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In The Spotlight: Reggae films, Sugar Minott, Chozenn and Food Awards

In The Spotlight: Reggae films, Sugar Minott, Chozenn and Food Awards

In The Spotlight: Reggae films, Sugar Minott, Chozenn and Food Awards

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This week in Jamaica...



On July 1, Jamaica was making international news headlines following the mayhem caused by the security forces attempt to capture and extradite an alleged drugs-and-guns mastermind, and the tourist board had put in place an $11 million PR campaign to try and counteract the negative news coverage of the island. At the height of the hysteria, ’WAH DO DEM’ – an independent, low-budget reggae film shot in Jamaica and premiered at February’s Reggae Film Festival in Kingston – was reviewed in the influential New York Times newspaper, singlehandedly boosting Jamaica’s image and reminding the world of the lovely island and people we are.

Writes the NYT: Horizons are expanded and exoticism explored in “Wah Do Dem,” a shaggy road movie about relinquishing your comforts to find your bliss. Our halfhearted traveler is Max (Sean Bones, drifting rather than acting), a Brooklyn musician reconciling two tickets for a Caribbean cruise and a last-minute kiss-off from his unrepentant girlfriend (a minuscule cameo by Norah Jones). A tedious sea voyage populated mainly by sexagenarians leaves Max even more depressed, so when the ship docks in Jamaica he sees an opportunity to shake off his ennui. Local people, for their part, see a sheep ripe for fleecing and a mind longing to be freed.

Lively support from local actors and musicians (including a surreal performance by the Congos) is invaluable, as is the authenticity of the setting. The cultural richness of Jamaica - presented here with a faintly menacing underbelly - is a world away from the bland safety of the cruise ship.

That the review was published on a day being celebrated globally and virally as International Reggae Day, made it even more significant and meaningful, but Jamaica’s greatest delight came from the fact that the film won the Honour Award for International Feature Film at February’s staging of the Reggae Film Festival in Kingston. Written and directed by Ben Chace and Sam Fleischner, 'Wah Do Dem' (Jamaican patois for “What’s the matter with them?”), the film includes a cameo performance by noted actor Carl Bradshaw, as well as discovering a new talent in young Ocho Rios native Mark Gibbs as ‘Juvie’, the young ‘bad man’ who eventually helps Max.

The film delighted audiences at the Reggae Film Festival, and directors Chace and Fleischner travelled to Jamaica to present their film to a satisfied audience and receive their Honour Award. The NYT review was ‘very much appreciated’ by them, and while managing screenings in New York, Los Angeles and Boston, they have returned to the island to make preparations for their second Jamaica film.

Reggae Film Festival directors were rejoicing at the New York Times attention which gave Jamaica some very valuable and positive publicity at a time when it was sorely needed.
‘WAH DO DEM' will be included in the Best of the Reggae Film Festival programme being presented at Rototom Sunsplash Reggae Festival being held in Bencassim, Spain, August 21-30.



Reggae fans in Jamaica and the world were saddened to hear of the passing of Sugar Minott, who will be remembered for his hit song Oh Mr. DC and as one of the many artists whose Rastafari faith was a foundation of his music and lyrics.



He was eliminated in the semi-finals of the popular TV dancehall contest Magnum Kings & Queens, but the howls of protest from the hundreds at the venue brought a smile to the face of the only contestant confident enough to face the cameras without dark glasses. Acknowledging his cheering fans, CHOZENN stepped from the stage and into the kind of instant stardom that has eluded the man who eventually won the contest and Million Dollar prize.

His clean-cut good looks and confident manner entranced the mostly female crowd throughout the contest’s weekly rounds and while the decision (made by telephone call-ins and marathon telethons by some contestants) seemed unexpected, it has not stopped his legion of fans from growing. He was mobbed by fans when he performed at the recent Cheerleaders competition, and screamed onto and off the stage at the Portland staging of the Kings & Queens tour and the adulation is so intense that these days he travels with an official security detail.

The biggest test of all came at Friday night’s The Settlement show when dancehall artists with real or made-up grouses challenge each other to lyrical clashes. Chozenn was deemed the winner of a clash between himelf and his chief Kings & Queens rival, Juggla, who was ‘declared dead’ in the morning hours of the popular show. The decision seemed already made when he first stepped on stage, as screaming fans gave him a thunderous welcome.

As a dancehall artist, Chozenn says he keeps his lyrics ‘on the clean side’ and the only weapons he praises are ‘my lyrical bullets’. It’s always good to see a new dancehall artist rise, especially at a time when that genre of music is being forced to take a hard look at itself and the social issues it fertilizes. Chozenn is one of the new ones who have found the way to keep the music hot and topical, without sacrificing an ounce of respectability. We shall watch his career with interest.



July 22 is the date for the annual Jamaica OBSERVER Food Awards, a gastronomic feast when Jamaica’s best chefs, restaurants and food producers display their culinary creations in minature restaurants, cocktail lounges and tasting stations spread out on the East Lawn of historic Devon House, Kingston. Each year new and exciting dishes, foods and drinks compete for Awards that represent the Michelin stars of the Jamaican hospitality industry. With several chefs from leading hotels and the island’s epicurean restaurants, the night is a gourmet’s delight, while being a catalyst to inspire and promote the varieties of Jamaican cuisine. OBSERVER Style Editor Novia McDonald Whyte, who organises the annual event and chairs the panel of judges, promises that this year will have some surprises.



Work is prayer – do it well.
To cool the heat in someone’s hell.

Jean Lowrie Chin – Author: ‘Souldance’

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