from the film Bad Genius (source: Cinema Scope / DCP, 2017).

The Thai film, Bad Genius for giving a face to what The West translates as horror stories about the seriousness of Asian school examinations. Some years ago I remember this picture circulating on Twitter and I remember thinking, if parents would do this, nothing is far-fetched. In Bad Genius a young girl cheats in her exams for those who can pay. The story is entertaining and poignant because after the thriller element thaws you realize that the poor will always be bottom feeders because money can always trump hustle and academic brilliance.   

The documentary, Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work [watch it here] for showing that aging in Hollywood is a really death sentence but that comedy is one of the few professions that gives you a thicker backbone as you age. Joan says half way through the film:

“It’s such a hard business… this is the one business in the world it is total rejection. I’m 75 and I’m still rejected. In this business you are mud your whole life.”

This was released in 2010 but I wasn’t interested in Ms. Rivers then but, I dunno, I was watching an old interview with her the other day and it surprised me because I felt like she wasn’t dead and so I went looking for her. She’s one of those people who puts up a front for everybody but she’s a real one, and her soul really shines through in this documentary. God rest her soul.

READ:

The Anatomy of Story: 22 Steps to Becoming a Master Storyteller by John Truby

I suggest you read The Anatomy of Story [read a chapter by chapter synopsis here] if you are an aspiring writer who wants to start your journey to actually sounding like a real one. Truby is a teacher and screenwriter so the book gives an exhaustive map of story structure through character and plot. The first 7 steps fleshes out your characters with things like ‘weakness and need’ and ‘desire’ and towards the end the book Truby zooms in on the intricacies of plot focusing on things like ‘theme line’ and ‘moral argument.’ You get homework too as The Godfather, Casablanca and Tootsie are the main examples used to drive home the points.

Disclaimer: read this with a grain of salt. Don’t swat the rules else your writing will become stiff, but don’t forget them entirely else your writing may lose or lack momentum which is something that has to be learned. I am no expert, trust me, more anything after reading this I realized how difficult writing really is.   

Honourable Mention
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Barack Obama and Donald Trump during the inauguration. (image source: Damon Winter. The New York Times, 2017).

The New York Times’ ‘The Year in Pictures 2017′ for showing that the world is bigger and more troubled than we can ever imagine but that through the timelessness of photography every issue has a voice and every issue has beauty in it. — Bless. 

[cover art by: Shevon Johnson]

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Creative Media

LIFE SHORTS DESIGNS

Life Shorts Designs 
By Monique Lennon
Based on true events

Dear Reader,

Take what you want from this piece but as you will see, writing this was more for me than it is for you.

I was in a state last night where I wanted to roll up and sink into myself. Like, I wanted to return as an egg to my mother’s uterus. I mourned for my self, contemplated how helpless I was against my emotions so much so that I did not do anything productive but stare unblinkingly at buffering YouTube videos of Casey Neistat and NYT articles on the latest Safdie brothers film.

In times like these I don’t talk.

I empty myself of strong emotions.

I mute them inside my head and watch myself outside myself– I become a projection if you will– squirm and whine and give up, hands flailing in agony and frustration, at how easily I make excuses for myself and then I officially, withdraw.

I have issues. Psychology class has blatantly pointed that out. But lately, when I am alone at night tossing at 2AM and listening to the leaves rustle in the Christmas breeze, I recreate my childhood and the teenage years, adamant, fixated on finding the moments in time that made me like this. And it is pointless because I only do it to extend the emotions that hurt  me. Doing this only tells me that  I am addicted to the grief, to the emotional mutilation.

Idle: I mentioned Casey Neistat earlier. His YouTube channel is the hippie’s adventure isn’t it? It’s about living life on your own terms and earning a living from it but I try not to watch Neistat that much. He’ll lead me down the white American’s road of achieving dreams with a Les Brown vinyl on in the background egging me on and I am not white or American plus I have issues with self, remember? Have to come to terms with my own reality first before I can dive into the world of dream chasing. Sad.

