Plug N Play – En’Livening’ Kingston’s Reggae Scene

Despite being the home of Reggae, Kingston has had at best, a sporadic live reggae music scene for the past several years. However, there is a growing number of spots which provide space for young talent to test their mettle and as a result is allowing live Reggae music to once again claim prominence in Kingston.

The weekly live concert Plug n Play at the Jonkunnu Lounge at the Wyndham hotel is one of those. The event’s recent offering highlighted that a range of interesting talent on the rise. The night’s interesting display of talent included Ja Blunt, who seemed quite impressed to have finally touched and “uptown stage” and therefore declared that the next step was Sumfest. The distance will be quite a jump, but Ja Blunt certainly has the braggadocio to attempt the leap, especially as the majority of his entertaining set surrounded the power, strength and length of his manhood.

Ja Blunt’s performance rose to a truly entertaining level when during his performance of ‘My Girl Me No Have It’ he was joined on stage by Mystery Jade, one of this year’s contestants in the the Magnum Kings and Queens of the Dancehall. As Ja Blunt outlined in his prelude to the song, ‘My Girl Me No Have It’ is dedicated to those women who do not realize that his limited funds must support both them and his music career, including paying for his studio fees. As the crowd responded to his witty lyricism, Mystery Jade stepped up to the stage and began an counteraction. The audience ate up the lighthearted clash as the two traded barbs.

RPM (Revolutionizing People’s Minds Through Music), all still bearing signs of mother’s milk in their youthfulness  also provided and interesting set. Their performance delivered kudos to the popular music course at the Edna Manley College where they are students. The began their set with two original pieces, the upbeat ‘See it Ova Deh’ and the soulful ballad ‘Life is Like Music’. On the second piece several members of the band highlighted that they were talented musicians and vocalists as well. For the final pieces the band was joined by DeFranco, owner of scream-inducing vocals with which he admirably performed ‘I’ll Give You’ and ‘Change’ despite technical difficulties.

Another noteworthy performance of the night came from Ra Deal, backed by the band Kasha Macca. Ra Deal provided a solid performance with a set dedicated to the reggae triumvirate of weed, revolution and women.  The performance was entertaining, and the songs musically and lyrically sound, yet, with the exception of when they tapped into classic Reggae Rhythms such as Taxi, the melodies were not generally distinctive.

The performance began with an a capella rendition of ‘4 am’ which allowed Ra Deal to display the strength of his gravelly vocals. Declaring himself the “marijuana defender”, Ra Deal delivered three songs on the topic ‘Ten Pounds’, ‘Stink Up’ and ‘Herbalist’. For a more romantic turn, during which most of his attentions was concentrated on a young woman in the front row he delivered ‘Physical’ and ‘Congo Love’.

Plug n Play is certainly a worthy addition to Kingston’s entertainment scene. The stage provides a good avenue for up and coming acts to work on their craft while, like Ja Blunt, they dream of making it to the big stage.

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Protoje’s Seven Year Itch – High Grade Lyricism!

Protoje’s debut album Seven Year Itch is filled to bursting with high grade lyricism. This mellow, occasionally danceable, and certainly head-bobbing Seven Year Itch album artinspiring collection is filled with memorable reggae tunes.

As the title song declares, Protoje’s album has been seven years in the making. Its coming signals the big break for the young reggae artist and declares exceptional promise.

Ironically, while the seven year itch is usually a time for infidelity, the album is in many ways Protoje’s declaration of his commitment to making good music.

The Seven Year Itch is easily a collection of love songs declaring Protoje’s love for music, marijuana and women. On ‘JA’ he even declares his love for country in a patriotic song that is refreshingly devoid of syrupy untruths, looks Jamaica square in the eye, points to her flaws and says your scarred and you’ve got issues but I love ya (arguably like cook food)!

The title track outlines a journey toward the present. It makes mention of two failed attempts at getting degrees, the decision to pursue music instead and the eventual dream of the riches (or at least a sea-side lot) that come with the big break. Interestingly, on ‘The Seven Year Itch’, Protoje references ‘Welcome to JamRock‘ as one of the influences for his music.

This revelation is not surprising as Protoje’s style is reminiscent of an early Damian Marley (without the penchant for 1980’s deejay rhyme schemes). The Junior Gong influence comes through most cleanly on tracks such as ‘Dread’ and ‘Rasta Love’ (sung with Ky-Mani Marley), which bears the ancestral echoes of Damian Marley’s ‘Still Searching’.

Protoge also manages to separate himself from the pack, as unlike many Reggae balladeers who often sing on classic reggae rhythm, his melodies are new. This is a refreshing change.

