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Caribbean Artists on Art

Caribbean Artists on Art: Dylan Quesnel | A Powerful Passion Project

Dylan Quesnel is the director and editor of Small Change (2016) [watch it, here], a 20-minute long documentary shot entirely in Trinidad and Tobago exploring the ways in which the local economy can move from a strong dependence on petroleum based energy/industries to a more sustainable environmental future.

Personally, I feel as if all environmental documentaries are the same though. Leonardo DiCaprio’s Before the Flood (2016) that I watched last year had the same strident, prophetic tone that Small Change has and both do their  job in stirring emotion, starting a conversation, but no conversation is sustainable without action to reinforce words. The truth is that the average man who recycles and cleans the beaches and doesn’t use plastic straws and prefers computer screens to paper etc. doesn’t have the same power that factories and conglomerate corporations have to create sustainable change and it’s good that Dylan understands that. He said of his work, “Small Change and Metiver (2017) served their purpose as conversation starters, a wake up. It connected environmentally minded people who thought they were alone.” I like that and films generally have that job, to connect people with the same ideas, and somehow that is powerful in its own way.

Dylan got started in film as an intern at the production house, The Art of Storytelling  (AOS) in September 2012. “I didn’t know what I wanted to do when I left secondary school so my decision was to do a number of internship programmes.” Not long afterwards, he fell in love with film and photography. Small Change was an official selection for most Caribbean film festivals including his very own: The Trinidad and Tobago Film Festival (TTFF) for 2016 but I didn’t really contact Dylan to talk about all that, I wanted to hear his outlook on the Caribbean film industry.

Young people nowadays have access to so many devices to create content now. Film is just another extension of ourselves, our culture, a way to write our own stories like we already do for the university plays and the poetry mic nights and the YouTube and Instagram stories. But I would love to see more young people producing actual films. Dylan said that for him, “Small Change was easy to make in terms of technicals, the difficult part was the timeline in which it had to be done. Small Change was shot and 1st draft edited within two weeks, and that’s when I was still working a 9-5 at AOS!” He even minimizes his techniques saying, “There isn’t much of it” but I don’t see all the faults that he does because the film’s message outshone all those things.

Beyond the cost of film lens, cameras and computers Dylan believes that we also don’t create more films because, “We also tend to value anything “foreign” as better and our potential seems to go unnoticed and underutilized.” And that is frustratingly true. I have observed that Jamaican Millennials would rather go see a US film at Carib Cinema this weekend rather than a CentreStage Production or we’d rather emulate the concept and topics of American YouTubers rather than create something new, something that is ours.

The other reality is that, “A lot of people from the Caribbean, including myself, can’t afford to go to film school, hence our dependence on knowledge transfer. There is not much knowledge transfer simply due to the lack of regional productions taking place.”

And lastly because, away from the passion projects which categorise 90% of Caribbean films, “Movie making inevitably has to make money to sustain itself as an industry. It’s very difficult to integrate our Caribbean regional content into foreign based markets due to cultural differences and interests.” However, Dylan sites Black Panther (2018) as the exception, the prototype if you will, “Black Panther marries African and American markets beautifully. Film is all about collaboration, we need to collaborate markets.” So there’s hope then.

And to end, we return to Dylan’s own pursuits. I asked him if he believed that Small Change was effective, if it did it’s job. “I do believe that progress has been made with regards to environmental degradation, but not enough,” he said. “It’s ever evolving.” And somehow that same sentiment applies to the Caribbean’s film industry, don’t you think? If you told me that a young Trinidadian would make a documentary feature that could be screened in his own country 10 years ago I would probably laugh in your face but look at us now. Beyond the technical equipment and our propensity to choose foreign films over home productions there is still those like Dylan Quesnel who are all for the passion projects. And just like he fell in love with film so easily and so young, many young’uns are experiencing that same reality right now in a more technologically advanced world. So yes, progress is being made indeed, we are evolving or as my mother would say, “we a come.” — Bless.

[cover image by: Dylan Quesnel]

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Creative Media

Final Favourites | June

Today I want to share with you a few of my favourites from the the first half of the year.

WATCH:

TV Shows

The End of the F***ing World

Adapted to the screen from a comic novel by Charles S. Forsman, this drama follows the misadventures of two 17 year-olds, James and Alyssa, as they run away together. Alyssia is  a brat from a shitty family with deep daddy issues who is drawn to a blank, bland James who is a self described psychopath.