And it has always been like this. Emotions are rocky for me. I commit to nothing but often feel so much. And the issue is not really about identifying the pitfalls of the way I cope when sh!t gets to me, it’s more about why it is only in times of low that I see how unhappy I am with the overall picture. No other time. Know what I mean? And while I am torturously squeezing myself into the fetal position on the edge of my bed at nights is when I am in a great position to disassembly these epiphanies… Oh, the sweet irony. 

No, I know that you’re not any closer to figuring out what the hell you just read but it’s fine. Listen, last night will be one of many nights to come.

With Love, 

M. L.                                                                                                                                

[cover art by: Ruud van Empel]

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Creative Media

3/4 | October

Today  I want to share with you a few of my favourites from the third quarter (not really) of the year.

Read:

The novel, Rum Punch by Elmore Leonard/ Jackie Brown directed by Quentin Tarantino.

Many people don’t know this but Leonard is often cited in the top five, usually second to Stephen King, in the number of works by an author that has been adapted to the screen. Rum Punch is the sequel to the first Leonard novel that I read at age fourteen, The Switch, and the rapid-fire dialogue, strong female leads, and witty humor had a huge influence on me back then (I have been a Leonard fiend ever since). Whereas The Switch is characterized by the friendship of two kidnappers, conniving Ordell and sweet Louis, who ironically rescue a bored house wife from her cheating husband only to fail at ransome negotiations, Rum Punch tells the grittier more violent story of the years following those events. In 1997 Rum Punch was filmed as Jackie Brown by Quentin Tarantino and the author has said that it’s the best adaptation of his work, ever. If you pay attention too, you will realize that a lot of the director’s signature style is a direct influence of Leonard’s genius– just watch the film, here [or if you are one from a dying breed, read (epub, pdf)] to see what I mean.

Watch:
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Dave Chappelle for Netflix, 2017.

The comedy special, ‘The Age of Spin’ by Dave Chappelle.

So I have watched the two Chappelle specials that Netflix released in March and this is the better one– it focuses more on culture while ‘Deep in the Heart of Texas’ deals with mostly morality and race. He is no longer skinny, goofy and nasal-sounding, but Chappelle is still culturally aware and delivers intelligent and morally fluid storylines. His humor now feels more mature to me, may be he’s more grown up now or may be I am– maybe it’s because I’m watching him talking about things I am living through rather than things I only heard about in his 2000 specials. ‘Age of Spin’ touches on controversial areas like homosexual gangsters and his son meeting Kevin Hart and Key and Peele stealing his formula but the key highlight is the four times he’s met O.J. Simpson which Chappelle sprinkles throughout the special leaving the best story for last. Yep, everything we wanted, Chappelle answered and more. The king has returned.


Honourable Mentions

The films, Baby Driver and Atomic Blonde for interweaving music irrevocably into their plotlines. Music gives both films perfectly timed, more elastic, more graceful action scenes but mostly they just make them feel cooler. This is especially true of Atomic Blonde, a beautifully shot neon-lit, cold feeling spy thriller that gives us nothing we haven’t seen before except Charlize Theron kicking ass to 90’s classics like, ‘Major Tom.’ I wouldn’t be surprised if this was the start of a franchise. On the other hand Baby Driver traces the life of a getaway driver as he falls in love and makes plans to get away for good. Sounds easy enough but the director, Edgar Wright has a knack for focusing on details and using sharp editing (and pumping 50 year-old juke box pop songs into chase scenes) that gives the film originality, like it’s opening scene.

The song, ‘Pine & Ginger’ produced by valleyz for being smooth electro-dancehall fire. Released quietly in January, the song is social media’s open secret that we all silently wait for Billboard to hear about. Similarly, the song, ‘Love Situations‘ by 19 year-old Jada Kingdom has that same fresh dancehall hybrid sound that I see a future for now more than ever before. Lastly, the song, ‘Upholstery’ from Damian Marley’s Stony Hill album for giving me a strong dancehall production with bars on the female form that remind me of ‘All Night,’ behind  a strong baseline. And, for producing the word of the year, ‘Mermale.’