Like Damian Marley, Protoje also manages to effectively declare allegiance with the masses without disavowing his ‘uptown’ roots (which seep in through his metaphors and allusions). Of course, he declares a greater affinity to the weed selling/smoking ones.

The Seven Year Itch is musically and lyrically sound, though the lyricism is easily stronger than the former. The album is dominated by thoughtful and introspective pieces such as ‘The Seven Year Itch‘, the soulful ballads ‘After I’m Gone’, ‘In the Streets’, and ‘Growing Up’ (featuring Gentleman). The witty narrative of ‘Wrong Side of the Law’ as well as ‘Arguments’ and ‘Roll’ offer a lighter side while sexier, love-filled pieces come through with ‘Rasta Love‘ and ‘No Lipstick‘.

So, ‘No Lipstick’ is among the songs that espouse Protoje’s high-grade intellect. Indeed of the entire album, only three of the songs don’t mention marijuana at least once. ‘No Lipstick’ is particularly intriguing because it has the unique distinction of being a weed-based love song. Indeed, while many an artist have previously declared his love for weed, it is a first that weed is being used a sign of love, where “marijuana glistening in the morning dew” replaces a bunch of red roses.

It may well be a good thing that it has taken Protoje seven years to release his first album, as this work declares that he is an artist of substance. In a world where you know the value of each song and can just pick the tracks you prefer, its particularly refreshing to find an album where every track is worth a listen, and several are worth more than one. The Seven Year Itch is likely to make you either fall for the repeat button, unless you want to just make the entire album keep repeating.

The White Witch Reigns at Actor Boy Awards 2010

The long renowned guzzum power of Annie Palmer, the legendary witch of Rose Hall continued to weave its magic at the 2010 Actor Boy Awards. The LTM Montego Bay production of The White Witch swept the 2010 Actor Boy Awards scooping up 13 of the 19 trophies.

The Actor Boy Awards 2010 was staged at the Pantry Playhouse, Kingston, and beautifully hosted by Teisha Duncan and Maurice Bryan. In his comments, Actor Boy judge Tony Patel pointed out that comedies continued to dominate Jamaica’s theatrical landscape. But it would be a musical that held the spotlight for the majority of the night.

The White Witch’s success sent ripples of comments about the power of obeah through the audience, as the pile of awards heaped up.

The White Witch, originally staged in its home city of Montego Bay  (at the Fairfield Theatre) and later in Kingston (at the Theatre Place) follows the demise of Annie Palmer. Crichton’s version deviates from the more traditional tale, presenting Annie’s story in a more sensitive light and instead casting the shadow of villainy on Obeah-man Taku. The cast featured Maylynne Walton as Annie Palmer (Best Lead Actress), Kieran King as (Best Lead Actor); Phillip Clarke as Taku (Best Supporting Actor), and Noelle Kerr as (Best Supporting Actress).

By the end of the night, The White Witch had not only been dubbed the Best Production of 2010, but had also copped the awards Best Director (Douglas Prout) along with all the awards for acting and most of the technical awards. The play had also earned the awards for Best Original Song (‘Flowing Free’) and Best Musical Score (David Tulloch), as well as Best Choreography (Marline Pitter-Sloley) and Best New Play (Crichton). Of course, it had also been dubbed the Best Musical.

The evening paid special tribute to the Secondary School’s Drama Festival, which is celebrating 60 years of existence. The impact of the festival on the development of local theatre was particularly highlighted as almost all presenters at the award show made reference to their participation in the festival ranging from the 1960s to the 1990s.

A few other productions also received a taste of the limelight. The Jamaica Youth Theatre’s Graffiti beat out its sole contender, Tick Tock, written and produced by Owen ‘Blakka’ Ellis, to earn the title of Best Revue. With the category of Best Roots Play now out the door, the Stages Production The Plumber proved its mettle as Best Comedy.

Campion College’s Cindy was dubbed Best Children’s Theatre while Douglas Prout further fattened his award coffers with the Best Drama award for Against His Will. Jambiz International’s Midnight at Puss Creek was the only other production to take home multiple trophies. The play earned the awards for Best Lighting Design (Trevor Nairne) and Best Special Effects (Patrick Brown and Trevor Nairne).

The evening’s success was in may ways due to the skills of Duncan and Bryan who were absolutely delightful, presenting spoofs related to the plays which had received the Best Production nod. The two were a wonderful medley of hijinx, high drama, and high talent.

At the end of the night, the dramatic, engaging and often hilarious presentation by the two able comperes easily made up for the absence of excessive flash, bang and glitter, showing that theatre’s true magic always comes down to creativity.