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The End of the F***ing World (Netflix, 2017)

 Alyssia wants to be the centre of somebody’s world and James wants somebody to kill–God, dark comedies have my heart– so we have the beginnings of a very modern love tragedy. The show has 8 episodes, each an average of 20 minutes long and ropes in themes of not only family and young love but sprinkles murder, cover ups and manhunts to make things electric. In the end we see these kids, specifically James, bloom into selfless young people who have a deeper understanding of a darker, real world away from their fantasy one. Not many people get to see that so young.

Honourable Mentions

Atlanta: Robbin’ Season

It is easy for sophomore seasons of TV shows to crash and burn (ahem-ahem, Westwold) in that they feel like completely different things than the first time round and not in a good way, but Atlanta gave me hope. For Robbin’ Season the granular day-to-day explorations from season 1 are  less light and more dire and the characters seem to be inhabiting a darker space now, I mean the opening sequence alone set the stage for the 10 episodes to come, but the offbeat comedy is still here. The series got more weirder and more personal, focusing on each character in specific episodes like: dealing with Paper Boi’s issues with fame, Darius’ daddy issues, Zan’s fear of being stuck in Earn’s world and for Earn, the fear of being  left high and dry by his only income source, Paper Boi. All these episodes are layered with so much social commentary– Earn’s inability to spend that $100 dollar bill and Drake’s fake party though!– that if you don’t pause from laughing you miss the real points. No other show is such a product of our time to me like Atlanta is right now.

The Americans, season 6

First off, The Americans series finale was the most satisfying ending to a TV show since like, ever. Suspense galore.

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The Americans (FOX, 2018).

That 11-minute confrontation between FBI agent Stan and the Jennings, his Russian spy neighbours, was worth the six year wait, I tell you no lies; Paige finding out who her parents reeeeally are at the very end was priceless; Henry never ever getting the full truth like that was heartbreaking; Elizabeth’s slow denial-deep nightmare and her awakening, joining Philip’s depression– whose by the way, one great moment for me was the disgust on his face when he told his daughter, “No, I want you to come at me and hit me and I’ll be okay.”– were all perfectly timed. We watched this family live a lie for so long and their unravelling over the past six years was slow, pure genius that I think more people should appreciate. The Americans was great TV.

Film

A Quiet Place

What I like about A Quiet Place is that at its heart it is not about the monsters, the monsters seem to be a physical representation of death for the audiences’ benefit, it’s a story about redemption and family. Guilt for the death of a child hangs over the entire film until it is forgiven at the very end through sacrifice. The acts of rebellion by one child contrasts with  the extreme fear from another and how each parent tries to teach each to survive was the centre of the film and I loved that. A Quiet Place like, Get Out has found that the secret to a great horror film is not really the monsters but the social issues of the people who are fighting the monsters.

Honourable Mention

Revenge

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Matilda Lutz in Revenge (2017).

Revenge is a French-American film that mixes the horror and violence of rape with the gruesome acts of retribution by its survivor; this is the perfect film for the #MeToo era. When a pretty all-American girl is violated by her boyfriend and his two friends in different by no less cruel ways, she goes on a revenge hunt to kill them all through a desert chase. The movie has this really intense deep and fierce colour scheme and style that suits the copious amounts of blood and pain and mutilation that we see on screen. Revenge was just pure enjoyable magnificent satisfaction for me to watch.

YouTube

Every Frame a Painting and Lessons from the Screenplay

Every Frame a Painting arguably started the YouTube trend of analysing movie techniques and plot/character motivations before anybody else thought to and personally, I don’t think anyone has  yet to come close to outdoing it. If you love film beyond the watching of it, check out this channel. There is an episode where Tony breaks down how Bong Joon-ho’s, Memories of Murder blocks a scene with an ensemble cast for emphasis, simple as it was it blew my mind, or how important Edgar Wright’s visual comedy is to film, or how the Coen brothers edit in time. Tony doesn’t have more than 28 videos on his channel (he officially retired Every Frame a Painting in 2017) but his videos are still reference pieces for anyone who wants to understand the intricacies of a film scene or a design cue.

Lessons from the Screenplay got me from its breakdown of Aaron Sorkin’s screenplay for, The Social Network. This channel’s videos are 10-20 minute visual essays that breakdown film exclusively though its script. Turns out everything you need to know about a film is in its script. It is because of this channel why I started reading the screenplays of my favorite films then watching the movie or vice versa and somehow I found out what good acting really looked like this way.