[cover art by: Iris Scott]


 

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Religion

The Book of Life

When I was a teenager my mother would beat me to go to church. And not using the traditional belts with the iron buckle– oh, no, my mother was ingenious– hanger, shoes heel… broom… ply board. She was fearless. She beat to coerce not to harm but I was resolute, stubborn and proud. It was not until very recently, through the medium of YouTube nonetheless, that I became interested in the Bible, not as a medium through which to have a relationship with God– I’m still working on that– but as an interesting area of study.

For example, I just found out that Moses was an introvert that is why he was paired up with the more outspoken Aaron, proving that  both personalities are necessary for leadership. Wicked! But one of the more interesting things I found was that there are three beautiful books in the Bible: Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and Job, called The Wisdom Series that explain the meaning of life from three different perspectives. Please, if you have the time watch them on this amazing channel, The Bible Project. The site traces majority of the Bible’s stories through animation, revealing things about men and women and God that are frightening relatable. Quick lessons I learnt from The Book of:

Proverbs

says that life rewards and punishes each man by the integrity of his actions. So, if you are evil you are finished, if you are good you are rewarded. Fair enough.

Ecclesiastes

however, says that this is a lie. Ecclesiastes teaches that life is broken down into three areas: chance, time and death. Good things happen to bad people because that is life: the newborn baby dies while the rapist wins the Super Lotto. There is no reason, cause or vendetta behind these events; truly, they create bigger ripples in God’s universe than we as humans can ever imagine. Secondly, there were people and riches and land etc. long before us and there will be more of these things long after us, we ain’t special. Also, time is the ultimate master and equalizer, we will all get where we need to be, we can’t fight fate. Lastly, the good and the bad shall both return to the earth as dust. No man is more than another regardless of the segregation that occurred during his lifetime.

Job

merges both perspectives together through an anecdote. Regardless of the fact that he was a rare thing, a wealthy and a righteous man, Job was randomly chosen by God to suffer loss without reason. As time went by, Job mourned, forsaked, returned to God and rebuilt. God eventually gifts to him so much more that what he lost and then Job eventually dies.

The Epiphany

The Wisdom Series helped me, along with losing some important parts of myself that defined me this year, to streamline realistically the person reflected back at me each day. For a long time I was in mourning and now I am finally deciding to heal, slowly. I see true humility as one of the most misunderstood and hardest things to attain in this lifetime, The Book of Job helped me to understand that, and it is probably why on a whim, one night, this summer, I woke up, felt philosophical and decided to write this for myself (and now for you):

There is always a lot of talk about success. As if showing that you are winning is good enough. Show me the lives that you have touched, the people you have given opportunities, the people who you have turned into leaders because you have told them that they deserve this. Show me your influence. Then I will say you are successful.

In life it is not what you are running towards (because nobody knows that. Ever.), it is what you are running away from: fame, being used and abused, not completing goals, keeping yourself from happiness, fear of rejection. It is about stripping everything bad, not taking on everything good. Makes you feel freer, don’t it? Similarly it’s not: who am I or what do I want out of life but what am I not and what don’t I want out of life.

It is very important to express intelligence through a medium instead of sounding intelligent (eg. public speaking or debating or writing a self-help book). This way, it all goes to your head less. Stella Adler once said something along the lines of: life sucks your soul, art allows you to remember that you have one.

Lastly, when we move we move slow. And we don’t talk about it. Success is never loud. It feels wrong when arrogance is mistaken for pride. Shut up. Move quiet. Keep it private. Opposite to what you feel, people do not care what you do and no one watches you unless you make yourself known. Do not make yourself known. Choose who you give your love to, work in the dark, bring your work to the light in time, know your parents, know your home. And that is all. — Bless.

[cover art by: Osnat Tzadok

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Politics

The Lie that is Emancipendence

Couple of weeks ago I watched the 2001 Jamaican documentary entitled, Life and Debt by Stephanie Black, watch it here, and it made me curious about the political history of Jamaica; more importantly Jamaican politics and its relationship with money. The film touches on the failed Free Zones of the late 90’s, the drop in sale of bananas and the near lock down of the dairy industry in the early 2000’s as well as the role that The International Monetary Fund (IMF) had to play in all of it. All this is juxtaposed with the lie of prosperity that Jamaica sells and that the tourists choose to believe.

While watching the documentary look out for: Dr. Michael Witter, whenever he is on screen, the man steals the show, and pay close attention to the the arrogance and bigotry of the rat-faced IMF bastard who is interviewed (sorry not sorry). Lastly, it was through the film’s interview with former Prime Minister, Michael Manley that I became more respectful of his vision for Jamaica during the 70’s and 80’s; however I am not sure he’d be proud of where we are more that 40 years later.

The Beginning

According to Mr. Manley, after Independence we were barely on our feet as a new but uninformed nation however, it was not until the 1973 increase in oil worldwide, that we quickly began to sink. We turned to the IMF who gave us money rather than a long term solution. It was The Organisation’s restrictions that really caused the problems. Jamaica could only spend so much therefore we had to cutback on certain sector projects that never had much funding in the first place like: building new hospitals or hiring better trained teachers. So, if we couldn’t improve our core sectors how could we grow economically?

Devaluing the Dollar

Jamaica needed to increase exports and  decrease imports so the IMF’s plan was to make foreign currency more expensive which would help the economy. Now, I am no economist but even to me that sounds like a bad idea. The effects of  a devalued dollar included:

inflation, the cost of goods and services like medicine and healthcare increased; there were wage freezes, so the same salary could buy less things; increased globalisation/creation of the free market, where Jamaica competed with the rest of the world  at an unfair advantage. Foreign items were cheaply produced and cheaply sold therefore this pushed aside our chance at self reliance.

So it comes that we do not meet the IMF targets (shocker), what to do? We don’t have another choice, we borrow another loan while the debt rises. It is an elder Rastafarian at minute 30:07 in the documentary who says,  “You see we are so poor that these rich people use them money to really jus’– [they] push them money before [us] like is a gift but it really a trap.” Preach!

Jamaica 55

The way I see it, 55 years later, the government is still screwing us over. We have managed to replace one white master (The Crown) with another white master (The IMF) and now we seem to be getting two more (The Chinese and for young people, Social Media). I don’t think any other journalist has summed up the lie of Emancipendence this year more than Ian Boyne. In his article for August 06, 2017 he writes:

“In the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s, our young people were idealistic, fired up with zeal for building a truly independent and strong Jamaica.  Young people were interested in ideas. They were talking about Black Power, Rastafari, African liberation, cultural identity, socialism, nationalism… Today our young people know more about what is going on in American pop culture than about what is going on in Jamaica… In times like these, we have a dancehall artiste like Ishawna dissing cultural icon Miss Lou, flaunting her cultural backwardness and ignorance.”

So no, as a young person I don’t feel freed from slavery, and I don’t feel as if we are particularly independent either. Most young people I know are looking for a way out of Jamaica or a way to get rich, the crime rate is sky high which suggests no one is their brother’s keeper; it is all about what I can get and who I can get it from rather than what I can give. I want Emancipation and Independence celebrations to feel like a privilege not an obligation, like how the tourists feel about Jamaica when they live in bliss on the North Coast, like these are days earned not  given, so when we gather at the National Stadium to watch the fireworks explode in the sky, it feels like an occasion that I can’t miss rather than just another holiday or like just another lie. — Bless.