Honourable Mention

Let Me Explain

For this channel a funny as hell guy breaks down Netflix series, films and cinematic releases in smart, brutal and satisfying ways with spoilers thrown left, right and centre. Don’t watch Let Me Explain unless you have already watched the movie/TV show, or you will be sorry.

READ:

Kingston Noir by Colin Channer

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Kingston Noir by Colin Channer (Akashic Books, 2012).

This is a collection of 11 short crime fiction pieces written by Jamaican authors or authors of Jamaican heritage. The work has been praised for shedding light on the glossy sun, sea, spliff smoking, irie vibe that Jamaica is often advertised to be. Personally, out of the 11 there are 3 good stories to me and an honourable mention. You can read the  entire collection, here: [epub, pdf].

The book is broken down into different sections. Part 1 focuses mostly on a very  gritty Jamaica seen from an outsider’s POV. The best story here is, ‘The White Gyal With The Camera’ written by Kei Miller in simple prose that is pretty self explanatory in that a white girl goes into a ghetto with a camera and is jolted with a slap of reality in the end. An honourable mention here is, ‘Tomcat Beretta’ by Patricia Powell which reads like a Hemingway story to me minus the satisfying ending.

In part 2, a stand out is Marlon James’s ‘Immaculate,’ a tale that made me realize how talented this man was as a writer. James goes from smashing the idealised hopes that girls at  Immaculate Conception High School dream of with the investigation of a missing classmate, the doctor who tries to fix our nasty, segregated system of power and immorality, and the desperate mother who turns her back so willingly, with brutally funny dialogue. A bit too long and bloated in parts but overall a very well written piece.

Part 3 often explained someone’s story through a narrator who is in a place of acceptance and produced my favourite story from the book, ‘Sunrise’ by Chris Abani in which a mother reflects on the upbringing of her daughter in a community where choices are an illusion. Kingston Noir gave me  good set of fiction and I am grateful that I was finally able to find work from Jamaican authors that had such variety. Noir has definitely opened my appetite to read and support more of our own. –Bless.

[cover art by: Shari Erickson, ‘Seagrape Shade.’]

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Creative Media

LIFE SHORTS DESIGNS

Life Shorts Designs 
By Monique Lennon
Based on true events

Nubian

Watching– air traffic converging like domino pieces on a bar table. Everybody wants to return home.

Seeing– an old woman, alone, knees bent in the middle of the tarmac- the midday summer sun relentless- repainting road lines with bright white strokes.

Remembering– the day your mother gave you the box of light in the midst of our serene green sea. You were nineteen then. Trapped. Angry. Impatient.

The first time you let it out for everyone to see, the light came back to you cloudy and you didn’t understand. When the light died you disappeared too. Daddy said, “Yuh nuh serious.”

Smiling.

You had seen her first moonlighting at mass. Staring, you waded past the jostling bodies and blurted, “You’re amazing!”

Tried to wear her skin, roamed around in it until it fit but it was like wearing a banana yellow bodysuit and it darkened you

Eventually made you feel hollow, like a body cavity; so black you were blue. You tell your mother to call you Nubian.

She leaves you when she sees better.

Four years like this. You struggle with the Swiss visa, bullies, Bodhi.

You learn three things:

–     Don’t walk the line like everybody else. As a reward Babylon will love you like they love hoodies.

–     It is your job to correct the mistakes of your parents

–     A woman is not defined by a man

The Swiss farm work is fur not merinos, skiing not scams, smooth highways not haphazard B-roads.

You think about marrying someone for your stay but your mother is getting older and she will need you to come back to her.

Suddenly, last week, your father texts you: Nubian here, she asking ‘bout you.

Pain.

Nubian thinks she’ll wait for you because she is ready now.

Reflecting– that excessive reflection is pointless. You have nothing to prove now. Your light has returned, created and nurtured by you, not given.

Untouchable.

A young stranger beside you is saying, “Jesus Christ, wah she a do with the paint so long? A bless she a bless it?”

Laughter.

[cover art by: Corey Barksdale, ‘Dance of our Lives’]

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Education

Science/Art

When my mother was in high school over 30 years ago, to graduate from upper sixth form was a special feat. Sixth form graduates were the ones getting jobs in places banks and the public sector, only the very white, the very bright or the very rich attended university. By the time I started school, to graduate with a Bachelor’s degree was the gold standard, now, the four year degree is seeing its time.