[cover art by : Mac Tey]

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Creative Media

2/4 | June

This is my final article for the month of June. Thank you for reading and I will see you in August!

Today I want to share with you some of my favourites from the second quarter of the year.
Listen

Songs:

Do You…” by Miguel

I believe that Miguel is a needed  presence in the evolving Rn’B scene. He keeps his sound identifiable and dreamy, there is no darkness or insecurity, like what I hear in modern Rn’B crowd. This maturity is especially evident in his 2012 album,  Kaleidoscope Dream. This was the record that introduced Jamaicans to, “Adorn” but my  personal standout is, “Do You…,” a guitar led love song that uses whispered notes and falsettos to express sincerity and need. Lines like, “What about matinee movies/ Pointless secrets/ Midnight summer swim, private beaches/ Rock, paper, scissors/ Wait! best outta three!” feel so euphoric and innocent yet there is a serious intimacy there too. And, yea, Miguel may very well be the Prince of our generation but his success is always somehow undercut by poor promotion. 

Miss Your Sex” by Raheem DeVaughn

Taken from his his fifth album, Love Sex Passion, the album is a collection that marked 15 plus years since DeVaughn has been an Rn’B artiste. From the record, “Miss Your Sex” is the most special to me because behind the lascivious lyrics there  is a layer of passion and heartbreak backed by these grand instrumentals that soar towards the middle of the song… it is just awesome. Two other favourites are: “All I Know (My Heart)” that has the type of slow narrative I grew up with– and miss– from Rn’B artistes like Jaheim (Won’t you sit ya self down and take a seat/ And let me ease ya mind girl) and Maxwell. Immediately following that is, “Terms of Endearment,” a soft ballad that creates a beautiful atmosphere with Boyz II Men like harmonies backing up DeVaughn who glides on notes about how it feels to realize that you are in love and that you are loved in return. It is honestly the most perfect wedding song, ever. The whole album brings back a kind of nostalgia that goes back and forth between true soul and true Rn’B in a way that makes me feel like I have been reintroduced to the genres.

Album:

The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill

Just to begin: Ms. Hill conceived the album at 22 years old. 22. She was also single and pregnant with her firstborn, Zion. I Listened to Miseducation for the first time in full this month and I get now. I really do. Her album is not just a supernova inspiring and promoting blackness and fierce independence and self-expression, it is a symbol of Hip-Hop culture in a decade.

Miseducation is defined by its heavier themes like learning to cope with personal pain (“When it Hurt so Bad,” “I Used to Love Him” and “Ex Factor”) and intense observations of the world (“Forgive them Father,” “Every City, Every Ghetto,” “Doo Wap,” “FInal Hour” and “Superstar”) but my favourite section is the last third of the album that is dedicated to self-love. It is guided by a theme of reverence and as such is deeper than personal, it is spiritual.

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Lauryn Hill made history by becoming the first Rap/Hip-Hop artiste to win Album Of The Year also becoming the first female solo artiste to win five Grammy awards in one night. (photo credit: Steve Granitz).

In my favourite song, the titilar track, (if you want to make me cry just play this) Ms. Hill belts lyrics on self actualisation backed by a church organ. A church organ on a Rap album. Lit. She also asks the Higher Power for humility and strength on, “Tell Him” (… Make me unselfish/Without being blind/Though I may suffer/I’ll envieth not) and inspires on, “Everything is Everything.” John Legend, who played piano on this track whilst in college said of the record, “Lauryn had that blend of toughness and soulfulness, melody and swagger. She did it better than anybody still has done it. People are still trying to capture that moment.” I have never seen Hip-Hop/Rap and Soul and Reggae and Gospel dovetail in such an organic way on a record. This album has my heart, ENTIRELY.

Watch

Films:

Train To Busan

Think, the claustrophobia of Snowpiercer meeting the horror and hysteria of 24 Days Later served with  a fun side of class conflict.  A South Korean family, a father and his daughter, are caught in the middle of a zombie epidemic which they find out about whilst leaving Seoul on the final train to Busan. The set up is not bloat heavy, so 15 minutes in, the action begins and I respect that. I also liked that unlike Hollywood films, Train To Busan has a moral struggle as well as several mini heros giving the plot some heft, and the action is also oh so sweet. As far as zombie movies go you won’t find anything exceptional in this film but it does everything exceptionally well and while watching it I kinda saw why Train to Busan became the highest-grossing South-Korean film in Malaysia, Hong Kong and Singapore last year alone. It doesn’t miss a beat.

Captain Fantastic

This is an indie film detailing the lives of a family who chooses to abandon society for an eco-friendly lifestyle. The drama comes when the wife leaves and the father and his six kids have to reenter society, providing for some very humorous circumstances.  Can I tell you how inspired I was by this movie? Like, I want to raise my children like this. Swear. But what I really liked was that Captain Fantastic not only served to highlight how inadequate society is in terms social issues like, health care (“Why ar they all so… fat?”) and how it fails to help our children to think critically but it also shows us the disasters, albeit funny, that can happen when any lifestyle is taken to the extreme. Yo, parenting has never looked as interesting to me.

Television:

Fleabag

This is a six-part BBC Amazon sponsored series that is similar to Lena Dunham Girls, in that it is provocative and observant comedy about a sexually active woman whose personal life is in a tailspin, but Fleabag is more crude and more unorthodoxed than Girls. The star of, Fleabag is completely loveable; she breaks the fourth wall often to reassure us– her friends– of what will happen after she messes up but it is her step-mother who takes the series for me. She gives the word bitch new meaning by being sweet and demeaning while still managing to appear completely innocent and charming. You feel sorry for the title character until you understand how terrible of a person she is, but somehow you understand. She is self-destructive and selfish and full of self-hate because she is in pain and because she is lonely {sigh}. Fleabag is brilliant black comedy.

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Fleabag (Phoebe Waller-Bridge) and her sister, Claire (Sian Clifford) in a scene from the comedy series, Fleabag, 2016 (photo credit: BBCThree)

The Bullsh!t Award

So, the Cosby case in a sentence: more than 60+ women came forward to say that they were drugged and raped by Cosby; the defense in court said that never happened, if any sexual relations happened it was consensual and then the jury pretty much set him free.

Whether you want to attack the Bill Cosby case from the point of view of, what is consensual sex, or from the view of the power of celebrity, is your issue I am not here to take sides but The Bullsh!t Award for this quarter goes to the jury in the Bill Cosby trial who deliberated for over 52-hours and because they couldn’t make a decision, allowed Cosby to walk. Where is the justice in that? Feel like this is an O.J. Simpson situation enuh… Cosby will go free for this but they will catch him for something else hella petty in the long run.  I can feel it in my bones.


Honourable Mentions

The song, “Biggest Fan” by Lila Iké for being a budding female Chronixx in the making.

The song, “Body” by Syd for being the finest single on her debut LP, Fin. It is a simple, sultry, smooth sex jam that incorporates lyrics about sensual predation typically used by male artists like R. Kelly only this time it is seen from the female perspective and that is something that I can really appreciate.

The French film, Elle for taking a complete opposite route on how it handles the subject of rape. Elle, a wealthy woman with an infamous past, in trying to learn the identity of her rapist, engages them both in a cat and mouse game that has a marvelous end. The film is deliberate and quiet in how it explores relationships like most foreign films I have watched and there are some grimy scenes that aren’t for everybody but if you can get through that you will see the amazing way in which a taboo subject finds precise and icy revenge that is just fresh and fearless to me.

[cover art by: Dan Bunea]


 

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Social Commentary

Jamaica: A Crime Story

In print media this week and last week there was a flurry of articles and letters to editors responding to the 19% increase in crime over last year; that is an average of seven killings per day since June. The crime rate was this high only during the 2010 West Kingston operation. If the news wasn’t leading with the the rains it was leading with the murders.