In her 2016 Jamaica Gleaner article, “Are Degrees Failing Jamaica?” Sashakay Fairclough wrote: 

The world is changing. A university education is no longer the way to escape poverty. In fact, it appears to bring persons closer to it. It is simply not the great equaliser anymore.

Choose a career that is marketable, bankable, future-proof and lucrative, they said, pursue a degree in the STEM field, they said, it’s the future.

I agree that getting a liberal arts degree makes life tougher for graduates because the courses are not immediately linked to  a career path but to choose a job based on the trajectory of the economy is only half of the story.

For STEM: Slow Start

In high school my first Math teacher was the lower school Art teacher and in second form our Integrated Science teacher was one of the Physical Education teachers. In third form qualified teachers taught each course but my introduction to specific STEM  subjects, especially Math, which in integral to all science subjects, was very poor. I have never liked Math since first form for this reason.

Better teachers at earlier levels of schooling improve student performance in the long run. I liked Literature in school for a while because I had a fantastic teacher in first form and the relationship I formed with the subject stuck. Nowadays teachers receive STEM scholarships so hopefully future generations will receive what we did not.

The Irony

I know a lot of people who studied a science degree in university and graduated to find that their field is underdeveloped in Jamaica and that more advanced degrees are needed to enter these careers abroad. Most return to the classrooms, becoming teachers, some pursue further studies or they become low-mid level assistants or they have to go back to school for completely different degrees. STEM degrees require modern machines and technology to flourish else advancement in the areas of research and exploration is limited. Jamaica lacks technological developments thus these degrees can sometimes feel useless.

In Defense of The Liberal Arts Degree

Due to the above mentioned reasons a lot of university students pursue liberal arts degrees but if you have parents like mine this is the road of most resistance. Not many parents want to sponsor a degree that does not have courses linked to a direct career and it is for that reason that you find a lot of students who would love to go into the Arts choose degrees that they do not what to do.

Franklin Johnson stated in his Jamaica Observer article for January 2014:

Most students prefer what is easy, popular with peers, or on TV — not the best way to choose your degree… A post-slave society needs educated youth who love learning, explore, but have a competence and innovate. A degree is now a bauble, a trophy, and few care what they read.

A degree is just expensive paper that we buy, literally. The misconception is that the liberal arts graduate needs to land a ready made job after school but the liberal arts degree offers more versatility than anything else right now. We are in the age of personality where everyone has access to the same information at the same time, thus room has been created for influencers to work on behalf of companies and collectives in all areas of art. Getting a liberal arts Bachelor’s degree now more than ever is not an indication of artistic ability or creativity (because school can’t teach that– it more ruins it) it just says, “I can handle work and I can manage my time.” 

All-in-all, either type of degree one chooses to do does not better or dampen the chances at success especially now when the Bachelor’s degree is becoming more and more obsolete (getting a Master’s isn’t the answer either).

The next generation needs to be those who will advance in STEM but we need better teachers at the earliest levels of schooling to make that happen, the equipment available to take advantage of the skills learnt in the classroom needs to be up to par in the real world as well and people should stop bashing the liberal arts degrees and offer more funding because while STEM shows a practical approach to problem solving, liberal arts degrees rely on emotional reasoning and creativity/ entertainment to encourage peace of mind and to bring about enlightenment. Both areas of education are equally important, both areas are being short changed and that is sad because both areas still have a long way to go. — Bless.

Footnotes: Do you realize that there are so many depressed college dropouts or a lot of depressed college graduates out here ’cause we doing degrees for our parents? It’s an epidemic. Majority of us graduate with degrees we hate or can’t fully use in this economy so we settle for jobs we are overqualified for or hate. We soon become zombies: we live for the weekend because the nine-to-five is just something to get through. The stress of the early morning wake up at 4am or 5am and the traffic to get the the 8am and the traffic to get home is exhausting. The inadequate pay/ the high cost of living cause the stress. The stress overtime  becomes frustration resulting in the notoriously poor attitude that Jamaicans are known for. In a year or less we are grabbing at the work visa and the green card, soon we are working just to runaway. Look round you, there are a lot of unhappy Jamaicans going to work just to survive. And let us not forget that all this is made 10x worse if you have student debt

[cover art: Margaret Bowland, “Power” (2014)]

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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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Caribbean Artists on Art

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 how to make 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 or a showoff.

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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Caribbean Artists on Art

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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Caribbean Artists on Art

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

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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 a lot of times 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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