On Thursday June 15 The Gleaner’s Letter of the Day went to a writer who gave a 360 perspective on crime. The article stated three main social institutions that our culture has eroded: the community, the police and the justice system. A long time ago I read a psychological test written by Sharon Leach for The Sunday Observer’s Bookends, and upon remembering this along with the Letter of the Day, I decided to make my own test:

A young man who is in his final year at university leaves his friend’s house at night and heads to a bus stop no more than two minutes away to wait for a taxi that he’d called. On his way there he is robbed at gunpoint for his valuables: his cellphone and his laptop. The robber is a known member of a gang in the community and so no one dares to engage him. The young man pleads with the robber stating that he has important information on his cellphone and laptop but the robber insists that if he cooperates he will not be harmed. A struggle ensues and the young man is shot and injured. Persons in the community who hear the cries for help offer assistance to the young man who is eventually taken to the hospital in critical condition. A report is filed at the police station by the young man’s mother and paperwork is submitted by the officer on duty which is then stacked with a pile of others in the station detective’s office. Two weeks goes by, the mother visits the police station everyday and is told that the superintendent now has the case. Another week goes by, the thief strikes again and is arrested. In the three months that the thief awaits his court date, the young man dies at the hospital. The criminal then goes to trial and is acquitted because there were no witnesses who would testify. The thief is given bail and subsequently freed.

My question is: who is to be blamed for the student’s death and in what order? The community, the student, the police, the friend or the justice system?

Some people would blame the friend. It is obvious that crime is not new to his community so wouldn’t it be wise to be mindful of the study time if his friend is coming over? Even so, maybe the thief would be less inclined to attack a stranger if he was walking with a community member. Notice that the student did not for a minute consider staying the night with his friend and leaving in the morning, perhaps because he was never suppose to be at his friend’s home in the first place. Clearly this friend was not one willing to face repercussions from his/her parents for his schoolmate.

But we can also look at the community. A stranger is being robbed and everyone passing turns a blind eye. There isn’t the idea that if they form a herd to protect this young man the lone thief will flee. Obviously no one wants to put their life in danger where they could be tracked down and harassed either by the gang members or by the police as a witness to this crime. The cowardly community only offers assistance after the young man has been shot and after the thief has fled.

We can also look at the gunman himself. Why couldn’t he leave the young student alone, he is obviously not well off, what does he have to offer? And why steal a student’s laptop? It is a tool that holds the key to his university degree and to his future; and to make it worse he not only steals the young man’s valuables but to ensure that he is not chased, he shoots the victim who is unarmed.

Then there is the young man himself. Why leave your friend’s home when it is well known that the streets are not safe at night? And why fight for material things when your life is in danger? Another phone can be bought, notes and projects can be replaced from friends and from memory and if not, summer school can be attended if he happens to fail at school because of this setback. He however cannot do any of these things if he is dead.

Then there are those who will say the justice system is the first to blame. The defense obviously didn’t try hard enough to get other evidence, for example, forensic evidence (which in all fairness is an understaffed and overworked sub-sector in Jamaica), in the court but instead chose to rely completely on witness statements which the witnesses themselves could not even back up in court. And why was there this long delay, three months, to deal with a petty crime? The delay was so long that the young man not only lost his life but also received no justice because he could not attend his own trial.

Finally, of course there are the police officers. There was no sense of urgency to solve the crime. What if the criminal did not strike again? I am sure they would not have made an arrest otherwise. But more importantly, It is obvious that the police-community relationship is very poor and that the community lacks confidence in the force. How else could the gang have such as strong hold over the residents? Even though the creation of the ‘informer culture’ in Jamaica basically went like this, it should be known that police officers are really only as goods as their informants.

In the end I guess this is not so much a psychological test but a cautionary tale: there are always different sides to a story, there are always different perspectives, but for the victim ignorance is never an excuse, you are always first responsible for your welfare. It really does take a village to raise a child and for 2017, based on the crime statistics, that child now more than ever, is Jamaica. — Bless.

[cover art by: Simon Bull

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Social Commentary

Society likes Labels but claims to be Fluid | A Rant

I am a daddy’s girl. When I was younger I liked to go with him into houses on weekends where he would do electrical work. While he was in the ceiling or on a light post I was on the ground passing tools to him even before he asked for them and if I came back home clean and spotless that was a fail for me. I hoped to have more qualities from my father than my mother (not because I love my mother any less) only because I was and still am, a daddy’s girl. I liked going with him rather than playing with dolls or learning cheers. In fact, every doll I had I cut her hair, stripped her dress and marked her body with ink, giving her a new birth.

Maybe this sounds like the intro to: …and now this is my ‘coming out’ story. But no. I am just a tomboy. Even now still. Today’s society tells me the opposite though and if I did not have my head on my shoulders, this article would probably be a very different one.

Impatience

I am yet to grow into wanting to wear heels instead of sneakers; I generally respect more males that I do females; I look for boy friends instead of boyfriends; make-up does not interest me, I liken it to heart surgery… and it has always been this way. I still wait patiently for my late maturity into womanhood or whatever but some people have me all figured out already, it seems.

It’s great that we are more open to gender identities: lesbians, gays, transgenders, bisexuals and queers have organizations that stand up for them and we are more tolerant than dismissive more than ever before however, there is a drawback. When there are so many identities and lifestyles people feel the need to define you early.

Back in April there was a New York Times article entitled, “My Daughter Is Not Transgender. She’s a Tomboy,” where a father comes to the defense of his 7 year-old daughter who most mistake for a boy. Too often he’s had to handle people’s confusion. He writes:

“I just wanted to check,” the teacher said. “Your child wants to be called a boy, right? Or is she a boy that wants to be called a girl? Which is it again?”…While celebrating the diversity of sexual and gender identities, we also need to celebrate tomboys and other girls who fall outside the narrow confines of gender roles.

The common consensus I have seen is because I do not behave like a girl therefore I am something else. Too many labels. Too much impatience. And one consequence of impatience is that one may end up like Snoop (from HBO’s The Wire) who was a tomboy until she was  ‘turnt out’ by her uncle. Unreal.

Perversions

On top of the labels are fear masquerading as values, and hypocrisy.

It seems gone are the days when if a male wore a bright pretty pink shirt, people joked about it and moved on, maybe gone are the days too when a girl could wear a big shirt and hammer pants and not get double takes. Now apparently that type of ‘behaviour’ advertises your sexual orientation (yes, but not all the time) and may even create aggression/hostility and rejection. I see a trend were face value is taken so seriously it breeds ignorance. Example, some males won’t eat fish (transpose fish for bag juice if you wish) in public because people will believe that they are a ‘fish’/gay. Who endorses this sh!t?

On the other end of the scale are those who commercialize this ‘new’ sexuality. I see that pretending to be someone who you are not– females wearing boxers for show, males wearing makeup– and even going as far as to create stories to add to the fake brand, just to seem more interesting because mystery is good for business. No. It is an insult. If you ever feel that strong a need to pretend to be somebody else then you should not have been born in the first place…

People ask who they are a lot. I look to my parents for that answer even though they wanted me, still want me, to be more like my sister. Daddy did not like me coming with him even though he never said it in so many words– “why you do that to the dolly?”– he was still hoping I would get over the phase. He is still hoping. But even for him, this daddy’s girl is not going to rush into ‘womanhood’ because it’s the thing to do, I am not going to humour the jokes that my mind is telling me that I am one thing because of the clothes I wear. Bullsh!t. And listen, I may very well be queer or what ever else but best believe I am ‘coming out’ when God says that I am ready, not when man does. And based on how I think He works, that day will never come. — Bless.

[cover art by: Russ Mills]

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